Monthly Archives

August 2009

Winner of GIRLy Giveaway

Using Random.org to make the selection, I have a winner: Reader#9! You get a hardcover copy of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Played with Fire and dragon tattoos. Send me your details, please (click on “Contact” in upper right corner).

But wait—there’s a twist! (Can’t have a mystery without one, right?) Due to the number of entrants, I felt bad I could have only one winner so I decided to give away my softcover ARC, too. This was no easy decision since I love this book so much. But, like the cheesy saying goes, I love it enough to let it go, because it needs to go out into the world and be read by as many as possible.

So, I went back to random.org and had it pick out another winner for me. And the second winner is: Eddy! If you don’t mind getting an ARC (it’s quite close to the finished version), e-mail me your addy and I’ll get this out to you.

Thanks to all for entering and telling me about great foreign titles I need to check out. Keep your eyes peeled for more giveaways soon!

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Fall Movie Guide

Back in January, I did a sneak peek at some of this year’s most anticipated movies. Surprisingly, the post is still getting lots of hits and I’ve received requests to do another one focusing on fall movies. I’ve previously written about some of these but now the titles are together on one list—though it’s hardly comprehensive—for your easy reference.

I’ve broken it down into categories, with release dates and links to trailers (click on the titles). I’ll likely see many of these before their official release (studios provide free advance screenings during awards season) so check back often for my reviews.

Let the Oscar prognostication begin!

OSCAR BAIT

Bright Star (Sept. 18)—Ben Whishaw plays the poet John Keats and Abbie Cornish is his muse Fanny Brawne in Jane Campion’s movie about their passionate but short-lived romance. Judging from the trailer, the leads seem to have good chemistry and Cornish’s performance has garnered some buzz. (UPDATE: Read my review here.)

carey & peter

Photo by Kerry Brown

An Education (Oct. 9)—Carey Mulligan is another young actress getting good heat for her performance as a ’60s London schoolgirl trying decide if she should continue her studies to get into Oxford or run off to Paris with an older playboy (Peter Sarsgaard) “and have fun.” The ridiculously talented cast also includes Alfred Molina, Olivia Williams, Rosamund Pike, Dominic Cooper, and the divine Emma Thompson. Oh, and it’s written by Nick Hornby based on Lynn Barber’s memoir. (UPDATE: Read my review here.)

The Road (Nov. 25)—Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron headline this adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel about a man and his son trying to survive after the apocalypse. I like both actors but not sure something this depressing will be high on my must-see list. (UPDATE: Read my review plus notes from Q & A with filmmakers here.)

Amelia (Oct. 23)—I’ve seen a rough cut of this movie and but will wait until I’ve seen the final version to review. I think it’s okay to say, though, that Hilary Swank is perfectly cast as Earhart. (UPDATE: Read my review here.)

gabourey

Photo by Anne Marie Fox

Precious (Nov. 6)—Newcomer Gabourey Sidibe stars as a Harlem teen trying to cope with her second pregnancy and an abusive mom, played by Mo’Nique. This film won both the Grand Jury and Audience Award at this year’s Sundance and features an almost unrecognizable Mariah Carey in mousy wig and makeup. (UPDATE: Read my review here.)

pc

Photo by Emilio Pereda & Paola Ardizzoni

Broken Embraces/Los Abrazos Rotos (Nov. 20)—Pedro Almodovar’s latest collaboration with Penelope Cruz, who plays an actress obsessed with a famous director. Hmm, is this based on their relationship? Nope, Cruz said in Entertainment Weekly that she was more obsessed with Almodovar when she first met him.

nicole & ddl

Photo by David James

Nine (Dec. 18)—I could sum up the trailer in one word: steamy. And I don’t even like musicals. But I’d watch Daniel Day-Lewis and all those gorgeous women even if they’re singing about a bucket of beans (you can hear Kate Hudson & Marion Cotillard perform two numbers here). For the record, though, this is the movie version of the musical stage adaptation of Federico Fellini’s classic movie 8 1/2. Got that?

Brothers (Dec. 4)—Tobey Maguire plays a Marine who goes missing in Afghanistan and is presumed dead. Jake Gyllenhaal plays his brother who starts hanging out with Maguire’s wife (Natalie Portman) and ends up falling for her. Of course, this is exactly when Maguire’s character turns up very much alive. I tend to stay away from war movies but this one is directed by Jim Sheridan (In America), whose work I revere.

The Lovely Bones (Dec. 11)—Peter Jackson, whose Oscar shelf is probably threatening to collapse, directs the movie adaptation of Alice Sebold’s bestselling novel. The trailer looks creepy, intense, and I’d put money on this movie to get at least acting, adapted screenplay and art direction noms. (UPDATE: Read my review here.)

Avatar (Dec. 18)—Click here for my take on the 16 minutes of this movie shown at the recent IMAX screenings.

