Monthly Archives

April 2009

Eat This Up–The JULIE & JULIA Trailer is Here!

I know that’s Meryl Streep in the trailer (see it below) but her voice and look are uncannily like the famous chef’s. I freaked for a moment: “Julia Child is dead! How can she be in this movie?!”

“Based on two true stories,” the feature is about Child finding her calling and a woman named Julie, played by Amy Adams, searching for a purpose in life by cooking her way through one of Child’s cookbooks in one year. The trailer looks so-so, but it’s got Streep and Adams and Stanley Tucci and Jane Lynch and Mary Lynn “Chloe” Rajskub (who has the funniest line in the trailer) so it has to be smart and witty, right?

What do you think? Gonna see it when it comes out August 7? (UPDATE: I went to a screening. See my review here.)


AMERICAN IDOL Season 8 — Results for Rat Pack Evening

Man, tonight’s results show was so boring, I barely stayed awake long enough to see who got voted off, much less write this. Why won’t they cut it down to a half hour already? There’s SO much filler, it’s annoying. Why was Taylor Hicks performing his honky tonk music when this is standards week? Natalie Cole made sense, but Jamie Foxx singing in an electronic voice that sounded like some guy who’s kidnapped your kid and calling for ransom? I’m so confused.

There was one moment that made my eyes pop open: Adam being in the bottom two while Allison was safe. I’m glad for Allison and am not a huge fan of Adam but based on his viral popularity and pre-ordained victory by some people, I was surprised. Kris being in the bottom 3 was unexpected, too. He’s got a huge fan club, evidenced by iTunes downloads and screaming girls in the audience every week, plus he did well last night so I don’t know what happened.

matt-giraudBut I do know Matt finally ended his run tonight, which is NOT the least bit surprising, considering he’s been on borrowed time for weeks now. The fat is now trimmed and the top 4 is as it should be. From now until the finale in 3 weeks, it should be a fierce fight for the crown.

Are you happy with the remaining contestants? Who are you rooting for? Have you changed allegiance in the last few weeks?


ICE CASTLES Being Rebuilt


I was flipping through a People magazine recently when I saw a blurb that Ice Castles is being remade. Remember that movie with Robby Benson and Lynn-Holly Johnson as the blind ice skater? It is cheesier than a log of Velveeta but boy, did it make me cry when I first saw it in 1978.

I was in 7th grade when I walked to the nearby movie theater after school by myself to see this movie. When the Johnson character, Alexis Winston, had the accident and lost her sight, I was crushed, CRUSHED. What would happen to her dreams of becoming a world champion figure skater?! But wait, along came a cute boy named Nick (Benson) who helped her realize she could still triumph in a skating competition and in life, blindness be damned. By the time that theme song played over the end credits, I was sobbing into my bucket of corn.

But it didn’t end there. I went out and bought the sheet music for said theme song, “Looking Through the Eyes of Love” by Melissa Manchester, and spent weeks plinking it out on our yard-sale piano, singing in my most angsty voice, “Please don’t let this feeling end, it’s everything I aaam…,” wondering when someone would come along to look through my eyes of love. Oy. Did I mention I was a very young girl?

This memory is funny to me because nowadays, I am allergic to sap. I roll my eyes violently at the slightest hint of melodrama. But when this remake airs on TV, I’ll probably tune in. It’s interesting that the original director, Donald Wrye, is also doing the remake. How many times has that happened? (Off the top of my head, I can only think of Alfred Hitchcock and The Man Who Knew Too Much.) This version has real-life figure skater Taylor Firth in the lead role, with Rob Mayes (American Mall) as Nick. Michelle Kwan will also cameo.

But the real reason I’ll probably watch is to see whether 30 years of intervening life experience will allow me to react to the movie in the same way. Though I’m highly skeptical, there’s a part of me that hopes the answer will be yes.

Any other closet Ice Castles fans out there? See if the video below brings back memories. If not, which sappy movie do you think is ripe for a remake and why? Leave me a comment and I promise I won’t judge (unless you say Beaches).



AMERICAN IDOL Season 8 — Top 5 a Classy Pack

When I first heard tonight’s theme was standards of the Rat Pack, I groaned. I thought these kids were gonna murder the songs and I didn’t feel like being a witness. But this episode was much better than I expected! Turns out the top 5 contestants knew how to sing their parents’ (grandparents’?) music. They put on some classy duds and belted out some really good tunes.

