Monthly Archives

June 2009

Trailer: Ricky Gervais's THE INVENTION OF LYING

I’ve been waiting for this trailer and it doesn’t disappoint. The Invention of Lying (formerly known as This Side of the Truth) has such an amazing cast, I don’t know how it can not be funny. No one can take a to-his-face insult like Ricky Gervais.

Besides the people seen in the trailer—Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, Tina Fey, Christopher Guest, et al.—Jeffrey Tambor, Patrick Stewart and Jason Bateman are also in this movie. If that’s not enough, Gervais says on his blog there are “great cameo surprises.”

Co-written and co-directed by Gervais with Matthew Robinson, Lying opens September 25, 2009 in the U.S. and October 2 in the U.K.

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Review: Richard Lange's THIS WICKED WORLD

Every once in a while, a neo-noir writer comes along who’s so exciting, he/she turns me into an annoying evangelist-type fan with a fervent need to spread the word. Five years ago, Charlie Huston had this effect on me with his first novel, Caught Stealing. Gillian Flynn did it to me in 2006 with Sharp Objects. This year, the honor goes to Richard Lange and his debut novel, This Wicked World.

Former marine and ex-con Jimmy Boone is a bartender on Hollywood Boulevard, trying to repair his life after a horrible mistake cost him a luxiourious lifestyle and landed him in prison. One day, he goes with a friend as a favor to look into an illegal immigrant’s death and quickly becomes obsessed with the case, even after his friend has dropped the investigation. Boone’s probe into the matter gets him involved with an attractive ex-cop neighbor, a vindictive stripper and her drug-dealing brother, and a deadly criminal mastermind who runs a dog-fighting ring in the Twentynine Palms desert. Things go violently awry and Boone finds himself in a situation that puts his life—and those of his friends—in mortal danger.

There are many things to praise about this novel: the tight yet expressive prose; the hip, witty dialogue that almost needs to be read aloud so you can hear how good Lange is with banter; the compelling plot which slowly reveals why Boone went to prison; and the unexpected moments of black humor (a bad guy’s profane internal monologue is cut off mid-sentence when he gets shot).

But the most striking thing about this book is the cast of characters. In this story, no one is completely heroic and no one is pure evil. Everyone lives in a gray area, surviving the only way they know how, searching for the same thing: redemption. The good guys have done some questionable things in their past but somehow you don’t judge them. More surprisingly, Lange made me understand and empathize a little with the nastiest characters, even as I was horrified by their actions. One of the crime boss’s henchmen, for example, can kill a man in cold blood but also subjects himself to painful tattoo-removal procedures so he can look more respectable in court while fighting for custody of his young daughter.

This dual nature extends to the novel’s L.A. setting as well. The city can be a glamorous place but Lange prefers hanging out in the grittier neighborhoods, capturing the feel of places and people who usually have police searchlights instead of movie spotlights on them. “Wicked” can mean either evil or wonderful so the title is appropriate because this story is both.

Nerd verdict: Wicked World is wicked good

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Review: Margot Berwin's HOTHOUSE FLOWER AND THE 9 PLANTS OF DESIRE

You know how sometimes when you go on vacation, you want something light to read but don’t want it to be so trashy as to elicit condescending looks from people sitting next to you on the plane? Well, I’ve got the perfect holiday read for you: Margot Berwin’s Hothouse Flower and the 9 Plants of Desire. I just road-tested this theory and received only glances of interest and curiosity. I mean, look at that eye-catching cover. And here’s an instance where you can judge a book by its cover because the story inside is just as colorful and full of life.

Berwin’s debut novel is about Lila, a newly divorced New York ad exec who decides to buy some plants for her new apartment. In the process, she meets a handsome plant vendor, David Exley, and Armand, who owns a magical laundromat set up like a tropical jungle, with plants everywhere (the steamy air is good for them), moss on the floor and butterflies flying free. Armand tells Lila about the nine plants of desire, each representing a quality such as fortune, love at first sight and magic. The plants can only be found if they choose to reveal themselves to someone they deem worthy. Once a person possesses all nine, his/her desires shall be granted.