COMEDIES FOR GROWN-UPS

The Informant! (Sept. 18)—Steven Sodebergh directs Matt Damon in a movie based on a true story about an executive at an agricultural firm who blows the whistle on his employers’ price-fixing policy. Turns out he’s also embezzling from the company. The subject sounds The Insider-ish but the trailer looks hilarious.

The Invention of Lying (Oct. 2)—I apologize to my regular readers since I’ve written about this movie a couple times already; I just can’t wait to see it. It looks sublimely silly and has not one but three comic geniuses in the cast: Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey and Christopher Guest. A bunch of other really good actors—Jennifer Garner, Patrick Stewart, Jason Bateman and many more—also contribute to the hilarity. (UPDATE: Read my review here.)

clooney staring at goats

Photo by Laura Macgruder

The Men Who Stare at Goats (Nov. 6)—Like The Informant!, this is another absurdist take on a supposedly true story. Based on Jon Ronson’s book, that title alone cracks me up, and then there’s the cast, which includes George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey, Stephen Lang and Jeff Bridges (in Dude mode!). Clooney plays a man claiming he’s a military psychic spy who can kill animals by just looking at them. Just watch the hilarious trailer; you’ll put it on your must-see list, too.

Did You Hear About the Morgans? (Dec. 18)—Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker play a couple on the verge of divorce who must go into witness protection after they witness a murder. If you’re going to do a fish-out-of-water movie, you can’t do much better than putting Grant in a rugged environment like Wyoming and watching him chop wood and deal with bears.

streep & martinIt’s Complicated (Dec. 25)—Nancy Meyers writes and directs Meryl Streep, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin in a comedy about a woman (Streep) who has an affair with her ex-husband (Baldwin), who has remarried. Martin plays an architect who wants to horn in on the action with Streep’s character. Love all these actors; as far as Meyers is concerned, I hope this will be closer to Something’s Gotta Give than The Holiday.

FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT

Where the Wild Things Are (Oct. 16)—I am filled with wonder and joy just watching the trailer. I love movies directed by Spike Jonze. (UPDATE: Read review here.)

Fantastic Mr. Fox fmrfx(Nov. 13)—George Clooney voices a wily fox who tries to protect his family and animal friends from evil farmers who want them gone. I think the stop-motion animation looks, er, fantastic. Based on the Roald Dahl book, directed by Wes Anderson and also featuring the voices of Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman.

Planet 51 (Nov. 20)—An astronaut lands on Planet 51 and finds a race of green aliens already living there. He then becomes the alien in the ironically human-looking environment. Featuring the voices of Dwayne Johnson, Justin Long, Jessica Biel, Gary Oldman and John Cleese.

The Princess and the Frog p&frog(Nov. 25 in NY & LA., Dec. 11 everywhere)—This time, when the princess kisses the frog, she turns into one, too. The movie features Disney’s first animated African-American heroine (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) and is the studio’s first hand-drawn animated movie in five years.

COMMERCIAL FARE

Surrogates (Sept. 25)—Based on graphic novels, the futuristic plot is about people virtually interacting with others via surrogate robots. When these robots start getting killed, Bruce Willis’s character has to actually enter the real world to solve the mystery. I’d think this movie was cheesy if it weren’t for the respectable cast, which also includes Rosamund Pike, Ving Rhames and Radha Mitchell.

Couples Retreat fav & davis(Oct. 9)—Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn do their Swingers thing, only this time they’re married (to Kristin Davis and Malin Akerman, respectively). They agree to go on a idyllic retreat with two other couples to work on some of their marital issues. Not sure if this will be good but the scenery is breathtaking.

Law Abiding Citizen (Oct. 16)—Gerard Butler plays a man who turns to vigilante justice after a prosecutor makes a deal that lets his family’s killers go free. Looks kind of generic but Butler is super intense in the trailer and with Jamie Foxx as his prey, things could get interesting.

The Box

Photo by Dale Robinette

The Box (Nov. 6)—Cameron Diaz and James Marsden play a cash-strapped couple visited by a stranger with a disfigured face (Frank Langella) who makes them a mysterious offer: If they push a button on a box, they’ll receive $1 million but someone they don’t know will die. Yeeks. Here’s when the audience screams “Don’t do it!” but I assume someone does or else there would be no movie.

bullock

Photo by Ralph Nelson

The Blind Side (Nov. 20)—Sandra Bullock always manages to make me laugh doing comedy but I think she’s underrated as a dramatic actress (remember her bitchy turn in Crash?). She gets a chance to show off her serious side again in this true story about a tough Southern woman who takes in an African-American homeless teen, helps him overcome obstacles and become an All-American football star. (UPDATE: Read my review here.)

new moonThe Twilight Saga: New Moon (Nov. 20)—Is there anything I can say about this movie you haven’t already heard ad nauseam? Didn’t think so. Let’s move on.

Sherlock Holmes (Dec. 25)—Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, and Rachel McAdams in a movie about the first detective I ever idolized. It’s all good.

