Monthly Archives

October 2008

Celebrities Say DON’T Vote in PSA (video)

Have you seen this video? It’s a PSA with Harrison Ford, Julia Roberts, Will Smith, Justin Timberlake, Tom Cruise, Scarlett Johansson and a bunch of others trying to use reverse psychology to get people to vote, not one way or another, just vote. I thought it was hilarious because they’re having a hard time saying, “DON’T vote.” Plus, Borat is in it.

What do you think–is it funny, effective, stupid?

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Entertainment News Roundup–Score or Snore?

This is the first in a weekly feature called “Scores and Snores,” a roundup of entertainment news where you decide if it’s good news (Score!) or bad (Snore). Vote and see if others agree with you and check back next week for more! ***SOME SPOILERS***

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HEARTLAND fan in Shondaland?

I had a weird deja vu moment last night watching Grey’s Anatomy. One of the plots was about a bunch of people donating kidneys to complete strangers so that their loved ones, with whom they didn’t match as donors, could receive kidneys from the recipients’ loved ones. Got that?

I did. As soon as Bailey started explaining the complicated procedure, I said, “It’s called domino transplants,” minutes before Izzie identified it as such. No, I’m not a doctor. I knew because last year, I guest-starred on a TNT show called Heartland (starring Treat Williams and Kari Matchett) in an episode that dealt with this exact thing. I played one of the donors, Mrs. Chan. Last night, one of the donors was named Mrs. Chen. At one point, my character bailed, putting the whole procedure into jeopardy. Last night, one of the wives backed out, too, until Bailey changed the woman’s mind.

When Chief Webber called this procedure “historic,” I wanted to say, “It was done a year ago by a basic cable show!”

I guess there really are only 7 original ideas in Hollywood.

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One Cool Ride with Don Winslow’s THE DAWN PATROL

My friend Betsy had been recommending Don Winslow’s The Dawn Patrol to me for a few months but I’d resisted ’cause I found out it was about surfing. I’ve never surfed, don’t know anything about it, am afraid of big waves and didn’t think I’d want to read about a bunch of surfer dudes. Boy, was I wrong. I finally picked up the book and, like a big wave, it slammed into me, rolled me a few times and didn’t let me up for air until two days later.

Boone Daniels and his five friends make up the Dawn Patrol, a group of surfers (five guys, one girl) who meet every morning at dawn to tackle the waves at Pacific Beach in San Diego. Then the others go off to “real” jobs while Boone moonlights as a private investigator, but only enough to afford fish tacos on flour tortillas because “everything tastes better on a tortilla.” He takes a supposedly easy case—locating a missing stripper who was supposed to testify in a major trial—but finds out a little girl has also gone missing. This brings back memories of the case which resulted in Boone’s quitting the San Diego Police Department, one involving a missing little girl he was unable to find. Boone is determined not to fail this time and as he gets farther into the investigation, it forces him to choose sides and do things that might ruin the brotherhood of the Dawn Patrol.

Though the subject matter turns out to be heart shattering, the book has many hilarious moments. The scene where the gang takes one of its members, Hang Twelve, to a strip club for his birthday made me laugh out loud. “Naked asses” and “buffet” really should never be in the same sentence. Everyone in the patrol is funny, compelling and cooler than cool but their easy, jokey banter belies the fact they would fiercely watch each other’s back.

My friend Betsy with Winslow

My friend Betsy with Winslow

The thing I love about Winslow’s breezy style is that he paints clear pictures in succinct strokes. In describing a man about to be attacked by thugs in his home, Winslow writes, “He’s on his third Corona when the door comes in.” He also pulls off something I’ve never seen before—a complete sentence consisting only of the same word repeated three times as subject-verb-object, as in the final sentence here: “Now he drives his truck…with his best friend in the back, a man who is like family to him. But like ain’t is. Is is is.”

Winslow is so good with his prose, he even makes the history behind the surf culture interesting. Normally, I would’ve skipped over these sections to get to the whodunit but with Winslow, you don’t want to miss a word because none is wasted.