Lila goes searching for the plants in the rain forests of the Yucatan Peninsula, where she encounters snakes, an enigmatic jungle guide, lots of scorpions and a black panther which shadows her. While looking for the plants, she finds something even more important—her spiritual strength.

The story has a little bit of everything—adventure, humor, romance, magical realism, interesting plant facts—so no wonder a movie is in the works with Julia Roberts attached. Even with all these elements, Berwin manages to keep the pace breezy. Her vivid description of the extraordinary laundromat made me wish I had one in my neighborhood and her account of cannabis sativa in the form of sinsemilla—the plant of female sexuality—is incredibly sensual. Unlike the potent marijuana this plant produces, however, this novel will take you on a wild ride without killing any of your brain cells.

Nerd verdict: An exotic, sexy Desire

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Michael Jackson 1958-2009

What is going on this week?! This is crazy. I’m on vacation, hanging out with the family when my sister turned on the news and said, “Michael Jackson died!” It was a “Huh?” moment that still feels unreal.

This is so shocking and sad. I need more time to write a proper tribute but wanted to post the following questions so we can reminisce together here and remember the impact MJ had on pop culture.

  1. Where were you when Jackson busted out that moonwalk on Motown’s 25th anniversay special? (To refresh your memory, watch the video below.)
  2. How long did it take you to learn the “Thriller” dance and how many times have you performed it at parties?
  3. Favorite Jackson song?

UPDATE: I have a source who will be inside the Staples Center for Jackson’s memorial July 7. Check back here later that day for a report.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15SxqqwF63U]

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Farrah Fawcett 1947-2009

My heart is heavy and my words are clumsy right now so I turn the floor over to a contributing writer, Christian Moralde, who had several personal encounters with Fawcett over the years. I thought his impressions of her would make a fitting tribute.

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I’ve long respected Farrah Fawcett’s work as an actress but only in the last ten years have I really appreciated the person and become aware she was a lot more than the pin-up in the red bathing suit and one of Charlie’s angels.

She was an Emmy, Golden Globe and Independent Spirit Award nominee, worked off-Broadway and held her own against co-stars such as Cicely Tyson, Robert Duvall, Sidney Poitier, Geraldine Page, Kirk Douglas, and Glenn Close. She was actively involved in charity work against domestic violence and served as a board member for the National Advisory Council for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

First time I met her was in 2002, at a Los Angeles County Museum of Art exhibition of her artwork. I asked Farrah what kept her going and made her a survivor in the industry.

“Always be yourself. Always use yourself,” she said.

The second time I met her was at the 2004 TV Land Awards, where she was being honored and having the time of her life. I asked her backstage if I could take her photo and she flipped her hair playfully in full Farrah mode. At another point, someone asked her to hold up a product (I don’t recall what it was) and have her picture taken with it. This was strictly against the orders of her manager, who was standing nearby. When he wasn’t looking, she grabbed the product and told the person to hurry up and take the picture before her manager turned around. I’ve never forgotten her graciousness, lively spirit, and genuine sense of self.

In 2006, I had the opportunity to talk to the late director, Robert Altman, at an Oscars nominee luncheon about directing Farrah in Dr. T and the Women. His face lit up and his eyes sparkled. “She is lovely, a genuine lady and pleasure to work with.”

A couple of years later, Farrah was invited to speak to the Los Angeles chapter of the Screen Actors Guild about her career, which spanned more than three decades. We chatted afterwards about how she’d managed to have this longevity and she said, “Don’t look at the negative. Always look at the positive.” She must have used those words often during her fight with cancer.

I don’t want to focus on that final struggle for which she was primarily known these past few years. In writing this, my hope is to acknowledge her spirit and celebrate her life because she was a class act.

