Monthly Archives

April 2009

Richard Jenkins to EAT, PRAY, LOVE with Julia Roberts

I’m one of the gazillion people who loved Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love so I’ve been keeping tabs on the movie adaptation to see if it’s getting the proper care as it makes its trek through development hell. So far, despite the little turnaround problem with Paramount, it looks good to me.

You’ve probably heard about Julia Roberts playing Gilbert. Though Roberts is a little older than Gilbert was during the events in the book (41 to the author’s early 30s), she still looks great and her smart-girl charm seems in line with the witty intelligence Gilbert exudes in her TV talk show appearances.

richard-jenkins-0109-450pwThis week, the trades report that Richard Jenkins has been cast as Richard from Texas, someone Gilbert befriended in India who ended up enlightening her with his insight and simple truths. I was able to reach the real Richard to get a quick reaction to Jenkins’s casting.

PCN: How do you feel about Richard Jenkins playing you?

Richard from Texas: I’m not familiar with this Jenkins fellow. Thought Dennis Quaid would be a good fit for the part but who knows what their vision for the movie is.

PCN: Jenkins is a fine actor who was Oscar-nominated this year for The Visitor, which I recommend since it’s a charming little film. He doesn’t look much like you but you’ll be in good hands talent-wise. What do you think about your movie self hanging out with Julia Roberts?

Richard from Texas: Julia Roberts seems like a nice person; I could hang with her and hubby and kids. Twins are so much fun, got a pair of 11-year-old identical twins in my life, wonderful to spend time with them, they are so sweet. As far as my movie self goes—it should be interesting.

PCN: Are there any obvious similarities between Roberts and the Elizabeth Gilbert you know?

Richard from Texas with Gilbert (from his website)

Richard from Texas with Gilbert (from his website)

Richard from Texas: I don’t know Julia Roberts and Liz Gilbert is my dear friend as well as a private person. You’ll have to ask her that question.

Since Gilbert is working to finish her next book, Matrimonium, for a 2010 release, it’s not likely I’ll be able to reach her. But I’ll keep tabs on the movie and keep you updated on any news. (UPDATE: Read my review of her follow-up, now titled Commited, here.)


AMERICAN IDOL — Results for Movie Theme Night

The judges finally used their save on Matt Giraud! I was stunned, considering how Matt wasn’t any better tonight when he performed his encore of “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?” He was still trying to riff too much and when he reached for one high note, I thought he was going to give himself a hernia. I think the judges just saved him because they’re running out of time—next week would’ve been their last chance to save a contestant whom America votes off. It would’ve been silly to introduce this new idea and then let it go unused.

If I were Matt, though, I wouldn’t celebrate too much. Next week, two people will be going and they’ll probably be him and Lil. By being saved, Matt hasn’t really been given another shot at the crown. He only got himself the dubious distinction of being the first contestant America wanted out but the judges dragged back in.

Other than the results, we had two performers tonight: Jennifer Hudson and Miley Cyrus. Hudson sounded as powerful as ever but the song was mediocre. I’m just glad she seemed happy and looked amazing. She looked so good (could her hair be any shinier?!) that I was secretly daring Simon to say anything negative about her outfit since he used to bash everything she wore when she was just a lowly contestant. Well, look at her now.

As for Miley, she was Miley. I’m at least 20 years beyond her target demographic so I’ll just move on.

Next week, we’ve got disco night. Anyone excited? I am! Love disco music! But Lil had better not do any Donna Summer. And I fear Adam might attempt a Bee Gees tune since he’s got that falsetto. I’m a huge fan of the Brothers Gibb so if Adam does choose something from their repertoire, I hope it’ll make me feel like dancing instead of running from the room.


Hang with Leo, Save the World

Happy Tax Day!

Wanna know how you can get a cool tax write-off next year? By clicking here and bidding on autographed memorabilia from Leonardo DiCaprio’s movies and a chance to spend time with the man himself at the premiere of his movie Shutter Island, which opens October 2. Also up for grabs are guitars signed by top recording artists. If I could offer myself up for auction, I would, but I think the organizers are trying to raise money.

The proceeds go to Global Green USA, which combats global warming and is working to rebuild New Orleans in an earth-conscious way. Check with your accountant but I believe the money you spend would count as a charitable donation.