Rating: Brilliant

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WHAT JUST HAPPENED with Robert De Niro, Sean Penn, Bruce Willis

When I was invited last week to a screening of What Just Happened (limited release, Oct. 17), my first reaction was, “What the who?” Though the movie was directed by Barry Levinson (Diner, Rain Man) and stars Robert De Niro, Bruce Willis, Sean Penn, Robin Wright Penn, John Turturro and Catherine Keener, I hadn’t seen any publicity or even heard of it. Usually this is a sign a film is a turkey and the studio is trying to dump it. Well, Happened is not a dud but its fate might still resemble one of the movies within this movie if the studio doesn’t get behind it.

De Niro plays Ben, a harried producer trying to wrap post-production on one film (Fiercely, starring Penn) while preparing for start of production on another, starring Bruce Willis (playing an ass version of himself). Fiercely‘s director, Jeremy (Michael Wincott), is an infantile, drug-addled poseur who thinks being edgy means ending his film with a dog being shot multiple times. The studio head (Keener) wants a different ending or else she’ll can the Cannes premiere and dump the movie.

Meanwhile, on Ben’s other film, Willis has gained a lot of weight and a Grizzly Adams beard he refuses to shave (this is supposedly based on Alec Baldwin, who refused to shave for producer Art Linson’s 1997 movie The Edge). The studio threatens to shut down production if Ben can’t persuade Willis to look like a movie star. Ben’s also juggling couples therapy with his second ex-wife (Wright Penn) to learn how to be “so happy apart, [they’ll] never want to get back together,” while making time to drive all his kids to school.

The movie is based on Linson’s book of the same name, subtitled Bitter Hollywood Tales from the Front Line. Linson (Into the Wild, Fight Club) also wrote the script here so it’s no surprise De Niro is a sympathetic alter ego. Ben drives a Porsche SUV and lives in a nice home with fancy toys but we see the price he pays for all that and not once did I envy his life. If you’ve ever wondered exactly what a producer does, this movie gives a glimpse. He’s a mediator, hand holder, babysitter, bullshit talker all in one.

The movie has some very funny moments poking fun at the ridiculous behavior of some Hollywood denizens. Willis is obviously having fun playing an over-the-top diva version of himself but I’ve seen people behave this way so maybe it’s not so satirical. And the shooting-the-dog ending is ludicrous but you suspect some real-life director has tried getting away with it while claiming indie cred.

The all-star cast turns in solid work as expected but besides Ben, there isn’t anyone to really root for. We laugh but don’t empathize. The question is: Will people outside Hollywood be amused or disgusted by all the imbecilic, narcissistic behavior? My guess—if you find Entourage funny, you might enjoy this film. If you think Ari Gold is a pig, go see something else that doesn’t include bloody dog corpses.

Rating: Okay

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TV Review: ELI STONE

I watch a lot of mystery/thrillers on TV—24, The Closer, House, Monk, Burn Notice, The Mentalist, to name a few—because I enjoy trying to crack the case before the protagonists do. But even if I succeed, the fun is short-lived since on these types of shows, people are always getting murdered, blown up, cheated on, lied to, etc. After a while, I start feeling pretty cynical about the world and the bad things that happen in it.

That’s why I was pleasantly surprised over the summer to discover Eli Stone on DVD, a show that uplifted, inspired and—least expected of all—moved me. Jonny Lee Miller plays Stone, a shark of a lawyer until he gets a brain aneurysm that gives him visions of the future. At first disturbed and confused by them, Stone eventually embraces his visions, considers himself a kind of prophet and sets out to help people change the course of their lives, sometimes literally saving their lives in the process.

This premise has every chance of making the show one big hunk o’ stinky cheese but amazingly, it’s anything but. Did I mention Stone’s visions are usually set to George Michael songs, with Michael performing in person sometimes? And Stone’s spiritual advisor is a sarcastic, Asian acupuncturist who fakes a heavy accent for other customers but speaks perfect English with Stone and calls him “dude.” There is enough skepticism from other characters (almost all his colleagues) about Stone’s divinatory status to undercut any earnestness Stone might have once he accepts his calling.