Which movies are you most excited about? Which have already put you to sleep with its description alone? Anything not on the list you can’t wait to see?

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First Look at Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman Together on Broadway

via Entertainment Weekly

Entertainment Weekly has the first publicity photo for A Steady Rain, the Broadway play that will star Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman as two Chicago cops whose friendship gets tested when they get involved in a domestic conflict. I think they look more like two perps in a line-up arrested on suspicion of child pornography or lewd public behavior.

The Keith Huff play is still in rehearsals so hopefully, Craig’s mustache will be trimmed/eliminated by the time previews start September 10. The man doesn’t have to try and hide his good looks to prove he can act!

The play’s run is scheduled until December 6. Anybody bought tickets yet? What do you think of the ‘stache?

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Chat with Hugh Laurie This Wednesday

hugh eating cuff

I’m not going to name names but there are some regulars here who are crazy about Hugh Laurie. OK, fine, I’m one of them.

This Wednesday, August 26, Laurie is doing a live online chat with the Los Angeles Times, who’s inviting you all to join in with your questions and comments. The chat is happening at 3 p.m. PDT/6 p.m. EDT. For more information, go here.

See you there?  (UPDATE: The chat was fun! For a transcript, click here and hit “replay.”)

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Giveaway: Stieg Larsson's THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE Plus Dragon Tattoos!

If you’re a regular reader here, you know I love the Millenium books about Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist. Stieg Larsson originally wrote them in Swedish and they’ve been translated into more than 30 languages.

The good people at Knopf have sent me a hardcover copy of the latest entry, The Girl Who Played with Fire (read my review here) and a bunch of temporary dragon tattoos (referencing the first book in the trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) to give away to one of my readers. I tried the tats out on myself; all the neighborhood kids wanted them!

To enter, you just have to:

  • Be a subscriber or follower on Twitter
  • Leave a comment answering the following question: What’s the best book you’ve read that wasn’t originally written in English?
  • Be a resident of the U.S. or Canada (apologies to Shelley P, Poncho, Julien and other international readers!)

I’ll take entrees until Sunday, 8/30/09, midnight PST.  Good luck!

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AVATAR Clips Lack Human Dimension

Sam Worthington as Jake Sully

Sam Worthington as Jake Sully

Just came back from the 3D IMAX screening of 16 minutes from James Cameron’s Avatar. Though it’s technically impressive, the preview left me cold emotionally. Based on the reaction of others in the theater and things I overheard on the way out (saw Linda Hamilton and Sam Worthington in the lobby), I’m probably in the minority.

Full disclosure: I’m a die-hard Cameron fan and have seen almost all his movies despite the fact I don’t really like sci-fi. That’s because he’s good at putting humans we can root for at the center of all his mind-blowing effects. The T-1000’s liquid metal body in Terminator 2: Judgment Day was brilliant but I loved the movie because of Linda Hamilton’s fierce fight to protect her son. Didn’t we all wish we had a badass mother like that? Likewise Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in Aliens, and she wasn’t even Newt’s mom. And the sinking of the Titanic was jaw-dropping but the movie wouldn’t have become Box Office King of the World (still reigning) if we didn’t have Jack and Rose at the heart of the story (or should that be Heart of the Ocean?).

Which brings me to the central issue I had with the Avatar clips. Here’s the plot, excerpted from an official 20th Century Fox announcement:

The story’s protagonist, Jake Sully, is an ex-Marine who was wounded and paralyzed from the waist down in combat on Earth. In order to participate in the Avatar program, which will give him a healthy body, Jake agrees to travel to Pandora, a lush rainforest environment filled with incredible life forms – some beautiful, many terrifying.

Pandora is also the home to the Na’vi, a humanoid race that lives at what we consider to be a primate level, but they are actually much more evolved than humans. Ten feet tall and blue skinned, the Na’vi live harmoniously within their unspoiled world. But as humans encroach on Pandora in search of valuable minerals, the Na’vi’s very existence is threatened – and their warrior abilities unleashed.

Jake has unwittingly been recruited to become part of this encroachment. Since humans are unable to breathe the air on Pandora, they have created genetically-bred human-Na’vi hybrids known as Avatars. The Avatars are living, breathing bodies in the real world, controlled by a human driver through a technology that links the driver’s mind to the Avatar body. On Pandora, through his Avatar body, Jake can be whole once again. Moreover, he falls in love with a young Na’vi woman, Neytiri, whose beauty is matched by her ferocity in battle.

As Jake slides deeper into becoming one of her clan, he finds himself caught between the military-industrial forces of Earth, and the Na’vi – forcing him to choose sides in an epic battle that will decide the fate of an entire world.

Lang and Worthington

Lang and Worthington

The clips start out great with Stephen Lang, as Col. Quaritch, giving a pretty powerful speech to his gang of soldiers, explaining how his job is to keep them alive but that he knows he will fail. He says Pandora is such a hostile environment that afterwards, one might consider a vacation in hell. Lang is charismatic and tough, with a scar on the side of his head like he’d been gouged by a giant animal but somehow survived.