First was Kris, who sang “The Way You Look Tonight,” one of my all-time faves. You cannot hear that song and not feel sexy. Kris changed the arrangement by picking up the tempo in the middle of the song but made it all work. His vocals were strong, his rhythms were right on and his song choices continue to entertain me.

Allison followed with “Someone to Watch Over Me.” I thought it was sweet how she said in the interview she’s too young for a boyfriend at 16 (she turned 17 yesterday). I sometimes forget how young and innocent she is when she sounds like a 45-year-old woman who’s been thrice divorced and drowning her sorrows in cigs and whiskey. I thought her performance was technically perfect but she didn’t have enough life experience to communicate the emotional depth of the song. Interestingly, I liked her better during the recap at the end (which was taped during rehearsal) than during her actual performance.

Matt sang another one of my faves, “My Funny Valentine.” He started out with really nice control and made me feel like I was watching him in a smoky bar while sitting on a red leather banquette. But then he started doing his trademark runs and ruined it for me. This song should be simply sung; it’s sultry because it’s unadorned. Matt frustrates me because he can definitely sing but he needs work on his interpretation, in figuring out when less is more. Every song can’t be sung with the same runs every time.

Danny covered “Come Rain or Come Shine.” He started out singing it in a pretty traditional way but then mid-song, he changed it up, busted out and belted the rest of the song, ending in a big, sustained note. It was definitely impressive vocal work but for whatever reason, Danny doesn’t excite me anymore. On a side note, I thought Randy’s comment about not caring whether or not a singer connects with the song as long as they can sing was ridiculous. That’s like saying you don’t care if an actor connects with a character as long as they can act. How can you have one without the other?

Adam closed out the show with “Feeling Good,” replete with dramatic entrance down a long flight of stairs a la Babs or Cher. The judges had a hard time describing his performance and I do, too. His talent is not in question; it’s whether or not you like his kind of vocal styling, which inevitably ends in some shrieky high note with his mouth open so wide I always fear he’s going to come right out of the TV and swallow my whole head. I think a song called “Feeling Good” should be kinda jazzy and groovy but he turned it into the “throat Olympics,” as guest mentor Jamie Foxx would call it.

Speaking of Foxx, I enjoyed him as mentor. He always makes me laugh because I still think of his Ugly Wanda character from In Living Color every time I see him, but tonight he got to show off his considerable musical knowledge.

No one made a huge misstep tonight so it’s hard to predict who’s going home but my guess is it’ll be Matt. Then again, he’s survived so many times, I fear Allison might be in grave danger.

What did you think? Who was best? Worst? Who’d you vote for? Put on your judging hats and leave your insightful and clever comments!


Crais, Parker, Winslow & Wambaugh discuss “Cops & Crooks in California” — Conclusion

This is part two of my report on the “Cops & Crooks in California” panel held this past Saturday, April 25, as part of the L.A. Times Festival of Books. (Click here for part one.) The participants were crime novelists T. Jefferson Parker (The Renegades), Don Winslow (The Dawn Patrol), Joseph Wambaugh (Hollywood Crows) with Robert Crais (The Watchman) as moderator.

Crais had asked the panelists why they write crime fiction. Parker launched into a story about a signing he did in Norwalk, CA, where a woman asked what his book was about.

“It’s about friendship, love and hate, crime and betrayal,” Parker responded. The woman asked, “What’d you want to write about that stuff for?” Parker said he found those subjects compelling. The woman then said she could afford only one hardcover book a month and had already bought it but wanted Parker to sign it. She proceeded to pull out a copy of a Robert James Waller bestseller, which Parker dutifully signed. “Somewhere out there, there’s a copy of Bridges of Madison County with my name on it!”

Wambaugh had his own funny anecdote about a signing he did at the East Ambassador Hotel in Chicago. A woman came looking for the writer Irving Stone and was disappointed to find Wambaugh there. “You’re not Irving Stone,” she said. “No, lady, I’m Truman Capote,” Wambaugh quipped. The woman looked him over and said, “But, Mr. Capote, on television you look so much more masculine!”