But Stone isn’t a sappy guy. He still has some of his former killer-attorney instincts, he just now uses them for good. He struggles constantly to understand his metaphorical visions, which can happen at inopportune times and reveal truths others don’t want to hear.

I didn’t watch this show when it was on last year because I’m not that interested in watching things about faith. Everyone’s version of spirituality is different and I didn’t want to be spoon-fed someone else’s. But this show is fun, with characters bursting into exuberant musical numbers to convey hidden messages to Stone. I hate musicals so I have no idea why I find these interludes so entertaining. Perhaps it’s because they sometimes happen right in the middle of a somber event (a guy would dance beautifully before he drops dead), making me wonder if there isn’t some lightness to be found even in our darkest hours.

I also like how Stone strives to keep his faith and convince his peers he’s not crazy whenever he predicts the future. At times, he’s not certain of his sanity and yet he fights this uphill battle because he believes faith is necessary, that we’d all lead bleak lives if we always demand empirical evidence before believing in something. His arguments on this point have the potential to be schmaltzy yet they’re surprisingly moving. Sometimes his predictions are wrong and people resent him but he keeps trying to do the right thing. It’s this courage of his convictions in a cynical world that makes him more heroic to me than Jack Bauer any day.

So, pick up the first-season DVDs, binge-watch this weekend and you’ll be all caught up for the new episode next Tuesday, guest-starring Katie Holmes. I don’t like her much but this show has surprised me about so many things, I’ll probably love Mrs. Cruise by the time it’s over.

Nerd verdict: Have faith in Stone

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I’ve seen WATCHMEN!

OK, I haven’t seen the whole thing but I did some work on it and got to see quite a bit and what I saw was craaaaaaazy. Zack Snyder, the director, loves him some violence. You could tell he had fun trying to find creative ways to slice, dice and blow people up. I normally freak out at even mild violence but this was so over the top, it made me scream first then laugh nervously afterwards, like I’d just gone through a Halloween fun house that was especially effective.

The look is dark and moody with splashes of muted color and it looks very much like a graphic novel set in motion. The cast is awesome–Billy Crudup is a Tony winner, Patrick Wilson was nominated, Jackie Earle Haley was nominated for an Oscar but producers got them all to wear masks and pleather. Well, Crudup had to wear some funky suit that made him look like a walking Lite Brite board so Dr. Manhattan can look like this in the final cut.

I predict this is gonna be HUGE and that Alan Moore fans won’t be disappointed. Fox is suing Warner Bros. and trying to block or delay the movie release but I say mark your calendars anyway for March 6, 2009. Something this big won’t be denied and Fox had better not mess with my residuals!

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Me Love Acting Long Time

I’m sitting in a cramped office with blue shag carpeting, facing a casting director who has called me in to audition for a TV movie. I’m reading for the role of a Vietnamese girl who has just gotten off the boat but is running a ranch in the Midwest with her best friend. Since the character is FOB, the description says “must speak with a Vietnamese accent.”

I launch into the scene and think I do a pretty good job. At the very least, I know I nailed the Vietnamese accent. But I look at the casting director after I finish the scene and she has an expression on her face like she’s just bitten down on an extra sour lemon ball. She says, “Your accent is very strange.”

I think, “Huh? This is how I spoke when I first came to America. This is how many Vietnamese people I know still speak. What is this woman talking about?” So I ask, “What do you mean, strange?”

She says, “I’ve never heard that accent before. It doesn’t sound like the accent in those old Charlie Chan movies.”

“That’s because that was Chinese. I thought you wanted a Vietnamese accent.”

“Well, not if it sounds weird like that. And the average person watching will never know the difference. So, can you do the scene again but with the more traiditional accent?” Just to make sure I know exactly what she’s talking about, the Italian-American casting director shows me how to do an Asian accent that sounds about as authentic as Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of a Japanese character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

I say, “Oh. Yes, I get it.” I don’t, but I give it a try. Like she said, the average person wouldn’t know the difference and she has shown she’s definitely average.