The auctions begins today at 7 p.m. PST and will end next week on Earth Day, April 22.

I’m hoping I win the Titanic replica…


AMERICAN IDOL Season 8 — Bloodless Tarantino Night

You’d think that in the presence of mentor Quentin Tarantino, the remaining 7 contestants would kill some of the songs on movie-theme night. Didn’t happen. Most of them just ended up torturing me with overwrought performances that made me almost want to cut off my own ears.

Allison Iraheta sang that ghastly Aerosmith ballad, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” from Armageddon. Truth is, I wouldn’t miss it if I never heard it again in my life. Why do we have to be subjected to this song every season when nobody has ever been able to sing it well? Even when it’s done by Steven Tyler, I still hate that sappy, crappy ballad. I really like Allison’s raspy voice but I think the song was too low for her. She spent too much time in her lower registers and missed quite a few notes. I’m still rooting for her but this wasn’t one of her best.

Next, Anoop covered Bryan Adams’s “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. I used to love the uptempo Anoop until his “Beat It” and “Caught Up” fiascos so it’s perhaps best he sticks to slow songs. This is another treacly ballad but he was in tune and was able to impressively sustain some high notes.

Then Adam Lambert did “Born to be Wild” from Easy Rider. Tarantino thought Adam’s a rock star? Maybe for a Duran Duran cover band. He sounded like Grace Slick and the epilepsy-inducing flashing lights were too much but after two slow songs, Adam did inject a bolt of electricity into the show.

Matt Giraud took on another Bryan Adams song, “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?” from Don Juan DeMarco. Now, I do like this song; it’s got a really pretty melody. But Matt went and messed it all up by changing keys, riffing all over the place and wobbling on a bunch of notes. That poor guy. I wish he’d find where his groove is and stay there.

Danny Gokey sang “Endless Love.” It was just a solid, straightforward performance, no goosebumps here. I didn’t think it was fair, though, of Simon to compare him to David Cook’s performance of Lionel Richie’s “Hello” last year. The comparison would make sense if Gokey and Cook both sang the same song but they sang different tunes.

Kris Allen brought the boldest choice of the night—the lilting, Oscar-winning “Falling Slowly” from Once. I was so excited he picked it because I love that song. But then he smiled through the beginning bars and I knew it wasn’t gonna be great. Pitch-wise, he was decent but his voice lacked the beautiful ache Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova had which made the song so memorable.

Lil Rounds closed out the evening with “The Rose.” She made the same mistake Matt did—taking a song with a simple, beautiful melody and trying to do too much with it. It takes guts to sing a song with such sparse accompaniment because the focus is going to be on your voice. But Lil didn’t seem to trust her instrument because she turned the song into a pseudo-gospel hymn and inserted too many runs, ruining its stark beauty. It’s too bad because she can really sing; she just needs to strip off everything (including the wigs and glitter makeup) and put her voice front and center.

No one inspired my vote tonight. What about you? What’d you think of Tarantino as mentor? Leave me a comment!


Interview: Nerdy Questions for Author Steve Amick–Part Two

This is the conclusion of an interview with Steve Amick (click here for part one), who wrote the 1940s love story, Nothing But a Smile.

PCN: If a movie of your book had been made in the ’40s, who would have played Wink, Sal and Reenie?

SA: In the ’40s, Wink might have been Jimmy Stewart or Joseph Cotton—whichever one would be willing to play the masturbation scenes. They’d probably have to do a screen test for that. At one point, Sal compares [her husband] Chesty to Jimmy Stewart, but we also hear that Wink and Chesty were similar in build, so the casting could be sort of interchangeable…I know [Stewart] spent the war flying bombers over Germany and left with a very high rank, so I’m not sure how long his hiatus from movies lasted.

PCN: According to IMDb, he had no movies released between 1941 and 1946 so I’d say the break was about five years.

jimmystewartairmedalSA: He was very quietly piloting a bomber over Europe. And when he returned, he didn’t want the studios making something out of it, so it really was played down…Another guy that comes to mind is William Holden. A relative unknown at the time, he made training films for the Air Force for much of the war years, but he would have been great, too.

j-wymanSal might be Jane Wyman, if Ronald Reagan would have allowed her to do topless. Virginia Mayo would be good. Again, I believe, Ronald Reagan might have had a say. Other possibles: Lana Turner, Betty Grable, Olivia De Havilland, Rita Hayworth, as long as she didn’t bring her meddling husband, Orson Welles, in tow. Or possibly Lauren Bacall, for some of the tougher side and because she might have brought Bogie in tow. Reenie could be part Jane Russell—not the obvious parts—and part Jennifer Jones.