Then Jake rolls down in his wheelchair and we cut to him being transformed into an Avatar, a big blue creature with a tail and yellow eyes. The rest of the clips show Jake on Pandora, fighting scary dinosaur-like creatures and meeting Neytiri (voiced by Zoe Saldana). You can see some of this in the teaser trailer available here.

The visuals are stunning, especially in 3D. The wildlife on Pandora is beautiful and lush with lots of texture. But I felt like I was watching a video game, albeit one with a gigantic budget, because I just couldn’t get drawn into the story. I care about humans; I couldn’t quite relate to these strange blue creatures. Some of the Na’vi shown weren’t even that friendly, including Neytiri. I need a human guide in this alien world and a blue, virtual Jake wasn’t doing it for me.

Giovanni Ribisi & Weaver

Giovanni Ribisi & Weaver

Of course, I’m basing this on only 16 minutes of film. I’m still looking forward to seeing the movie and trust that Cameron knows how to make a good, if not great, one. I want to see more of Stephen Lang and Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Augustine (looks like she’s in charge of the Avatar transformations and an expert on Pandora’s indigenous creatures). And that battle between humans and Na’vi promises to be pretty amazing.

Did you see it? What did you think?

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PROJECT RUNWAY–Fashionably Late But Still in Style

I loved my Project Runway binge tonight! Having the all-star challenge, Season 6 premiere and Models of the Runway all in a row was like Thanksgiving to me—loads of  deliciousness in one evening. I indulged and have no guilt whatsoever. I hate reality shows but the two I enjoy, this and American Idol, are addictive. (If you missed the premiere, you can still rate the runway fashion here.)

The first challenge this season was to make a dress worthy of the red carpet. I’m not going to do a full review because my eyes feel radioactive after too much TV, but here are some quick thoughts: ***SPOILERS***

  • Ari

    Ari Fish

    It’s kind of shocking but rather cool that the annoying Ari got Auf’d. How did she get on the show? She doesn’t sketch and believes clothes should also double as a water purification system. Let me tell you right now—I am not drinking anything that came from my pants. Usually, producers keep the controversial contestants (Kenley, anyone?) around to drum up conflict so I applaud Ari’s elimination. I want more catwalk, not more cat fights.

  • I can’t deal with Johnny, the whiny former meth addict. He auditioned 3 times to get on the show and then cried at the start of the very first challenge without having done anything! He said, “I never thought it would be this hard.” Huh? Did he not watch the previous 5 seasons? Why pursue something so tenaciously if he didn’t know anything about it? Then he kept crying about how hard it is since he can’t turn to the meth to comfort him anymore. I respect people who can kick a serious addiction but no one put him in that pressure cooker except him. If he needed more time to heal, he should’ve stayed home and given the spot to someone else.
  • Not sure if Christopher should’ve won (I was rooting for Ra’mon and his one-shouldered purple gown) but I did like the winning dress quite a bit. It was both tough and soft, funky and feminine, something I’d definitely wear with a nice pair of cut-out booties.
  • Qristyl’s purple nightmare was just a mess without the hot or tranny. It was so loud, my teeth hurt while looking at it.
  • Guest judge Lindsay Lohan was more articulate than I expected but she still gets on my nerves. That girl has no business judging fashion considering the skanky way she dresses sometimes.
Gunn advising Ari

Gunn advising Ari

Tim Gunn is cool as ever. My favorite quotes of his from this episode:

“The big-butt factor is a big but.”—to Ra’mon

“I’m worried this is going to look like a halter diaper.”—to Ari

What did you think of the premiere? Any contestants clicked with you yet?

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Nerd Chat: Interview with Sophie Littlefield, Author of A BAD DAY FOR SORRY

Before I introduce you to author Sophie Littlefield, let me introduce you to the heroine of her debut novel, A Bad Day for Sorry.

Stella is a 50-year-old vigilante who, Peter Finch-like, got mad as hell after years of abuse by her husband and decided she wasn’t going to take it anymore. When the story begins, she’s gotten rid of hubby and is running an underground business helping other women stand up to their loser boyfriends/spouses, using whatever method necessary (including S&M restraints).

The prologue below describes a day on the job:

Whuppin’ ass wasn’t so hard, Stella Hardesty thought as she took aim with the little Raven .25 she took off a cheating son-of-a-bitch in Kansas City last month.

What was hard was making sure it stayed whupped.

Especially on a day when it hit a hundred degrees before noon. And you were having hot flashes. And today’s quote on your Calendar For Women Who Do Too Much read Find serenity in unexpected places.

“Fuck serenity,” Stella said. And she shot the trailer.

You wanna read more, don’t you? You’ll have to pick up the book! It’s an intense, crazy ride that involves Stella taking on a client whose husband has disappeared with her baby. Stella is tenacious and blunt like a female House but without the limp, so she’ll not only verbally assault a bad guy, she can kick his ass, too. If you’ve ever had revenge fantasies about the people who have done you wrong, you can avoid jail time by living them out through Stella.