I do the scene over, putting on the Charlie Chan accent while casting off a small piece of my dignity. She smiles. She likes it. I get the job!

I show up on the set, ecstatic. It’s one of my first jobs in Hollywood and I get to play the friend of someone who’s a pretty big TV star. I get shown to my “trailer,” which in reality is a small dressing room with my name on the door (I do get my own bathroom). I go over my lines, making sure I have them all memorized. Then I start practicing the accent. I know I got the job because I put on a bastardized version of a Chinese accent but now that I’m on set, I find it difficult to keep talking like that. It just seems so archaic and insulting to Chinese Americans and Asians in general. And I’m supposed to go on film—national television—talking like that!

I debate going back to an authentic Vietnamese accent. But I don’t want the director calling me weird and yelling “Cut!” to teach me how to do it “right” in front of the entire cast and crew. So I decide to try doing it with no accent at all. With all the things the director has to worry about and oversee on a film set, maybe he won’t notice that I’m supposed to sound different.

And that’s exactly what happens. I do my scenes in a perfect American accent and no one notices. I am relieved. I go through the rest of production without worries of insulting Asian Americans or sounding like I just escaped from a Fu Manchu film.

The movie premieres on a Monday evening in September after a lot of publicity. I celebrate by treating myself to a big chicken dinner at Denny’s. My parents get to see it first on the East Coast. When it’s over, my phone rings and my mother asks, “If your character is FOB, how come you have no accent?”

That’s because in Hollywood, very little makes sense. I chose an option for my character that was less logical but felt more dignified for me because dignity is also in short supply in this business. In the quest for jobs, actors will submit to all sorts of humiliating treatment. Everyone knows if they won’t do it, the next person will and that person will get the job. And there are so few jobs and too many actors competing for them.

A long time ago when I was new to L.A., I had an audition to play a hooker in a film.I went out and bought the cheapest-looking dress I could find at Ross.The polyester/spandex hugged me so tightly, I was practically having an affair with it.I squeezed myself into it, teased my hair a little and put on some red lipstick.I looked like a working girl who couldn’t have possibly charged more than $1.99 an hour.

I drove to the casting office on Hollywood Boulevard. Since parking is almost impossible on the boulevard, the closest space I could find was about two miles from the Mexican border. I then had to get out of my car and make the long walk to the casting office, teeter-tottering on high heels. Along the way, I encountered construction workers who whistled, passersby in their cars who honked, and real hookers who just glared, afraid I might steal some of their regular clientele. I had to keep reminding myself, “I have a college degree and come from a good home. And I need to invest in a trench coat.”

I finally made it to the casting office and did my audition. The casting director thought I was too clean; I didn’t look skanky enough to be a crack whore. He thought I looked like a nice girl who came from a good home, despite my cheap outfit. He saw the real me, so why was I so disappointed?

Because I wanted that part. I wanted my big break in a studio film by a famous director, I wanted to work, and I wanted my SAG card (membership in the Screen Actors Guild is imperative to getting any kind of decent job). I wanted to be an actress and at the time, I had no credits on my resume. I had just packed all my belongings into two duffel bags and flown out to Los Angeles to try my luck in show business. To everyone else, I was making a big mistake since I had graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in communications and had given up a job as an on-air TV news reporter for an NBC-affiliate. But in my mind, I knew no other way.

Ever since I was a four-year-old in Viet Nam, my mother had instilled in me a deep love for the movies. I wasn’t old enough to be in school and my mother was on maternity leave so she would take me to matinees at the Rex movie theater. I sat still for over three hours to see classics like Dr. Zhivago and Cleopatra, endured violent Bruce Lee movies and was exposed to films with sex and nudity that traumatized me (Viet Nam had no movie rating system to warn my mother of adult content). But the one film that probably steered me towards my future adventures in Hollywood was Love Story.