PCN: Who’d play them now?

scarlett-johansson-loreal-2008-adSA: These days I could see Scarlett Johansson or Ginnifer Goodwin, when she dyed her hair on Big Love, as Sal. Anyone from the Anne Hathaway School for Young Brunettes with Talent would be great as Reenie and maybe Lee Pace from the short-lived Pushing Daisies as Wink. He’s tall and a little Sad Sack and droopy-eyed and can do shy well.

lee-pace-21PCN: Lee Pace would make an excellent Wink, especially if you’ve seen Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.

SA: I haven’t, but if he’s reading this, I have. Many, many, times…My wife thinks Bobby Cannavale [could play] Keeney, and he’s great, but I kind of imagine the wounded vet as more like Vince Vaughn attempting to play it straight, hoping for more dramatic parts in the future. And with an arm missing—possibly by CGI, unless Vince Vaughn really, really wanted the part and wanted this to be his Raging Bull. Though I do think buzz about him having his arm removed just for the movie might be seen as a bummer and put a crimp in the movie sales.

PCN: But that would make him a shoo-in for an Oscar. The Academy loves it when actors go to extremes like that.

SA: True, so Vince Vaughn might want to play Sal. But actually, the first thing that really comes to mind when you start imagining casting a story like this isn’t something like “how nude would they get?” but more the issue of age. With a more contemporary, more realistic approach, the trick would be getting actors young enough—we forget how young these people really were during the war years. They were just kids, most of them, but they went through so much and so they came out of it knowing how to behave like grownups. You sort of forget that these characters were really in their early twenties.

Given the time it takes for a movie to get to the start of principal photography, perhaps the dream cast is a group of relative unknowns currently starring in some cable Disney show. Possibly I’ve never heard of them and they’re all playing vampires or dancing around a high school hallway this year.

PCN: Sal encountered judgment for what she did when she tried to buy a house in a family-oriented neighborhood. How would you feel if a Playmate moved next door to you?

SA: Depending on which neighbor would have to move out to accommodate her, I might feel a slight bit of brief sadness. But I would bring them cardboard boxes and I would help them pack up their stuff and order a pizza while we loaded up the moving van. I would get them a going-away card and maybe a bottle of wine or something. And I’d probably wash our windows and trim the hedges back, maybe install a plate glass window.

I’ve had two short stories in Playboy, so I wouldn’t be one to throw stones. Though I did remain clothed while I wrote them.

PCN: That’s good, as well as sanitary. So not only do you read Playboy for the articles, you write them.

SA: Wrote them—there’s a new regime there. And it was only short stories—I didn’t advise anyone on the latest stereo equipment or new ways to tie a cravat.

The cool thing was, one of my main mentors who encouraged me early on to write fiction was a locally-celebrated high school teacher who used to supplement the reading with short stories he’d Xeroxed out of back issues of Playboys, back when they published some of the greatest American writers out there. He pretty much flipped when he heard they took my first story and that I got the guided tour of the Chicago offices. I saw hand-corrected galleys by Vonnegut and Kerouac and one of the original prints of pre-blonde Marilyn sprawled on red velvet, back when she was an unknown girl next door, posing for pinups and trying to get by.

PCN: Wink only turned to photography when he realized he’d never be able to draw again. What would you do if you couldn’t write?

SA: If I could sing better, I’d do that. Every contemporary writer would. I’ve always dabbled to one degree or another with bands and songwriting. I’ve still got a fun little CD of original songs I recorded out there somewhere.

rube-goldbergAnd I’ve always been involved in art. Like Wink, I wanted to be a cartoonist when I was quite young. Big fan of Rube Goldberg as an eight-year-old. I actually took a lot of painting and drawing classes and flirted with a second major and a graduate degree in art—graphic design…Maybe I’d get into fireworks or the long con, preferably one involving a lot of disguises. Con men have to know how to build a narrative. Of course, in either job I’d be dead inside a month.