For FAQs about Sophie, the book and her tour, click here. But first, enjoy our Nerd Chat as Sophie talks about sex toys, zombies, cussing in front of church friends and finding the silver lining in rejection.

PCN: You wrote nine unpublished novels before this one. What was the first thing you did when you heard Bad Day was going to make it into bookstores?

Sophie Littlefield: I screamed and screamed. I was at my son’s high school lacrosse game when I got the news, so no one really minded. I also spun around in circles for a while and thanked the Big Guy (God as Stella/I understand Him) about a hundred times.

PCN: You’ve gotten glowing reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Entertainment Weekly, to name a few. Anything you want to say to all the people who rejected you?

SL: That would take a very long time, because I swear I was rejected by every literary agent in America in the course of a decade of submissions. You may think I’m exaggerating, but when I come across an agent who didn’t reject me, I want to go “Where have you been hiding yourself, Cupcake?” and buy them a drink.

Littlefield & Barbara Poelle

Sophie & Barbara

As far as what I’d say to all the others? I would say “Thank you.” Because they made it possible for me to end up with Barbara Poelle. Here are just ten random reasons why Barbara is the perfect agent for me:

  1. She doesn’t mind if I cuss
  2. She doesn’t mind if my characters cuss
  3. She never told me to make my characters prettier or skinnier
  4. She finds my social gaffes amusing
  5. She breaks into song inexplicably; so do I (though I’m a little shy about it)
  6. If you tell her a sappy story about anyone, it could be the guy who did your taxes or even a Republican, she always goes “awwww”
  7. You can’t gross her out when describing the gory scenes you plan for your imaginary horror novel
  8. She likes the right people, the ones who are cool on the inside, where it counts
  9. She never, ever tells me to slow down or calm down or take a break
  10. She loves her job as much as I love mine

PCN: Wow, I want her to be my agent and I don’t even need one. When’s the last time someone did something that made you want to go all Stella on them? Are family and friends a little more afraid of you now knowing what you, er, Stella can do?

SL: Sadly, people are not quaking in fear. I think it’s because I’m deceptively friendly-ish. The other day a person of my acquaintance pissed me off extremely and I don’t think he ever knew it, because on the outside I had that well-brought-up-Midwestern-gal-grimace/grin going on.

But as soon as he sauntered off, I did this thing that my daughter taught me. You take your thumb and forefinger and place them in front of your face, then close one eye so it looks like you are holding the person’s head delicately in your fingertips…and then you squeeze, imagining their skull being crushed like a grape. Oh, is that ever satisfying.

So what did this guy do, you’re wondering?

PCN: Well, yes.

SL: He told me how to do my job. My writing job, the thing that is born in my soul and flows in my veins. Yes, ma’am, in the name of “career advice” (that I had not asked for) he had the nerve to tell me I was doing thing A wrong and needed to do more of thing B and stop doing thing C. And I was like, Oh yeah, remind me again when I’m waving at you from the top of the New York Fucking Times Best-Seller List, buddy. Well, I was all like that on the inside, anyway. On the outside I think I said “I’ll have another beer.”

PCN: What was his job?

SL: He is another writer, and a very, very gifted one. Which just goes to show you that smarts ain’t everything.

PCN: Hmm, you’ll have to tell me who it is, off the record. But enough about him; let’s talk sex toys. How much research did you do on those gizmos in the book to make sure they’d work as effective restraints for bad guys?

SL: Hee hee hee.  Well, that’s kind of funny, actually. I didn’t start out planning to write about gizmos. In fact, I was kind of woefully short of gizmo knowledge. All I wanted to find out was the name of those plastic disposable handcuffs the law folks are using these days, and I Googled “restraints.”

Ahem.

Some of Stella's tools

Some of Stella's tools

Turns out the bondage community is super creative and imaginative and resourceful…The first website I landed on was an eye-opener, I’ll tell you that. I just couldn’t look away.

And then it hit me: all those gags and collars and spreader bars would make excellent tools for an out-of-shape middle-aged lady to keep a fellow where she wanted him, no matter what she intended to get up to with him. So that became my excuse.

I’ll be honest…it’s fascinating. You think you’ve seen it all, and then some creative person comes up with something new! God bless the irrepressible human spirit, is what I say.

PCN: Stella gets into some wild scrapes. Any interesting scenes that didn’t make it into the final edit?

SL: Yes indeedy. In the early draft of the Stella story, she just flat-out killed all the abusers she encountered. I’d come up with all kinds of methods of death-dealing and places to stash the bodies. I was even keeping a list to use in future books in the series.

Then my editor, Toni, gently explained that a murderous Stella wouldn’t fly with readers—she had to leave her “parolees” alive. At first I was disappointed. But now I think Toni was right—Stella’s convictions don’t allow her to kill unless it’s in self-defense. It’s made her a stronger character.