Crais chimed in with his story about a signing he did with four other writers. A man came sniffing around the table, looking over everybody’s books. “Me being me, I said, ‘Are you gonna buy something?’ ” Crais said. The man asked, “Whose book is the cheapest?”

Not to be outdone, Winslow shared details of one of his bizarre signing experiences. “The lady who owned the store had me come in and there was a flood that day…there were sandbags in front of the store. I had to take off my shoes and wade…nobody came. It was a two-hour signing. After an hour ten minutes into it, the lady said, ‘Just lock up for me.’ Irish-Catholic boy that I am, I sat there, robbed the till, then left.”

After the laughter died down, Crais asked, “So, you’ve been on tour, you’ve met the fans. Have you ever been frightened?”

Winslow went first with a story about a signing in Greenwich Village where a woman showed up dressed in full S & M garb. She wanted him to sign a book called Slave Girls of Rome [when Crais mentioned this title during introductions, Winslow said it was another Don Winslow, an 82-year-old man, who wrote it]. This woman approached the author, “her voice dropped an octave and she said, ‘I love your other stuff, too.’ Mine went up two or three octaves. ‘No, you don’t! No, you don’t!'” Winslow said.

“I think she came to one of my signings in D.C. She said, ‘You should read Don Winslow,'” Crais said. He then talked about a Philadelphia appearance where a woman came up to him with a toddler. “She plopped that boy on the table and said, ‘Here’s your daddy!'”

“What was your comeback, Bob?” Parker asked.

“I said, ‘Looks just like Jeff Parker!'” Crais answered.

At this point, Crais opened the floor to audience members and invited questions. The first person up asked whether or not the authors have any control over who reads their audio books.

Wambaugh said he had no control and the others agreed. “I’ve never listened to one of my books. I don’t know why. Can’t bring myself to read them, either,” Wambaugh said.

Crais said he finds it hard to listen to audio versions of his novels because he hears them in his voice so it’s jarring to hear them in someone else’s voice. “Most I can listen to is eight to ten minutes. I did do the abridged version of Hostage. That, I can listen to over and over.”

Next, someone asked whether the authors create outlines or just start writing and let the plot write itself (!).

“I do both,” Parker said. “I once started with a bar napkin with four character names circled on it. That was Little Saigon.” But he’s learned to outline because “I can’t hold a 500-page manuscript in my brain.”

“I’m an outliner,” Crais said. “I figure eighty percent of the stuff out beforehand. I’m a fan of notecards. I’m a very visual person and actually like to see the continuity of it. I actually believe that it helps me to balance and pace my books because if a lot of the scenes and stuff where nothing is really happening—if that’s all jammed to one side—I think, ‘Man, I’d better have something happening there’ so then I start moving cards around.”

“James Ellroy does 350-page outlines before he starts writing,” Wambaugh said.

A woman in the audience asked why in his books, Crais refers to the good guys by their last names but the bad guys by their first. She wondered if it was an intimacy issue.

“I never thought about it before. Now, I’ll obsess about it and never write again,” Crais said.

Another audience member asked how the writers felt about the Kindle.

“I’ve never seen one before,” Crais said, but added he’d be open to it if someone wants to send him one. Winslow said, “I don’t care, as long as people are reading.” He said he likes the tactile feel of books and how he can drop them in the tub and it’d be okay.

At this point, a woman behind me asked, “Can you explain what a Kindle is?”

Wambaugh threw up his hands and said, “I have no idea!” Another woman behind me helpfully held one up for all to see.

The last question was something about characters [how they’re created? Sorry, my handwriting was illegible here after an hour of scribbling].

“All writers are cannibals. You eat up your life,” Crais said. He explained that he infuses his characters with a lot of his worldview.

“I think characters are everything. If people don’t like them, they’re not going to care what happens to them,” Winslow said.

Parker said, “You pull from everything, little pastiches, combinations of everyone I’ve ever known. They represent something, an extreme of some kind, traits you recognize.”

“You guys have said it,” Wambaugh said. “I think I have one thing to offer. When you’re dealing with an audience like this that can be agenda-driven, ready to skewer you with political questions, give them a very brief two-word response to everything. Example: ‘Are you a Republican?’ Not yet!…’Are you Jewish?’ Not yet! ‘Are you gay?’ Same answer!”