I remember being hypnotized by Ryan O’Neal’s blindingly blond curls and dreamy blue eyes as he looked at Ali McGraw like a lovesick puppy. I couldn’t understand English and was too young to read subtitles but I could tell those two kids were in love. My heart soared as I watched them play football in the snow and laugh as they roared down a highway in a convertible with their hair whipping wildly about them. And then my four-year-old heart broke when Jenny died. That aching theme song didn’t help at all. It hurt so much and Ryan O’Neal’s Oliver looked so sad that I just bawled. I sat there in the theater and cried as if someone had ripped candy right out of my mouth. I think my mother said something like, “It’s just a movie.” But I thought, “I want to move people like that.”

Fast forward twentysomething years. I’ve never played a prostitute nor do I want to anymore (I’m not sure how or if I want to move people in that capacity). I told my agent to stop sending me out for those demeaning roles and have sold that Ross dress on eBay (someone paid me $10 for it, which is more than I paid originally). Instead of repressing my dignity and my intelligence, I now use them, which has resulted in my playing the occasional teacher and a nurse or doctor about 17 times. I don’t think I’ve ever moved anyone the way Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw moved me, but I did do something which perhaps affected people in a different way.

A few years ago, I got a small part in Spider-Man 2. This was a huge deal for me since I idolize superheroes and used to wake up at 8 AM every Saturday morning when I was a kid to watch Superfriends on ABC (I preferred to sleep until noon most days so rising early was no small feat). My role in Spider-Man was a violinist who stood in the streets playing her violin and singing the classic theme song from the old TV cartoon, extolling the virtues of the famous webslinger.

When I auditioned for this part, my agent said I just had to know how to play the violin and all the lyrics to the old theme song. Check and check. I walked into the casting office at Sony Studios feeling pretty confident. All the time I spent watching those cartoons during childhood was going to pay off. And then I saw all the other women sitting in the room, waiting to audition for the same role.

They seemed superior to me in every way. Some were beautiful, with Snow White skin and shiny teeth. They were tall and statuesque. Some were warming up on their violins and sounded like they should play first chair for the L.A. Philharmonic. What the heck was I doing there?

I wanted to leave. I had no business competing with these beautiful, talented, tall women. It was a mistake for me to think I had a shot at this part when I was just a geeky girl who spent too much time in front of the TV watching superhero cartoons as a kid. I picked up my violin case and headed towards the exit.

But I stopped before I got there. It dawned on me that if the director wanted a competent musician to play this role, he had a room full of them. But what if he wanted something different? What if I showed him another choice, a musician who was good only in her own mind? Someone who could perhaps provide some levity in a serious action film? Besides, who else in that room could have possibly loved Spider-Man more than I?

I turned around just in time to hear my name called by the casting associate. I walked into his inner office and proceeded to give him a performance of a street musician who sang with a heavy accent and was completely off-key. I threw my head back and sang with my whole heart and in complete abandon. The casting associate slapped his hand over his mouth so he wouldn’t laugh and ruin my audition.

Two months later, I got the role. When the movie opened big and broke all sorts of box office records, I was stunned to read on Internet forums that people singled me out as being among their favorite parts in the movie. One man said he almost choked on his popcorn because he couldn’t stop laughing when I “sang.” One woman said she got to share a nice, big laugh with her children, a rare thing since they always disagreed on their choice of entertainment. One fan said he went to see the movie three times just to hear “that crazy Asian lady sing.” A movie memorabilia company even put me on a trading card.

Recently, when I experienced a slow period, I started questioning my career choice, something I do often when I don’t know when or where my next check is coming from. I had a phone conversation with my old college friend Mike, who’s an aerospace engineer, and I shared my misgivings with him. Is it time for me to get a real job? Should I do something that is more useful to society? He replied, “I work long hours and I’m sure my work helps people somewhere but I don’t get to see how I directly affect their lives. Your scenes in Spider-Man made millions of people laugh all over the world. Laughter is useful. You get to see and hear about your impact in people’s lives and I envy that.”