I did seriously consider, when I turned forty, going to a hypnotherapist and getting hypnotized not to write every day. To abandon that routine, because I didn’t feel it was serving as a career. I’d only had short stories published, and some small plays produced. My wife, who’d only been married to me for two months at that point, told me to hold off on the hypnotherapy just a little longer—she’s a librarian and liked that she’d married a writer—and then a month or so later, I sold my first novel in a nice little bidding war and I was finally on my way.

PCN: At a certain point in the story, Wink and Sal had to pare down their lives. If you had to pare down your writing space, what would you keep and what would get tossed? Would a chick incubator make the cut?

SA: The chick incubator would have to go, as birds sort of skeeve me out. I grew up in a house with a lot of plate glass and surrounded by trees; you do the math. I would probably toss the mounds of earlier drafts of things that cascade and wobble high above the square foot of space on my desk that now accommodates my laptop.

kelly-ripaI would get rid of the mice that have appeared; possibly the hidden mold that I may or may not be inhaling. I would keep the framed Clash poster, signed by the band backstage when I was a young punk. Ditto the old map of North American native tribes and my library poster of Kelly Ripa telling kids to read books.

I would also toss the several how-tos friends and relatives have given me on the topic of organizing and clutter control. I would keep the photo of my toddler taking a bath because it reminds me why I have to stay in the basement and cannot spread out the way I once did when this was my bachelor pad.

PCN: Is your next book really about Danish living room furniture? It sounds juicy.

SA: It is juicy. In fact, let me make a note to myself, in the next pass, to add more scenes in which characters imbibe juice because if nothing else, I want my characters to be well-hydrated…But seriously, it’s not about Danish Modern living room furniture so much as it would not exist in the same way without the presence of Danish Modern furniture. It is not a novel about Charles and Ray Eames, though that might be a good idea, too…let me make another note…It does not take place in an Ikea.

What else can I tell you? Here’s a fun fact: Unlike the stories for Playboy, you might call it “unsanitary” since I did write the majority of this other one in the bathtub.

PCN: That’s a good one. Next time I hog the bathroom, I’ll tell my spouse I’m writing a novel, too.

SA: I’m not kidding. And so we go full circle back to “nothing but a smile”? I do wonder if it brings something raw and exposed to the book, but it wasn’t really premeditated. I just wound up writing most of it in the bathtub, that’s all.

And I should also say that it won’t necessarily be my next novel, in terms of publication. I hope it is my next published novel. We’ll have to see just how brave or crazy the powers that be are upstairs at Random House.

If it isn’t next, I will sell this one door-to-door, I swear. It means something goofily serious to me, about nostalgia and a longing for a feeling of safety. I can’t say more because it is so damned high concept, but it will baffle and stun those who think I only write about pinup girls and pie.

PCN: You can ring my doorbell if you do end up selling it door-to-door. And if you bring pie on top of that, I’d say a sale is almost certain.

SA: Great. It’s a big book, but I’ll bring a wagon.


Interview: Nerdy Questions for Author Steve Amick–Part One

One of the reasons I started this blog was to spotlight writers/artists/actors who may not be household names yet but I feel deserve attention. Last month, I received Steve Amick‘s book Nothing But a Smile and was immediately drawn into the 1940s world of Wink, an illustrator who gets sent home to Chicago after injuring his drawing hand in WWII, and Sal, Wink’s war buddy’s wife with whom he collaborates in producing “girlie pictures” to pay the bills. Though Sal uses herself and her best friend Reenie as models in the semi-nude pinups, an almost-chaste yet aching friendship slowly develops between Wink and Sal. Amick’s wicked humor and eye for period detail makes this a sexy, poignant story of love, friendship, and resilience during troubled times.

Amick kindly consented to an e-mail interview with me, where he talks about his inspiration and tedious, labor-intensive task of researching girlie magazines. I’ll be publishing this interview in two parts so be sure and come back for the conclusion.

PCN: What inspired you to write a sweet love story about people who produced girlie pictures?

Steve Amick: I didn’t have that specific outcome in mind. I try to just place characters in a moment of conflict and have them find their way, and these characters quickly presented themselves as two people with certain very likable personalities who would logically find each other very likable and I just stepped out of the way and let it happen. But that being said, I am drawn to characters that make you care about them despite their environment or what they do. It’s a little too easy to make people care about heartthrob Dudley Dorights who volunteer for Doctors Without Borders. Generating empathy for characters we would normally not get to know—or want to know—in real life is sort of, I feel, part of the assignment as a writer. Going into the unsavory or weird places and finding common ground and a sort of universal light. And yes, I guess I do enjoy irony and contrast a lot and challenging people’s own sense of what they care about and don’t care about.