On this note, the discussion ended, the authors hugged it out before fans swarmed them for photo ops.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about it!
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From L: Winslow, Wambaugh, Parker, Crais

Crais with my friend Betsy

Crais with my friend Betsy


"Cops & Crooks in California" Panel at L.A. Festival of Books with Crais, Winslow, Parker & Wambaugh

Remember in the ’70s when you bought K-Tel compilation albums because you didn’t want to buy a bunch of albums by different bands where most cuts were just filler? This past Saturday, at the annual L.A. Festival of Books, the “Cops & Crooks in California” panel was like a K-Tel collection, with Don Winslow (The Dawn Patrol), T. Jefferson Parker (The Renegades), Joseph Wambaugh (Hollywood Crows) and Robert Crais (The Watchman) as moderator. Everyone was a hit and you got them all in one place.

Apparently this panel sold out quickly so for those of you who couldn’t get in or don’t live in the area, I took notes and thought I’d post the highlights. There’s no way I can capture all the hilarity but there’s still plenty of juicy info to be had. Many thanks to Debbie DeNice, who helped me recall quotes in parts where my memory was foggy and my scribbles illegible. I’ll publish this in two parts so be sure and come back for all the good stuff.


After introducing the panelists, Crais’s first question was whether there was “something about Southern California that’s particularly identifying” to the other writers. He addressed Parker first.

“I was born here. I don’t have to go to a new place and ask questions and learn anything because it’s right in front of me,” Parker said. “You know, it’d be very hard to go set up a story in Boston and have the same sort of casualness to the story. I’d have to work really hard.” He equated being a native Californian to Nicholson having floor seats at Lakers games.

“I came out on a case [as a P.I.], went down the PCH, saw Laguna Beach, called my wife and said, ‘We’re moving out here,'” Winslow said.

Wambaugh said he came out here when he was 14. “Would it have been the same if I’d written East Pittsburgh noir?”

“I’d be terrified to go somewhere else and set a novel,” Parker added. “I lived in Orange County for 45 years. My big move was from Orange County to Fallbrook. It was 34 miles but I felt like Magellan.”

Crais next asked the writers how they felt about writing standalones vs. a series.

wambaugh_hollywoodcrowsWambaugh said, “I wrote a sequel to Hollywood Station because I thought maybe it’d be easier since I had some of the characters…But I found some of the characters didn’t want to come back…They didn’t help me plot. Plotting’s the hardest thing.” He added that on his tombstone, it’ll probably say “At Last, a Plot.”

“I didn’t know better,” Winslow said. “I thought all P.I. novels had to be series [he wrote the Neal Carey series].” He stopped writing about Carey when the detective became a “whiny, petulant, little bastard” and the author got tired of him. Winslow told a funny anecdote about a fan asking at a signing if he was anything like Carey and he denied it while his wife nodded vigorously. He then mentioned that the Dawn Patrol gang will be back in his next novel, The Gentleman’s Hour, which made me squeal internally. Hour will be released in the U.K. in June but won’t be out in the U.S. until next year.

Parker said he didn’t look at it as writing a series, more like “writing one big book that’s 2,000 pages.” He mentioned that Charlie Hood from L.A. Outlaws and The Renegades will be back for his third adventure next year called Iron River.

Crais next asked the other writers to share their Hollywood experiences. “Is screenwriting work as important as your prose work?”

“Screenwriting—adapting, I should say, a novel—is the only writing that’s actually fun. It’s like a crossword puzzle,” Wambaugh said.

fallen“I have a guy turning The Fallen into a series…Maybe I can learn something new. Can’t wait,” Parker said. He then added, “Don’t hold your breath, though.”

Winslow had considerably less enthusiasm for Hollywood. He told a story about having a meeting at a studio “that shall remain nameless.” But then he said when he arrived, the guard told him to “go up Mickey Street then left on Dopey Lane.”

“So this was at Paramount?” Crais joked.