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Curious Case of Facebook Movie

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's CEO

Last year, reports surfaced that Aaron Sorkin would write a movie about the creation of Facebook, which I found curious enough. Sorkin has written highly dramatic, cerebral projects about military law proceedings (A Few Good Men) and D.C. politics (The West Wing) and now he turns his pen towards…social networking? How compelling can that be? And if someone’s not on Facebook, can they still enjoy it?

The project just took an intriguing turn as Variety reports that David Fincher is considering directing the movie, called The Social Network. Fincher is known for directing dark projects so why does this story interest him? I’m aware of the controversy surrounding Facebook’s creation—CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard classmates sued him for stealing their idea—but didn’t realize it was gritty enough to interest the director of Se7en, Fight Club, and Zodiac. His last film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, might have included a love story but was really about mortality.

So is your interest suddenly piqued? Would you watch this movie if Fincher directs it? Who should play Zuckerberg? (UPDATE: Click here to see who Columbia cast as Zuckerberg. Justin Timberlake’s in the movie, too!)

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First Official Photos of Tim Burton's ALICE IN WONDERLAND

I’m still on vacation but these photos are too good not to share.

Disney just released the first official images of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, slated for release March 5, 2010. Whether or not you’re a Burton fan, I think you’ve got to admit these pictures are stunning.

In case you can’t tell due to all the makeup, that’s Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen and Anne Hathaway as the White Queen. Nineteen-year-old Mia Wasikowska plays Alice, an excellent choice from what I’ve seen of her work in Defiance and In Treatment.

Other cast members include Alan Rickman as the Caterpillar, Michael Sheen as the White Rabbit and Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat. I can’t wait to see those pictures.

Meanwhile, feast your eyes on these and let me know what you think. (UPDATE: Check out the teaser trailer here.)

red queen

white queen

mia w as alice

ain wonderland

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Interview: Nerdy Questions for TRUST NO ONE’s Gregg Hurwitz

Photo by Gwen + Eddie

One of the highest compliments I can give you is by saying I want to shove you down the stairs. It means you have such an abundance of gifts, I want to steal some a la Eve in the movie that’s all about her.

Thriller writer Gregg Hurwitz is someone I’d like to shove down the stairs twice. But I can’t. Because he’s cool. And he’d probably “punish” me if I tried (more on that later).

Among other accomplishments, Gregg is the author of nine novels, the latest titled Trust No One (out June 23). It opens big, gets bigger, and hurtles towards an explosive finish without shedding character development and logic along the way. Gregg writes with equal parts intelligence, heart and muscle—what else can you ask for?

tno coverThe plot: Nick Horrigan has been waking at 2:18 a.m. every day for almost two decades due to a traumatic incident which destroyed his life and sent him on the lam when he was seventeen. He’d just started sleeping normally again when an LAPD SWAT team storms his apartment one night and drags him out of bed. A terrorist has barricaded himself inside a nuclear power plant and given the edict he will talk to only Nick. But Nick doesn’t know the man and has no idea what’s going on. Turns out the so-called bomber has a key to unlock the mysteries in Nick’s past which involved his stepfather Frank. “Trust no one” is the credo Frank lived by (etched as a tattoo on his arm in Japanese characters) and one Nick must adopt to survive.

For more info on the book and about Gregg, click here. In the meantime, read on as he answers my nerdy questions.

PCN: Since Frank broke the ice with the teenaged Nick by asking, “What do you want me to not do?”, I’ll start with, What do you want me to not ask?

Gregg Hurwitz: Don’t ask me about sock puppets. Or Ayn Rand.

PCN: Done. You’re Harvard and Oxford-educated, have guest lectured at Harvard and UCLA, swum with sharks, hung with SEALs, zip-lined across gulleys in Costa Rican cloud forests, a pole-vaulting champion, Shakespearean scholar, novelist, comic-book writer, inventor of fire, screenwriter, husband and father of two. Could you please tell me something you can’t do so I can feel less inadequate?

GH: I can’t tie my shoelaces except by making bunny ears. My nine-year-old, to her great delight, discovered this some months ago and has been lording it over me. I also can’t find my way out of the proverbial paper bag without help from a GPS system or my wife.