I clutched the phone hard and suddenly felt tears welling up. Without knowing it, my friend took me back to that time when I was four years old watching Love Story and wanting to move people. Instead of making them cry like Ryan O’Neal did with his limpid eyes, I apparently brought lightheartedness. I lifted people’s spirits for a few brief minutes in a dark theater. I had achieved a goal I set over thirty years ago without even realizing it.

There are times when I might even be affecting people by—dare I say it?—educating them. I try to alleviate ignorance towards Vietnamese Americans instead of suffering it. Once, I showed up on the set of a TV show to play a Vietnamese woman in 1975 Sai Gon who was a secretary at the U.S. Embassy, and the wardrobe person tried to put me in black peasant pajamas (the extras playing civilians were already dressed as such). I politely said an Embassy employee would never dress like that and asked for a more professional outfit. Not only did I get upgraded to a nice blouse and slacks, the director changed all the extras out of their peasant costumes as well so they could look more like city dwellers. Another time, I had a director who asked if I came from Ho Chi Minh City. I said, “No, I came from Sai Gon.” He asked, “Isn’t it the same thing?” I said, “No, Ho Chi Minh City is Communist and Sai Gon was not.”

I still have days when I think this industry is hard for any self-respecting person to work in, but I now believe acting will always be a part of my life in some way. I read somewhere that living out your dreams imperfectly is better than living someone else’s dreams to perfection. Yes, there’s rejection and ignorance and rudeness in show business, but I also find the beauty and joy in it. Someone once told me that actors are brave for stepping up into the light while everyone else watches from the dark. I don’t consider myself brave, but I do want to stay in the light.

Originally published on www.damau.org

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Reviews of New TV Shows

We’re about a month into the TV season and I’ve had time to sample some of the new shows. Nothing has blown me away so far but there are a couple I found promising and two that disappointed.

Life on Mars (ABC, Thursdays, 10 p.m.) is the American remake of a BBC show starring Jason O’Mara, Harvey Keitel (in his TV series debut), Michael Imperioli and Gretchen Mol. It’s about NYPD detective Sam Tyler (O’Mara), who gets hit by a car and wakes up in 1973. Did he time-travel or is he really in a coma and all the events we see are only in his subconscious? It’s unclear, as it was in the original British version. Sam continues to solve cases in 1973, some of which might be related to the serial killer he’s tracking back in the present. He’s seriously hampered in his job by the lack of a computer, cell phone and use of DNA science. His colleagues also seem to be renegade types who don’t necessarily play by the rules (Keitel’s character, Lt. Hunt, prepares to rough up a suspect already in custody. “Is that necessary? Tyler asks. “No, it is not,” replies Hunt, as he punches the suspect). The look of the show is gritty and sepia-toned and Imperioli sports a ’70s-porn-mustache from hell. But the fashion and soundtrack are groovy (The Who, Rolling Stones, David Bowie, whose song is the show’s title) and the cast makes it all compelling. This might be a cop show but it looks and feels different than any other currently on the air. Rating: Good

The Mentalist (CBS, Tuesdays, 9 p.m.) is a more conventional police procedural but Simon Baker keeps it interesting. So far the cases are unexceptional but Baker’s laid-back charm as Patrick Jane pulls the show along. Patrick is a man who used to pretend he was a psychic to bilk money from people, but then a serial killer slaughtered his family (the killer didn’t like the fake psychic pretending he could predict the man’s next move) and now Patrick works as a consultant for the California Bureau of Investigation. He says psychic powers don’t exist; he solves cases by being very, very observant. Robin Tunney plays the agent who works with him and unfortunately, her performance is as flat as Baker’s is cool. She’s completely unconvincing as a tough investigator and has no authoritative presence whatsoever. The rest of the agents haven’t been given much to do but Owain Yeoman and Tim Kang are talented actors so hopefully their roles will be beefed up in the future. Rating: Good