14The inspiration for this one was very specific, though. I didn’t have the two characters or the setting or anything: I had a cover image and a title. I’d been talking to my father-in-law, who was a former commercial illustrator and painter in Chicago, about our mutual admiration for Gil Elvgren, arguably the most talented painter to ever produce pinup calendar art.

It was the first day of the year and I went online to look for a new calendar and came across a new 2007 calendar featuring old, very hokey, very amateurish semi-nude girly photos. The one on the cover was so strangely fresh-faced and beaming and yet so homemade, with a cartoon sun painted on the brick wall behind her, that sort of as a joke or a challenge or a future idea, I grabbed the image and downloaded it into a file, making a cover page titled “The Girlies: A Novel.”

I had no idea for a story, but the next day, without trying to return to it, ideas started coming as to what that story would be that would fit that cover…So I wrote five pages a day for two months and at the end of it, had a solid first draft…I like to trick readers into caring about people and subjects they might otherwise think aren’t their “cup of tea,” especially readers who say things like “not my cup of tea.”

PCN: Your descriptions of the pictorials were incredibly detailed and vivid. How much, um, research did you have to do?

history-of-girlySA: Years and years, of course. Since before my voice changed. I don’t have a photographic memory, but it is pretty close. There is one reference book I looked at, The History of Girly Magazines (Taschen Books), that breaks down the genre into eras, and there are examples of some ridiculous photo shoots—especially the non-nude ones—with very strange and corny scenarios. None of them ended up in the book, but they inspired the cheesy arts-and-crafts approach to the set dressing. Things made of cardboard, hokey costumes, cobbled together props. And the over-the-top facial expressions and pun-heavy copy.

PCN: Do you have an interest in photography? What kind of camera do you use? The way the Argus was described in the book is akin to how some guys talk about their cars.

argus_c31SA: I live near the original Argus Camera company. I mean, I can walk there from my house. It’s now an office building that houses a small museum dedicated to Argus. We had the after-party for my book launch there, with a jazz combo and cheesecake (the edible kind).

When I paused in writing to figure out what Wink would be using, the slightest bit of research reminded me what it had to be. The Argus C-3 really opened up 35 mm photography to the general public, the GIs used it and it was made here in Ann Arbor. The coincidence was too great so I went with it.

…As a teenager, I was more into making super 8 movies—both Claymation and ambitious epics with my friends. My first camera was one of those wooden Fisher-Price toys, with the four seasons on the flash cube. The second was a camera shaped like Mickey Mouse’s head. You held the whole thing up by the ears to your head and basically looked like you’d replaced your head with Mickey’s and the aperture was through his nose. (That thing must be worth something at this point.) We had some old German camera when I was growing up that we used for camera classes and stuff, but I think even that stopped working eventually. I just monkey around with point-and-shoots now, but I do not own a digital.

PCN: The photo Wink took of Keeney, the war veteran, turned out to have a completely different backstory than what Wink had assumed. Have you ever looked at an iconic photo and had an alternate theory about what was really happening when the picture was snapped?

eisenstaedt_alfred_m2_vj_day_lasiter_16x20_lSA: I do kind of wonder if, right after that photo of the sailor bending the girl backwards—Alfred Eisenstaedt’s “V-J Day in Times Square”— if she didn’t haul back and slap the crap out of him. It’s possible she pressed charges. Wouldn’t it just be so great if someone discovered there was an entire roll of film after that frame, showing a burly husband appearing and throttling the guy?

PCN: I was thinking of that photo when I wrote this question! And yes, it’d be great to see the “outtakes” of what happened right afterwards.

arnold_hardySA: What’s interesting, too, is that when I dug around to find out what photo actually won the Pulitzer [in 1947] that supposedly beat out Wink’s fictional photo, I found that the amateur shot [by Arnold Hardy] of a woman falling from an apartment fire continues, to this day, to be mislabeled as “to her death,” when in reality she died several decades later. She recuperated—that whole business in the book is true. So the question is, was the photo really that effective and moving, or do people just remember the headline or the caption or the idea of the image? In a way, come to think of it, this entire novel was written as an imagining of a photo for which I had no real information.