Winslow continued, “I told the guard, ‘I took a left on Dopey Lane back in ’89 and didn’t make it back onto Mickey Street until ’92!’ ” The guard said, “Don’t repeat that upstairs.” When Winslow finally got in to see the movie exec, who had several books on his desk, Winslow asked if he’d read them all. The exec answered, “I don’t read. I have people who read.”

monkeysraincoatCrais then told his own story about the “studio that shall remain nameless.” He said when The Monkey’s Raincoat first came out, he received a call from Michael Eisner’s office saying the then-CEO of Disney liked his work and wanted Crais to write a movie based on an original idea Eisner had. When Crais arrived for the meeting, he was met by an exec who said Eisner couldn’t make it. The man then asked Crais if he’d heard of Beverly Hills Cop. When Crais said yes, the exec said that Eisner felt “Beverly Hills as a location hasn’t been exhausted yet at the box office.” Crais said, “Great. What’s the idea?” The exec looked confused and said, “That’s it.”

Crais’s next question was why the men chose to write crime fiction. He said he does it because “I love this stuff” and he’d be reading it if he weren’t writing it.

“I guess if I knew anything about ballet, I’d write about ballet. I was a cop,” Wambaugh said, shrugging.”I went to CalTech to do some research and did end up writing a crime that took place at CalTech. The answer is: What else can I do?”

“Who do you like?” Crais asked.

“I like Tom Wolfe…that’s a guy you can learn something from. For those of you who are novelists or journalists, whatever—he can really put it together. I highly recommend him,” Wambaugh said.

Next, Winslow shared why he writes crime novels. “Same answer—you write what you know and frankly, I grew up around criminals…I always loved the genre, I love reading it. I think as a writer it gives you everything. I’m really greedy as a writer, I want it all. With the crime novel, you can take everyday life if you want drama, then you can also do murder and mayhem and political issues, the nexus of government…so for me, it just gives me that whole world. Any of that piece you want, you can do it in a crime novel.”

Come back tomorrow for the conclusion, when the panelists discuss scary tour experiences, their plotting techniques and how they feel about the Kindle.


American Idol Season 8 — Top 5 Revealed

Lil Rounds and Anoop are gone. I’d predicted Lil and Matt and I still think that’s how it should’ve gone. When Anoop did his encore of Donna Summer’s “Dim All the Lights,” he sounded even better than last night, looser and more in control at the same time. The judges wasted their save last week on Matt. It should’ve been spent on Anoop this week.

Highlights included appearances by disco stars Freda Payne, Thelma Houston and KC with skanky dancers instead of his Sunshine Band. It was all a little rough to watch. And I’m saying this as someone who really likes disco music and once paid to see KC live.

KC and the divas could’ve benefited from Paula’s choreography skills, which she unleashed on the contestants for the first time, making them look semi-coordinated and hip in their group number instead of awkward and flat-footed. Some took to the dance steps better than others but overall, Paula taught those kids well and reminded us how she first came to fame.

What’d you think of the group number? Did you agree with tonight’s castoffs?


Angelina Jolie Carves Out New Role as Kay Scarpetta

I used to read Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series back in the ’90s until it started going downhill. After that major thing with Benton, I felt they became unreadable and Scarpetta just wasn’t fun to spend time with anymore. The woman became so dour.

But my interest is now piqued again because Variety reports that Angelina Jolie will play Scarpetta in a possible franchise for Fox 2000. Whoa, Nelly, this makes the coroner way sexier than she was described in the books but I like Jolie’s work and she has that dark side that will be appropriate for a character who mostly deals with dead people. Jolie also has an arresting screen presence so hopefully she’ll make Scarpetta appealing again. I certainly think she’s a better choice than Demi Moore, who was widely rumored to be the front-runner for the role when Columbia had the rights in 1992.

Any Patricia Cornwell fans out there? How do you feel about Jolie embodying the author’s most famous creation?


AMERICAN IDOL Season 8 — Contestants Work Hard for the Money on Disco Night

There were some nice surprises tonight but waaayy too much Donna Summer. I get it, she’s the queen of disco but the way I remember it (yes, I was alive in the ’70s), there were lots of fun disco songs sung by many different artists. Why no love for KC & the Sunshine Band? Couldn’t get clearance for ABBA?