PCN: You’re currently on your first book tour. Any interesting experiences so far?

Sophie, scared, at Book Passage

A nervous Sophie at Book Passage signing

SL: I’ve only done a few events so far and the sound of my own heart pounding in my throat, and the feeling that I’m about to hurl, have cut down on my noticing skills. (I get nervous. I’m naturally shy and awkward.)

I will say it was “interesting” to read my prologue—which contains the words “ass,” “bitch,” and “fuck” in the first couple of paragraphs—out loud to a hometown crowd that included my kids’ elementary school teachers, librarian, and principal. And some friends from church. And my friend Adrienne’s darling parents.

PCN: Nice. Did anyone say anything to you afterwards?

SL: To my amazement, every single one gave me a compliment or encouragement or, in one case, a fierce hug with a wink and a whispered “keep kickin’ ass.”

Before the event I had considered toning myself down, perhaps censoring the passages or substituting “bleeps” for the cuss words. But then I thought, if I can’t start being myself now, at the age of 46, then when??? I don’t want to save up all my zest and vitriol only to unleash it in a fevered deathbed torrent. I think that would be confusing for everyone, don’t you?

PCN: Very! I’m glad you’re letting some of it out now through Stella. I think she’d make a great cinematic character. Has Hollywood come calling?

SL: Ha ha, well, there’s been some fun moments where I thought, “Oh goody, this is where I get my ass in US magazine!” So far, no follow-through, though. My experienced author friends tell me this is how it goes; Hollywood’s just an ongoing tease.

PCN: If it does happen, who would you like to play your kick-ass mama? I think Stella’s guns weigh more than most of the well-known 50ish actresses working today.

Wynonna Judd

Wynonna Judd

SL: Ain’t that the truth? I had a hard time coming up with actresses to play either Stella or [her client] Chrissy, since they’re both a little plump (putting them squarely in line with the average American woman, I might add). What do you think about Wynonna Judd?

PCN: Can she act?

SL: I don’t know if she can, but I think she’d make a great Stella, even if she’s a little young. She looks like she has attitude to spare. If she’d be willing to bulk up a bit, I think Felicity Huffman would be aces.

Geena Davis

Geena Davis

PCN: How about Geena Davis? She’s about the right age and we know she can do the outlaw-with-a-gun thing from Thelma & Louise.

SL: Oh, Geena’s pure genius!  She’s going to have to eat a few cheeseburgers and frump up a little, but she’s perfect. And you know what, I bet she and I end up being BFFs once they start shooting. We’ll probably go shopping together and stuff, maybe double-date for the Oscars.

edharris

Ed Harris

PCN: And Sheriff Jones?

SL: There’s only one man for the job: that devilishly handsome Ed Harris. Sigh.

PCN: That’s even better than I imagined! Switching gears for a bit, you have a YA book coming out next year called Banished. What’s harder: writing as a 50-year-old woman, 16-year-old girl or a zombie?

SL: Okay here’s a giant secret—writing them was easy because they’re both me.  Stella’s me in a few years if someone unwisely pushes me just a little too hard. And Hailey, the heroine of my young adult series, is me at sixteen: gawky, insecure, angsty, and sensitive.

As for zombies…come on, they’re zombies! Aren’t you insanely jealous I get to write about them and get paid for my efforts?

Me & Sophie

Me & Sophie

PCN: Oh, I’m one itch away from shoving you down the stairs (it’s a compliment; see explanation here) so let’s wrap this up, for your sake. Final question: If you had a Calendar for Women Who Do Too Much like Stella’s, what would be the quote for this year?

SL: Oh, you’re good, Elyse. Hmmm. (Thinks hard.) “Careful what you wish for, sister, because once you get out of your own way you’re going to get more of it than you ever bargained for.”

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Review: Josh Neufeld's A.D.: NEW ORLEANS AFTER THE DELUGE

This review was written by contributing writer, Thuy Dinh, my resident expert on graphic novels.—PCN

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In A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, Josh Neufeld presents a graphic journalistic account of six survivors’ real-life experiences after Hurricane Katrina. Neufeld based his stories on first-person interviews, photos and other on-location research he conducted while volunteering with the Red Cross. Though he has a sure hand with the visual medium, his reluctance to subject his own views on the matter somehow dilutes its emotional resonance.

His visual style is poetic and powerful in rendering the horrors of Katrina: the gigantic mushroom-shaped storm rising from the New Orleans skyline like a vision of latter-day Hiroshima; the Biblical water full of rats after the levee broke; a non-functional public bathroom at the Convention Center filled with trash, human waste and broken stalls that signifies a complete breakdown of the social order. But he’s at his most eloquent when he renders his panels in virtual silence; the symbolic effects of Katrina are most deeply felt when there is little or no intrusion of verbal caption.