PCN: Much has changed in 60 years but do you think there are any similarities between the current climate and what America was like during WWII?

SA: I hadn’t planned on there being a similarity when I wrote this in early ’07, but I’m hearing from so many people that my book is “timely” because of the economy that I’m starting to believe there maybe is a connection. Yes, people are now looking at prioritizing and also their own sense of identity—what’s at the heart of who they are, especially in terms of jobs and lifestyle, but I think the real point of comparison—and it’s perhaps too soon to tell about this—is if there develops the same sense of self-sacrifice for the common good seen on the homefront during WWII.

I do know that at my house this spring, we are ripping up the front yard and building a victory garden. I’m not kidding. I figure, if nothing else, it’s a good example for our toddler about where food comes from, and working at things, and simple pleasures and all that good old-fashioned stuff. Plus, with a chicken wire fence out there, he won’t be able to run out into traffic. Win-win.

PCN: That’s so cool. What goes into a victory garden?

SA: With a two-year-old, mostly things he won’t really want to jump on and crush…I asked what he wants and he seems convinced we can grow Cheerios. I think the traditional answer is things that can be canned, to sustain you longer than the garden’s season, and things that can be replanted throughout the season, but I’m not quite ready to take on canning and frankly we’ll be lucky if we get one batch of food out of it. Probably, it will become a very large sandbox, but that would be okay, too.

Click here for the conclusion of this interview, in which Amick teases his next book and speculates about who would play the leads if Nothing But a Smile were made into a movie.


More Stuff to Watch on Crowded Thursday Nights

leslie_officeI came home just in time to check out two midseason series’ premieres last night, NBC’s Amy Poehler-starrer Parks and Recreation and CBS’s heavily promoted Harper’s Island. Parks has potential, with Poehler being reliably funny as Leslie Knope, the deputy director of the Parks & Recreation Department in Pawnee, Indiana. She’s supported by a capable cast which includes Rashida Jones, Aziz Ansari, and Nick Offerman. My fave is Ansari, who plays Tom, a department member. I’ve enjoyed his work since his guest stint as the racist (only towards New Zealeanders) fruit vendor in Flight of the Conchords. This guy is so funny and out there; you never know what crazy stuff is gonna come out of his mouth.

Yes, this show is very similar in The Office in style and execution but since Office hasn’t been very funny this season, you might want to check out Parks, or at least the website that was created about Pawnee.

My favorite lines from the show:

  • “The problem is anything over twenty-five dollars, I have to report. So, um, maybe give my wife a call and give her the suits. And if they don’t fit her, maybe she’ll give them to me.”—Tom (Ansari) talking to someone on the phone.
  • “These people are members of the community that cares about where they live. What I hear when I’m being yelled at is people caring loudly at me.”—Leslie after a community-outreach meeting.
  • “Recently, I led a city-wide drive to disinfect the sandbox sand after we had those problems with the cats.” —Leslie proudly discussing some of her recent accomplishments.
  • “Tom and I…are both outsiders. I’m a woman; he’s a…oh, I think he’s a Libyan.”—Leslie about how well she and Tom work together.

harpers_island5After Parks, I tuned in to Harper’s Island, an entirely different kind of show. If you haven’t heard, the 13-part mystery’s premise is kind of a scripted Survivor crossed with Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. The plot concerns a bunch of people coming to the fictional titular island for a wedding and each week one person gets murdered. You see, seven years ago, six people were killed on the island by a serial killer until the sheriff killed him. Or did he?

So far, there are too many people to keep track of and not many of them are compelling characters yet. There’s lots of ham-fisted, over-the-top, soap opera acting but I must admit, I was totally creeped out by this show. The murder methods were shocking (since this was the pilot, they bumped off two people—how generous!). I’m not a fan of scary movies—I like suspense, not gore; Hitchcock, not Tarantino—but the hour went by fast, I jumped a few times and will tune in again next week.

Nerd Verdicts: Parks has potential and just sit right back and watch the tale on Island


Unplugging from the Culture

Photo © Pop Culture Nerd

I haven’t written in the last few days because this is where I was. Went away for a little R & R in Desert Hot Springs where there’s no phone, TV or Internet, just lots of sun, soaking in hot tubs of mineral spring water and catching up on reading. Ahhhh.