Lil went first and I was glad because we got the bad stuff out of the way. She sang Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” and just couldn’t seem to get a firm grasp on it. Her performances seem to get more panicky every week as she gets more confused about what her stage persona should be. She tried to pump up the crowd, flinging her notes all over the place, and ended up giving a wild performance but not in a good way. Kara said it best when she said Lil seems to be every woman but herself. Lil responded by saying how much fun she had but that’s no excuse for detonating a huge stink bomb on stage.

Kris went next and, whoo! He surprised me again by continuing to make the most original song choices in the competition. Following last week’s “Falling Slowly,” which had never been done on Idol before, Kris took Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard for the Money” and poured some salsa on it. And it worked! He completely reinvented the song, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, stripping the song of its disco feel and giving it a mild Latin flavor instead. This kid has chutzpah and I like him.

Danny followed with Earth, Wind and Fire’s “September” and gave another solid, if unexceptional, performance. He was on key, even on the higher notes, and his gravelly voice added the right amount of soul. He also kept his chicken dancing under control, which was good.

Allison sang another Donna Summer song, “Hot Stuff,” which neatly labeled her own performance. This teen really is hot stuff when she’s on stage. Such control and power! The judges seem so sure Adam and Danny are going to be in the finals but Allison deserves a spot, too.

Then it’s Adam’s turn. Seeing him in the suit got my hopes up since the last time he wore one, he struck gold with his aching version of “Tracks of My Tears.” He announced he would sing Yvonne Elliman’s “If I Can’t Have You,” which I like (I’ll admit it—I like most of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack). But I got confused when the music started slowly and then I realized he was turning it into a ballad! I prefer Adam to slow things down because he’s less shrieky that way but I didn’t want him to slow down this song because I like it uptempo! His vocals were impressive but tonight he reminded me of Sam Harris, the first Star Search winner in the singing competition. Harris was also a very talented singer with the ability to effortlessly hit high notes but ended up doing a lot of musical theater and never made it big as a recording artist. I’m afraid Adam’s headed in the same direction.

Matt followed with “Stayin’ Alive,” and, like Allison, his song title described his own performance. This was better than last week’s but it came across like a desperate attempt to stay alive in this competition. He was trying to bring disco back like JT brought sexy back. Unfortunately, it wasn’t great and I’d put money on him going home tomorrow.

Anoop closed out the show with the third Summer song of the evening, “Dim All the Lights.” It started out slowly and I thought, “A ha! He didn’t take the disco bait and is keeping it sloooow!” The song then picked up the pace a bit but stayed in Anoop’s comfort zone, veering nowhere near the scary “Beat It” territory of a few weeks back. He was in tune but overall, the performance was very safe and didn’t give me any chills, which I seriously needed in this sweltering L.A. heat.

So, best for me tonight were Kris and Allison. Who’d you vote for? Did you think Kris and Adam succeeded in reinventing their disco selections? Who’s going home tomorrow? Discuss below!



Mystery books often have dark, ominous-looking covers full of shadows and doom. So you know you’re in for something different when you pick up Elizabeth J. Duncan‘s debut mystery novel, The Cold Light of Mourning. The cover is dewy green with the title spelled out in red fingernail polish.

It’s a clue to the profession of the book’s protagonist, Penny Brannigan, who owns a manicure salon in a Welsh village called Llanelen. Penny is an expatriate Canadian who had stumbled upon Llanelen on a backpacking trip twenty-five years earlier, fallen in love with its beauty and decided to stay. The story begins with the death of her longtime friend, Emma Teasdale, and the disappearance of a bride on her wedding day. Penny had done the bride’s nails that morning and may have been the last person to see her. She teams up with a friend and a couple of inspectors to solve the case, working from intuition and making sharp observations of details even the seasoned cops would have probably missed.

If you like your mysteries with a high body count and bullets flying, this probably isn’t for you. But if you’re a fan of the kind of gentle mysteries that Alexander McCall Smith writes, this would be your cup of tea. Winner of the Minotaur/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel award, the story is more a celebration of Llanelen’s charms and a study of its quirky denizens. It’s a tribute to the strength and vitality of women who are no longer in their 30s and who prefer sensible shoes to Jimmy Choos. At one point, one character bemoans how middle-aged women are treated like they’re invisible. The way Duncan paints them, they’re colorful and very much alive.