PCN: I feel much better, thank you. The U.S. title of your new novel is Trust No One. So if I say your book is terrific, would you think I’m lying? How would I convince you I’m not?

GH: Aw, shucks. Okay, I believe you. And thank you.

PCN: OK, good. So you’ve said you were interested in joining the FBI during your senior year in college. If you had become an agent, would you have been more like Scully or Mulder, whose motto was also…well, you know.

GH: Boy, that’s a tough one. Back then, I was definitely more Scully—I was (even more) argumentative and fact-based. I think I’ve mellowed since into a more Mulder-esque “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” mindset.

PCN: Horatio couldn’t have possibly dreamt about the kind of nuclear threat at the beginning of TNO. That was alarming. Did your research into that make you wake up in a panic at 2:18 a.m. every day?

GH: Not exactly. But I will say this—there’s a lot of scary stuff out there. And part of my job as a thriller writer is to find a type of threat—a NEW type of threat—and present it in a way that puts ice in readers’ veins. This isn’t always the obvious threat, and it shouldn’t be one that people have seen or read before. Often, the best stuff comes in at a slight angle. And so the threat that Nick confronts in that power plant in the opening sequence isn’t what readers will expect it to be. That said, the book shifts gears very quickly from there; it becomes very much about Nick’s struggle to reclaim his identity.

PCN: One of the themes in the book is that it’s not what a person says or promises, it’s what he does that defines him. What do you do every day that makes you who you are?

GH: Well, most obviously, I write every day. I think a lot of people want to be writers, but very few actually want to write, so that’s something that’s very defining—the activity itself. Mostly, I try to be a man of my word, to uphold promises, to be honest even when it’s not convenient. I do okay at it, I hope. Those are the values I want to instill in my kids, and those are the values that Nick learns from Frank, his stepfather, in Trust No One. Frank doesn’t say much in the book, you’ll notice, but he sets a very strong example by what he does.

PCN: Frank’s a great character. I like how he’s not some cliché stepdad who’s a jerk to his stepson. But if you were in Nick’s shoes and had to go on the run for 17 years, where would you go and what would you do?

GH: Well, I do have it a bit easier, since I’m an adult (or simulate one reasonably well). What’s really damaging for Nick is that he’s forced onto the run as a seventeen-year-old and cut off from his family—and his entire life. For me, I’d probably go somewhere near lots of bookstores and bourbon and live in a tent.

PCN: You have lots of jobs now but what was your first paid writing gig and what did you do with the check?

GH: I was very fortunate early on; I sold my first thriller, The Tower, right out of school. And the check went, boringly enough, straight into the bank so I could keep writing and not have to get a real job. Writing is all I ever wanted to do, so when I got paid, I wanted to bank as many months as I could to keep doing it.

PCN: Wait, how did you manage to sell your first novel right out of school? You had time to write a book between term papers?

GH: I wrote the (very) rough draft of The Tower over the summers before and after my senior year of college. I’d written one sequence the summer previous, when I was 19, but the bulk of the writing came during those two summers. Then I was fortunate enough to land an attorney that next year, when I was getting a master’s in Shakespearean tragedy in England, and my attorney got me an agent who gave me LOTS of (highly necessary) notes. When I was finishing my master’s and supposed to be working on my dissertation, I was in fact rewriting The Tower (and playing lots of soccer), and shortly after I finished up, we managed to sell it. [Editor’s note: The line to shove Gregg down the stairs forms to my left.]

PCN: You don’t just write novels; you’ve written Wolverine, the Punisher and Foolkiller for Marvel Comics [Marvel just announced Gregg will also be taking over Moon Knight]. Which character is most like you?

Hurwitz, in said skull tee, with friend Betsy Little, photo by: Vee Scott

Hurwitz, in skull tee, with friend Betsy Little, photo by Vee Scott

GH: Wow. It seems there is no un-arrogant way to answer which superhero one most resembles—who are you most like, Einstein or Oppenheimer? But I’d have to say, uh, okay, [the Punisher] Frank Castle. Mostly because I wear a skull T-shirt around a lot.