Read a couple books, Jane Hamilton’s (A Map of the World, The Book of Ruth) new one, Laura Rider’s Masterpiece, and the first mystery novel by Lis Wiehl (with April Henry) called Face of Betrayal. Masterpiece started out with a funny first sentence: “Just because Laura Rider had no children didn’t mean her husband was a homosexual, but the people of Hartley, Wisconsin believed he was, and no babies seemed to them proof.” But then it lost me.

laura_riders_masterpieceNone of the lead characters are likable. Laura, who was never a big reader until adulthood, wants to write a romance novel and about all the prep she does is watching Pride & Prejudice, the Keira Knightley version, and buying an ergonomic chair. Oh, and she manipulates her husband in an implausible plot to do “research” for her book. Her husband Charlie is infantile, eating corndogs on a stick and tater tots for dinner and Froot Loops for breakfast, slurping the pink milk. He also believes he was once abducted by aliens. The third person in the triangle is Jenna, a local radio personality who can talk to anyone on her show but can’t seem to communicate with her husband and daughter. I might be a little more sympathetic towards her if she wasn’t such a big hypocrite when it comes to adultery.

I don’t think protagonists have to be perfect; the most interesting characters aren’t. But we must care for them in some way and I didn’t want to root for anyone in this story. The story is supposed to be funny but I was too annoyed by the characters to laugh. They were either clueless or self-obsessed or pretentious and deserved whatever they got.

face-ofThe other book I finished, Face of Betrayal, also revolved around three lead characters who call themselves the Triple Threat Club. It’s very much like James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club. Three women—an FBI agent, a federal prosecutor, a TV news reporter—meet regularly to dine and trade information to solve murders. The plot, about a young Senate page who goes missing, borrows heavily from the Chandra Levy and Mark Foley cases but adds a twist when it comes to the killer’s identity.

You can argue whether writing a ripped-from-the-headlines story is less creative or more relevant but the end result here is very readable. It may not break new ground in the genre but Wiehl really knows her territories and kept me flipping those pages. She’s a former federal prosecutor who now works as a legal analyst and commentator for Fox News and on The O’Reilly Factor with Bill O’Reilly. Her father was an FBI agent so Wiehl accomplishes the neat trick of writing with authority about each of the three women’s line of work and making them three distinct personalities. (I used to be a TV reporter and her newsroom details really took me back there.) This is the first in a promised series and the book ends with a gripping excerpt of two chapters from the next installment.

Nerd Verdicts: Jane Hamilton’s latest is not a Masterpiece but Lis Wiehl’s Face is compelling


BBC's STATE OF PLAY Left Me in State of Awe

Last year, when I first heard about the cast for the American version of State of Play , I thought, Dang, that script must be really bangin’ to get all those stars to sign up! I mean, Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, Ben Affleck, Robin Wright Penn, Jason Bateman, Viola Davis, Jeff Daniels and Helen Mirren are all crammed into this movie. The trailers just look like standard thriller fare so what’s the scoop?


Since the movie is based on a BBC series of the same name, I checked that out last week on DVD. Luckily, I did this on a Saturday. But, unwisely, I popped in the first disc at about 11 p.m., thinking I’d polish off one episode (there are six) before hitting the sheets. Three a.m. and four episodes later, I’m bleary-eyed but still up because from the first frame, this show grabbed me by the throat, threw me up against the wall and kept me hanging. It’s brilliant, really, and I don’t use that word often.

state_of_play_bbc_01The series is about investigative newspaper reporter Cal McCaffrey, who stumbles upon the most explosive story of his career when an MP’s (member of Parliament) research assistant/lover dies under mysterious circumstances (she may or may not have accidentally fallen onto the tube’s tracks). On the same day across town, a teenager is assassinated in a seemingly drug-related killing. Cal and his fellow staff reporters investigate these stories and find they might be connected. The incidents also have far-reaching implications into the corridors of government and may be too hot for the paper to handle.


The terrific ensemble is led by David Morrissey (Viva Blackpool) as the MP, Stephen Collins; John Simm (the original Sam Tyler in the British version of Life on Mars); Kelly McDonald (No Country for Old Men); Polly Walker (Rome); James McAvoy and the fabulously wry Bill Nighy, who delivers every line with perfection.