Before A.D was reformatted and expanded into book form (the book has 25% more story and art than its online version), it first appeared in 2007 on the SMITH magazine website (still available here). The characters—Doc Brobson, a well-off white male; Denise, a financially strapped black female; Abbas, immigrant entrepreneur; Gen-Xers Leo and Michelle; and Kwame, a middle-class high school student—were chosen to represent a cross section of the wider populace affected by the storm.

In its current form, most of Neufeld’s characters don’t quite register. To make sure Denise, an African-American social worker, can tell her own story without racial and gender bias, it seems Neufeld gave her script approval. While his need to respect Denise’s suffering is understandable, his cautious treatment of her anger and self-loathing distances us from her plight. I wish Neufeld had explored with Denise the “many things that FEMA didn’t understand” about struggling, unmarried, professional black women living in untraditional households who feel they were grossly under-compensated in the aftermath of Katrina.

Neufeld seems much more comfortable in portraying Leo, twenty-something comic book collector and publisher of the New Orleans music webzine Antigravity. In treating Leo’s loss of his valuable comic book collection as a symbol for all the random losses in his life, Neufeld captures in Leo’s story what he couldn’t do in Denise’s case—the sense that Katrina represents the sheer mystery of destruction, a godless force that irretrievably deletes one’s recorded existence.

If Neufeld had explored his connection with Leo as a way to bring in his own subjective viewpoint, it would have helped A.D. pack a bigger emotional punch. In a March 2007 interview published in Antigravity, Neufeld, a Brooklyn resident who called himself a “helpless observer” of the 9/11 attacks, said that while 9/11 had national and international impact, its physical effects were largely limited to Ground Zero. Katrina, on the other hand, as “a toxic combination of nature and government incompetence, directly affected far more families than 9/11.”

This perspective, had it been included in A.D., would have shown how poverty and apathy are both more banal and yet insidious than any planned terrorist attack. Neufeld would have brought home the dire message that in this day and age, our citizens are still living in an Old Testament world, waiting Godot-like for the coming of  progress.

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Exclusive Interview: Nerdy Questions for THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE’s Hailey and Tatum McCann

If you’re a regular reader here, you know I’m a devoted fan of Audrey Niffenegger’s novel, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and that I’m excited about the movie adaptation finally opening this Friday, August 14. (Click here to read an assessment after a test screening.)

Hailey McCann

Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams, who star as Henry and Clare, have been getting lots of press so I thought I’d talk to a pair of different actors from the movie, Hailey and Tatum McCann, sisters who play Henry and Clare’s daughter Alba at different ages (Hailey: 9 & 10, Tatum: 4 & 5).

Though they were traveling to attend the movie’s New York City premiere tonight, the girls agreed to an e-mail conversation and come across grounded and smart, like normal kids who just happen to be in a grown-up business.

For more info on Hailey and Tatum and how they got their start in acting, click on their names to visit their websites. Meanwhile, read on as they answer my nerdy questions about their TTTW experiences.

PCN: Stories about time travel can be confusing, even for adults. How did you manage to make sense of the story? Did you read the book first?

Hailey: No, I didn’t read the book first because I heard that it was too mature for my age at the time, but I didn’t find it confusing at all! When you break it down scene by scene, it’s a lot easier to understand. The only part that was confusing was when we couldn’t figure out which Alba was in what scene because we were both referred to as “Young Alba”!!

Tatum McCann

Tatum McCann

Tatum: No, I did not read the book because it was too grown-up. I heard that they kissed and stuff…eeeww! It wasn’t really confusing because we do it one scene at a time over and over and over again—until we had lunch…yum yum.

PCN: Who auditioned first?

Hailey: We both decided that Tatum would go first and she read for Alba and [Young] Clare, then I would go next reading for Alba.

PCN: How many callbacks did you have before booking the job?  Did you have to screen test with either Rachel McAdams or Eric Bana?

Hailey: I had an audition and a callback and that was it. I never had a screen test with either of them.

Tatum: Me, too!

PCN: That’s great. Sometimes actors have to audition 6-8 times for a big movie. What was it like working with Rachel and Eric?

Hailey: Both Rachel and Eric were truly amazing people to work with! Before we started shooting the film, the three of us took a trip to a museum to get to know each other. As we walked around, many people recognized Rachel. When they did, she graciously took pictures with them and was so loving and kind to everyone. A few months later, Eric and I were shooting in Chicago. It was unbelievably cold and very windy. Eric would huddle me in his oversized and fuzzy jacket to help keep me warm in between takes. Both Eric and Rachel are amazing actors and extraordinary people.

Clockwise from L.: Brooklynn Proulx (who plays Young Clare), McAdams (in back), Hailey and Tatum at the movie's NYC premiere

Clockwise from L.: Brooklynn Proulx (who plays Young Clare), McAdams (in back), Hailey and Tatum at the NYC premiere/Getty Images

Tatum:  Most of my work was with Rachel. In between takes, Rachel and I would exchange jokes. She was so nice listening to all of my jokes that didn’t make a lot of sense because I would tell them in segments or whenever we had time. Rachel is very funny and she knows tons of great jokes. After we finished shooting, she gave me a fabulous joke book that still entertains me today!