CBS debuted another hour-long this season that involves a psychic but has nothing to do with crime-solving. The Ex List stars Elizabeth Reaser as a woman told by a psychic she has to marry within the year to someone she’s already dated or else she will end up alone. So Bella Bloom sets out to locate and re-date her exes (awkward much?). Reaser is very winning as Bella but the scripts so far haven’t supported her. Her friends are underused (Amir Talai is usually very funny, even in commercials, but only has about two lines per episode) and Rachel Boston is annoying, useless, and unbelievable as Bella’s sister (they look nothing alike). I really wanted to like Ex since Reaser is such a talented actress but if the show doesn’t stop being so cutesy and ridiculous (someone puts a toupee on her privates after she over-waxed!), I’ll have to put this on my Nix List. Rating: Okay

Another female-centric show is Kath & Kim (NBC, Thurdays, 8:30 p.m.), starring Molly Shannon and Selma Blair. I don’t have to tell you much about this show because if you watched any of the Olympics, you’ve already seen the clips a thousand times. So what’s a whole episode like? I wouldn’t know because I couldn’t get through it. The jokes were so stale and outdated I thought I‘d traveled back to 1973. Selma Blair, whose career I’ve never understood (she does seem like a smart girl in interviews and looks cute on red carpets), rolls her eyes so furiously you’d think the eyeballs might tumble out her ears. Molly Shannon didn’t have one funny line in the 17 minutes I watched the show. And poor John Michael Higgins, so funny in the Christopher Guest movies, is completely wasted here as the straight man (he plays Kath’s suitor) to the ladies’ antics. If you’re gonna cast Higgins, you’ve got to let him run wild. Rating: Sucks Dirt

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Creative Excuses for Being Late to an Audition

Here in L.A., auditions always seem to happen at 5 p.m. in the location that’s farthest away from you. If you live in Santa Monica, the appointment will be in Woodland Hills, which will take about 3 hours on the 405. If you live in Encino, you’ll need to go to Westwood, which will take 3 days. That’s just the way it works.

So often, actors are late to their appointments. The usual excuse is “Traffic was really bad/There was an accident” but here are the top ten most creative ones I’ve heard over the years:

  1. I was in jail.
  2. I was kidnapped by my boyfriend and driven to the desert and couldn’t get back until now.
  3. My roommate choked me last night so it’s still hard for me to talk.
  4. I quit my nanny job and I have no car ’cause my employers had been letting me use theirs so I’ve been walking all night to get here.
  5. I was halfway here when I realized I forgot to put on underwear and had to turn around.
  6. I have no idea what time my appointment was or why I’m here. What am I auditioning for?
  7. I’m on my 45th day of a 48-day fast and it’s just been tough.
  8. My shift at the Hustler casino didn’t end until four this morning.
  9. Don’t you know who I am?
  10. I took the wrong ramp and almost ended up in Mexico.
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When Is It Time to Give Up a Series Character?

I read a lot of mystery-thrillers and in this genre, there are many series characters—Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, Robert B. Parker’s Spenser, Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, Robert Crais’s Elvis Cole, to name just a few. Some have been around for decades and falling into one of their stories is like reconnecting with an old friend. But recently, I had a couple of disappointing experiences which made me wonder: How long should your friend stay around before overstaying his/her welcome?

Linda Barnes writes a series about Boston P.I. Carlotta Carlyle, a fiery, red-headed, cab-driving investigator whose on-again/off-again lover is connected to the mafia. These books used to break my heart, especially Coyote, in which Carlotta stumbles upon a scheme exploiting illegal immigrants. Carlotta was someone who was tough but always human and she would evolve as each case affected her (unlike some series characters who seem to hit the reset button after every book).

But lately Carlotta has become infuriating to me. She keeps getting sucked into shady business involving her on-again/off-again mob boyfriend, Sam. You’d think a smart cookie like her would just dump him for good already because she doesn’t seem to love him—it’s more a lust thing. I found myself skipping huge chunks of the book whenever it deals with Carlotta’s Oh-can-I-trust-Sam? dilemma. The answer is no, he gives you no reason to, get on with it. I only kept reading because I was curious about the case, which wasn’t one of her best.