Nerd verdict: A cozy Light


Comparison Between BBC and American Versions of STATE OF PLAY

Having been thrilled by the BBC miniseries State of Play, I had to see the American movie this past weekend. The cast looked amazing and I couldn’t wait to see how the movie had been adapted and updated. The original came out in 2003 and a lot has happened in the world of print journalism, with papers folding and the Internet hopping.


The story, now set in D.C., is still about newspaper reporter Cal McAffrey investigating the seemingly unrelated deaths of a congressman’s aide and a drug addict. Soon, Cal, with some help from colleague Della Frye, finds connections between the two stories and a possible government cover-up with deadly consequences. The problem is, the congressman at the center of these stories, Stephen Collins, is Cal’s old college buddy. The reporter must decide whether he wants the biggest story of his career at the cost of ruining his friend’s life.

I wanted to do a comparison between the two versions so I called up my friend Eric, who has also seen both versions.

PCN: I can’t tell if I’m not as excited by the movie because I knew what was going to happen, or because it truly has some flaws.

Eric: I think it’s the latter.

PCN: What issues did you have with the American version?

affleckEric: I didn’t believe Affleck’s portrayal of Congressman Collins. The reason the character is the head of a committee investigating a military contractor is because he’s that rare white knight you find in politics who’s out to right wrongs and give the bad guys their due. The way Affleck is playing him, the congressman just comes across petulant.

PCN: Yeah, I had major problems with his performance. Didn’t believe anything he did. There’s a blankness to him that he can’t seem to overcome. I didn’t believe him when he was angry, didn’t believe him when he was righteous, didn’t buy it when he was sad. David Morrissey was much more passionate in this role. I also had a huge issue with Cal and Stephen being college buddies when Affleck is 36 and Crowe is 45. What, Cal was held back a decade in college?

Eric: And if you don’t believe the core relationship between those two, why bother with the rest of the story?

crowe-smilingPCN: Exactly. I will say, though, that I liked Crowe’s performance. He gave Cal a little more weight than John Simm did in the original. And there’s a mischievousness in Crowe’s eyes when he’s sparring with Helen Mirren or Rachel McAdams that we don’t often see in his performances.

Eric: Those lighter moments from Crowe just came off as manufactured and full of pregnant pauses that announce, “I’m ACTING NOW.” And I’m speaking as a fan of Crowe’s past work.

PCN: Oh, I didn’t feel that way. I liked how he toned everything down as opposed to giving us the full Crowe ballast.

Eric: You mean how he didn’t throw things or hit anyone?

PCN: Well, that and never shouting at anyone. He barely raised his voice but still managed to exude intensity.

Eric: The intensity was low and the stakes weren’t high enough for me.

PCN: No?

***SPOILERS ahead!! Skip to where it says END SPOILERS***

Eric: Instead of the major conflict being about fuel sources like the original, they made it about the privatization of military forces and corporate espionage.

PCN: And you don’t care about that?

Eric: Fuel hits me where I live. I don’t care about the privatization of Homeland Security right now.

PCN: Good point. Did you find the movie suspenseful at all, knowing all the twists ahead of time?

Eric: No. I couldn’t help thinking over and over the miniseries did it better. But to be fair, they had six hours to do it in as opposed to two and change. I felt like the miniseries shouldn’t have been adapted into a movie because it sold the story short.

2009_state_of_play_026PCN: I was fine with some of the stuff they left out, like the affair between Cal and Stephen’s wife, Anne. They spent a lot of time on it in the series while in the movie you’re just told that it happened. I also found the movie quite suspenseful in parts. The scenes where Cal ran into the killer in the apartment hallway and being stalked by him in the parking garage—those were super tense and weren’t in the original.

Eric: Those scenes were great, no argument here.

PCN: But I didn’t like how they made the black kid who was shot in the beginning a drug addict.

Eric: Yeah! That was too easy.

PCN: In the original, everyone thought he was a druggie but he turned out to be clean. It spun the stereotype on its head. What’d you think of Helen Mirren taking over Bill Nighy’s role as the paper’s editor? ***(END SPOILERS)***

2009_state_of_play_005Eric: Nighy was allowed to show how and why he’s the editor. He’s cagey, wily and always on top of his game. Mirren’s character, while no doubt intelligent, is only allowed to throw up her hands in frustration for most of the movie.