After finishing the series, I thought, How is the American version going to top this? How will it cram six hours’ worth of plot—jam-packed every minute with clues and revelations and surprise twists— into two? But the amazing cast gives me hope. I think Crowe (as McCaffrey), McAdams (his colleague Della), Wright Penn (Collins’s wife) and Daniels (Collins’s superior) are well cast. And if there’s anybody who can make me forget, if only temporarily, Nighy’s performance, it’s the divine Helen Mirren in a fun gender twist as the paper’s tough but smart editor.

affl-penn1Affleck (as Collins, here a Congressman) is the only one I’m concerned about; I’ve never been a fan of his onscreen persona. Have you seen Changing Lanes or Reindeer Games or Pearl Harbor or Armageddon? He seems lightweight for a role in which Morrissey gives a towering performance. But then again, Affleck was good as George Reeves in Hollywoodland. Also, when I saw him speak couple years ago at a screening for Gone Baby Gone (which I thought was well done), I found him charming and smart and it reminded me why he won that Oscar for writing once upon a time. If he could transplant his real-life charisma onto the screen, he’d be great as Stephen Collins.

The movie opens Stateside April 17. (Click here for my comparison between this and the American version.)


Warner Bros. and New Line Bringing SEXy Back

sexandthecitymovie1You’ve already heard that there will be a Sex and the City movie sequel, with all four lead actresses and writer/director Michael Patrick King returning. Now, a release date has been set: May 28, 2010. It’s the same last weekend in May the first one had but next year, it’ll have the benefit of being Memorial Day weekend, giving the movie an extra day to rack up those opening numbers (the first one grossed about $415 worldwide).

I’m looking forward to this because I really enjoyed last year’s movie. It really wasn’t about the fashion (though the shoe porn helped). I was moved by how the bond of friendship remains fierce between Carrie and her friends no matter what life throws at them.

So, should Carrie and Big have a baby? (Hell no for me.) Should Aidan return to complicate things? Should Samantha settle down? Will you be in line for the sequel or do you think they’re waaay overstaying their welcome?


SPELLMAN FILES Handed to Director Barry Sonnenfeld

Couple weeks ago, I reviewed the third book in Lisa Lutz‘s series about a family of private investigators, Revenge of the Spellmans. Now Variety reports that the movie of the first book, The Spellman Files, is moving forward with Barry Sonnenfeld at the helm. Sonnenfeld has done everything from directing the two Men in Black movies (Sony just confirmed a third installment) to producing Pushing Daisies and The Tick on TV so this could be wild!

spellmanI e-mailed Lutz for her reaction (she’s currently in Seattle on her book tour) and she kindly took time to respond with the following statement: “I am thrilled that Barry Sonnenfeld has been attached to direct Spellman. I’m a huge fan and I think he has a wonderful eye. I have heard various rumors about casting, but nothing that I can repeat. I will say that I am very excited about some of the names that have been mentioned.”

If you’ve read the book, who do you envision as Izzy? I would love to see Emily Blunt in the role. She’s about the right age and her impeccable comic timing would do Izzy justice. And how about Rae and David and Olivia and Al? Post dream cast ideas in the comments!


AMERICAN IDOL Season 8 — Results for Top Downloads Night

Megan Joy‘s gone. She started out so strong but last night’s performance was messier than the trunk of my car. Based on that, she deserved to be voted off. Plus, she was extra goofy tonight, as if she really didn’t care anymore, and sobbed when she saw her baby boy in her highlights reel so I guess it’s a good thing she’s going home to him. She didn’t have to be so disrespectful of Simon, though, and he certainly didn’t have to sink to her level with that rude retort about how he wouldn’t even consider saving her.

I’m gonna keep this short because frankly, the show was duller than a bucket of dirt. David Cook’s performance wasn’t anything exciting; when he teared up at the presentation of his platinum record, that was more interesting. And I fast-forwarded through most of Lady Gaga because I didn’t know what the hump she was doing or wearing. Is she gunning for a part in a live-action Jetsons movie?

Next week, the contestants will be singing songs from the year they were born, which means they’ll all be ’80s tunes. I’m down with that! Well, as long as Adam doesn’t do Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax”!

Any particular song you’d like them to cover? Post in the comments!