Carlotta’s relationship with “little sister” Paolina has also worn thin. Paolina never seems to appreciate all Carlotta does for her and made only a cameo appearance in this latest installment (I didn’t miss her). I couldn’t help thinking perhaps it’s time for Carlotta to let Paolina go, just as it’s time for us to let Carlotta retire.

Meanwhile, across town, a couple of investigators have been retired before their time. In a recent Entertainment Weekly interview, Dennis Lehane said it’s highly unlikely he’ll ever write another mystery (using terms like “I couldn’t care less” and “It sucked”), much less one involving his Boston P.I.s Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro, featured in Gone, Baby, Gone and four other novels.

I think this series is a superior one so I was dismayed by this announcement. I believe Patrick and Angie have at least a few more stories left in them so I’m not ready to say goodbye. Lehane went on to ridicule Patrick, saying, “…I was using Patrick as my doppelgänger during my 20s and 30s. Now he’d just piss me off. It’s like, ‘Grow up, dude!”’

Did Lehane just insult one of his finest creations and the legions of readers devoted to him? Is the author implying we’re immature for still enjoying Patrick and Angie? I wanted to write a letter of protest or just beg Lehane to reconsider. How about letting Kenzie evolve into a man in his 40s (like Lehane)? He doesn’t have to stay in his 30s.

But then I thought, Am I being unfair to the author? If he’s not passionate about a character or genre, how can he make it interesting for himself and readers? Shouldn’t we allow writers to stretch creatively? Do they really owe readers anything? I believe writers should write for themselves because it’s impossible to please everyone. Lehane can do as he pleases but he didn’t have to trash Patrick and mysteries in general, in effect insulting the many fans who embraced his earlier books.

given dayPerhaps Lehane should take a page from what Robert Crais said at a book signing I attended. I don’t recall the exact words but the gist was that a book is a collaboration between him and his readers and therefore, a book isn’t complete until we’ve interacted with it. I can only hope then that Lehane’s newest release, a historical epic called The Given Day, will be a finished book.

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Review of HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

I consider myself a pretty happy person. Of course I have my grumpy days but it takes a lot for me to stop being optimistic. So I looked forward to seeing a movie called Happy-Go-Lucky (limited release Oct. 10), the latest offering from Mike Leigh (Vera Drake, Secrets and Lies). I’d heard buzz from the festivals that this movie is guaranteed to make me happy. Instead I was slightly annoyed.

The very capable Sally Hawkins stars as Poppy, a grade school teacher who embodies the titular state of being. Even when her bike is stolen, she only regrets not having had the chance to say goodbye to it. She lives with her best friend in a rented flat, goes clubbing on weekends, and takes driving lessons every Saturday from an instructor who’s always angry. Her younger sister thinks she’s being irresponsible by not buying a house and settling down to start a family but Peppy–er, Poppy–insists she’s happy and loves her life.

It’s to Hawkins’s credit that Poppy is likable but at times the script makes her do implausible and foolhardy things, all because she’s so trusting in the goodness of people. In one scene, she’s walking home alone at night in a scary part of town (already unwise) when she sees an intimidating-looking homeless man. Though the man seems unstable and ready to erupt into violence, she sits and chats with him for awhile because she doesn’t want him to be alone. It’s an incredibly altruistic act but if this movie weren’t a comedy–or if it were real life–there’d be a very good chance she wouldn’t emerge unharmed from the encounter.

Poppy’s exuberance becomes exhausting at times, with Hawkins constantly giggling, rolling her eyes, making faces, doing funny voices, acting cute. It’s as though her personality has only one note. It’d be frustrating trying to have a serious conversation with someone like Poppy because she responds to everything with a joke. I’d wonder what she’s covering up with all the funny stuff. It’s not until near the end of the movie that Poppy has some sobering moments and it’s nice to see she can actually feel a different emotion.

I certainly don’t dislike generally happy people; I much prefer them to gloom-and-doom types. I just wanted Poppy to have a more three-dimensional disposition–that’s to say, more recognizably human–and perhaps an explanation of why she’s the way she is.

Rating: Okay

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