PCN: But you do help save lives. Your third novel, Do No Harm, saved a man’s dog. What other useful tips can readers get from your books?

GH: They can learn how to boost a car, avoid getting sucked into a mind-control cult, and (in the restaurant scene in Trust No One) figure out how to navigate the coolest and most scary conceptual dining experience out there!

PCN: That restaurant scene was freaky! I’d be scared to stick things in my mouth I can’t see. Speaking of dining, I love the perfect anniversary date Nick comes up with at the end—Capra or Howard Hawks, Inn of the Seventh Ray, Shutters, the pier, etc. But that’s expensive. Any ideas for the perfect L.A. date on a budget?

Olvera St., Photo by Pop Culture Nerd

Olvera St., Photo by Pop Culture Nerd

GH: L.A.’s a great budget place for a date since there are so many aspiring not-quite-there-yets hanging about. The beach is always a short drive away and always wonderful, whether for a walk or a picnic. The Farmer’s Market at 3rd and Fairfax is terrific—great cheap food from all cultures. Olvera Street—the historic first street in Los Angeles—has the best taquitos in the world.

Oh, and a walk around Venice Beach is like warping to another world. Hippies, head shops, soft-serve ice cream, arts and crafts, Muscle Beach. Last time I was down there I popped in to a storefront running a literal freakshow so one of my daughters could see a sheep with two heads.

PCN: You can get tattoos down there, too. If you had to get one of your life mantra, what would it say and in what language would it be?

GH: I think it would simply be the yin and yang—dark and light, reconciled.

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T.R. Knight Scrubs Out of GREY'S ANATOMY

Entertainment Weekly confirms that T.R. Knight has been released from his contract at his request. I guess George’s fate after last season’s finale is no longer a cliffhanger.

This comes as a surprise to…let me see…oh, yeah, no one. On one hand, I’m glad Knight won’t be required to stay in a job he wasn’t happy in, and I’m impressed he’s got enough integrity to walk out on a gig that paid truckloads of money. On the other hand, the economy stinks and he’s leaving to do theater, which pays about $12 a week after taxes.

What would you do if you were in his shoes? Will you miss George next season or are you thinking, “Good riddance”?

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Review: THE PROPOSAL

The poster is unexceptional and the trailer is generic so I had no grand expectations going into The Proposal. Anytime you see a studio romantic comedy, you pretty much know what you’re going to get: boy and girl hate each other until something happens that changes their feelings and there’s a last-minute rush to the airport to declare their love.

That’s all here, but this movie is enormously elevated by the impeccable comic timing of Sandra Bullock, still one of the most charming actresses around, even when her character is supposed to be a nightmare. She makes physical comedy look easy, including a nude mishap that I wish hadn’t been spoiled in the trailer because it’s horrifyingly funny.

Bullock’s character, Margaret Tate, is a high-powered New York City book editor who’s about to be deported to her native Canada so she blackmails her long-suffering assistant, Andrew (Ryan Reynolds), into a fake engagement. The couple then fly to Alaska to break the news to his family. They bicker until the Alaskan atmosphere ironically starts to thaw her ice-queen demeanor, they begin to see each other in a different light and…well, you know the rest.

more proposalBut what you may not know is that the movie also veers into some wonderfully odd territory, like a dog-snatching eagle and an Alaska resident who inexplicably seems to have every job in town. Extra credit must be given to Oscar Nunez, normally seen as the quietly frustrated accountant on The Office, who is a revelation (literally) in this movie. He did some brave things that made me cringe and gape at the same time. Reynolds, whom I usually find to be frat-boy bland, raises his game here to keep up with Bullock.

Director Anne Fletcher directs with a light touch, encouraging uninhibited behavior from her actors. Everyone seemed to have a good time making this movie and that sense of fun should spill over onto audiences as well.

Nerd verdict: An engaging Proposal

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