PCN: You kind of covered my next question. Since you had to do some heartbreaking scenes, I was wondering what you did between takes.

Hailey: Actually, I laughed and danced and talked and shouted!!! While the camera is rolling, I stay in character and am totally serious, but once they say “cut,” it’s all smiles from everybody on set.

Tatum: I would help Rachel start laughing to help her stop crying. Once you get so into a scene it’s hard to stop, but good jokes and smiles usually do the trick!

PCN: What were your favorite experiences on set?

Hailey: One of my favorite experiences was when Tatum and I got to film together. It was so much fun to film because we hadn’t seen each other for a while and we got to meet up and do what we both love to do…act! And we got to poke a dead bird with a stick, but the first reason is more important.

Tatum: I second the motion! Working with my sister was awesome, and I hope to do it again soon!

PCN: What are you working on now or have coming up?

Hailey: I recently filmed an episode of [the A&E TV series] The Cleaner and I have auditions in the works…fingers crossed.

Tatum: I shot an episode of ER and recently went out on a couple movie auditions…wish me luck!

PCN: Break a leg, both of you! Do you intend to keep acting into adulthood? When you hear stories about child stars like Lindsay Lohan and Mischa Barton misbehaving, how does it make you feel?

Hailey: As of now, I am 13 and loving acting, but we will see where acting takes me. And as far as people in the news, I wish they had better friends to keep them grounded and out of trouble!

Tatum: I want to continue acting and hope I will grow up to be as cool and pretty as some of the actresses I’ve worked with, like Rachel McAdams and my sister, Hailey.

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More Info About Seeing AVATAR 3D Trailer for Free August 21

avatarposterAs promised, here’s an update on how you can get free tickets to see 16 minutes of James Cameron’s Avatar in 3D at select IMAX theaters next Friday, August 21. (UPDATE: Read my reactions to the footage here and see the teaser trailer here.)

The Hollywood Reporter says that starting Monday, August 17, tickets can be reserved online via Avatarmovie.com (UPDATE: Le0pard13 sent me this L.A. Times link which says the site will start taking reservations at noon PST). Each party will only be able to reserve 2 tickets and the trailer will be shown between 6-7 p.m. at most venues. No word yet on what time the website will start taking reservations or which theaters are participating. I’ll post the info as soon as I hear but if you’re really interested in the sneak peek, I’d suggest bookmarking the site and checking in early on Monday.

The movie opens December 18, 2009.

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Deep Thoughts from Dave Barry

Since I’ve been waiting six years for humor columnist Dave Barry to write another novel for adults—2001’s Big Trouble and 2003’s Tricky Business were hilarious—I occasionally Google him to see what he’s doing besides co-writing the Starcatcher books for young readers with Ridley Pearson.

I found him on Twitter where his tweets rocked me with laughter. Here’s someone who knows how to use this social platform to entertain, not provide inane chatter about the burrito he had for lunch like many others do. If you’ve never read Barry, you might be inclined to check out his past work if you happen to stumble upon his tweets.

Want to test this theory? Scroll through the small sampling below (plus the rest here if you have time) then tell me whether you’d like to check out his books. Warning: Do not consume liquids while reading or they might exit through the wrong cavity.

Some of Barry’s tweets:

  • The hair-dryer tag says “WARN CHILDREN OF THE RISK OF DEATH BY ELECTRIC SHOCK!” But how often? Daily? And which children?
  • I just acquired a follower named “AssScratcher.” It is difficult to describe my feelings about this.
  • You know how to get captured terrorists to talk? Put them in a “spinning” class. They wouldn’t last 10 minutes. I know I don’t.
  • TODAY’S TIP: If you have a dog, make sure the door is closed FIRMLY when you go to the bathroom. Never mind why I am telling you this.
  • There is nothing quite like a flight to LaGuardia. Except maybe the last chopper out of Saigon.
  • What should be the penalty for drivers who don’t go when the light turns green? Today I am thinking: Death.
  • I just got a spam email with the subject line: “Read or you’re gay.”
  • To people who make moving ads that block the view of websites: Not only will we not buy from you, but we want shrews to eat your liver.
  • Driving to Disney World for a soccer tournament. On Memorial Day Weekend. Hope the turnpike service plazas sell heroin.
  • You know who is always fantastically stupid? The person in line directly ahead of you.
  • Overheard just now in doctor’s waiting room: “Can you give me a urine sample?” “Here?” “Well not RIGHT here.”
  • There should be some kind of Nintendo DS system for cows, because they have a LOT of spare time.
  • New York City Update: I just watched an extremely determined woman somehow park an SUV in a space the length of a cocker spaniel.
  • I am still not totally convinced that olives are not the eyeballs of very large frogs.
  • What I need is a search engine that, no matter what I type in, comes back with GO BACK TO WORK.
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