PCN: Her character was really cut off at the knees by the new owners of the paper, whereas Nighy’s Cameron was ballsier and fought the money guys in upper management more. Plus, Nighy had some hilarious lines while Mirren’s Cameron was humorless, which is not something you want to do to Mirren.

mcadamsEric: Yeah. As for McAdams, this is the first time I’ve been unimpressed by her.

PCN: I think the problem was the way the role was written. Her Della was a little more whiny in the beginning than Kelly McDonald’s portrayal. McDonald’s Della was plucky. Granted, McAdams’ character is a gossipy blogger instead of a “real” reporter.

Eric: Yeah, that was kinda lame but I guess it created some conflict with Crowe’s character.

PCN: I understand why they made her a blogger; it’s a statement about how old-school journalism is dying. This movie is a valentine to the passing era of investigative reporting. This is a theme also addressed in Michael Connelly’s new book, The Scarecrow (click here for my review), and it makes me sad. I like reading the news by actually holding a paper in my hands.

Eric: But that end-credits sequence showing the paper going through the printing presses made the process seem so antiquated. And all I could think of was how many trees were being cut down.

PCN: You have a point but I love having my paper. It’s a tradition I’m not ready to give up yet. I love going out in the morning and finding the paper on my doorstep. Love reading it over breakfast, flipping the pages, not clicking on them. I also wrote for a paper a long time ago and loved the thrill of seeing the final product in the morning, how many inches you got and what artwork the editors gave you. If you press “send” and the only place where you can read your article is on the same monitor you used to write it, it’s anti-climactic.

Eric: But you’re writing a blog.

PCN: I don’t write hard news and am not a reporter anymore. If I had Oprah’s money, though, this would totally be a weekly entertainment paper or magazine. But we’re getting off track. Would you recommend this movie or not?

Eric: I’d say wait for the DVD. And while you’re waiting, check out the BBC version which is already available.

PCN: I’d recommend this movie. It may not be as strong as the original but it’s still smart entertainment and we need more of that.

Nerd verdicts: PCN—Entertaining Play; Eric—Play it only on DVD


Michael Connelly's THE SCARECROW is Plenty Scary

Michael Connelly has a new book, The Scarecrow, coming out May 26 and needs no help from me to sell planeloads of copies. If you’re a fan, you’ve probably already pre-ordered a copy from Amazon. But wouldn’t you like to hear anyway that it’s a very enjoyable read and that it’s good to have The Poet’s Jack McEvoy back in the starring role?

Right off the bat, McEvoy gets laid off from the L.A. Times due to corporate downsizing and he’s looking for a big story to make the powers that be regret their decision. He receives a call from an irate woman who claims to be the mother of a kid who’s been arrested for murder. LAPD claims the kid confessed but the woman says the teen’s innocent. Skeptical, McEvoy investigates anyway and finds there was no confession. Furthermore, the M.O. used in the murder is strikingly similar to an out-of-state killing the kid couldn’t have committed.

A long way from the career high which came after his encounter with the Poet, McEvoy latches on to the trail of this creepy new killer, who quickly turns his attention on the reporter and even hits McEvoy where he lives. With the help of his former lover, FBI Agent Rachel Walling, McEvoy might just get that big story he’s after but may have to pay for it with his life.

I’m a devoted fan of Harry Bosch but I really like McEvoy, too. The Poet rocked my socks and McEvoy is a more romantic hero than Bosch. He seems to fit better with Walling and his methods of journalistic investigation are more familiar to me than Bosch’s police procedures. McEvoy has popped up in Connelly’s other books (i.e. The Brass Verdict) but those were inconsequential appearances. Having him as the lead once again is a treat which shouldn’t be missed by Connelly fans.

Much of my enjoyment of this book also stemmed from it being a paean to the daily grind of print journalism, a dying art as newspapers are shutting down across the country. The descriptions of the newspaper lingo and processes are almost romantic and bittersweet, making me nostalgic for an institution I know is changing in an irreversible way. The movie State of Play, which I saw this weekend, also pays tribute to this same issue (click here for my review and comparison with the BBC version) and it’s sad news all around.

On that note, I’m gonna stop writing and go read my paper.

Nerd verdict: This Scarecrow is sturdy