Monthly Archives

February 2010

Keeping Her Head in THE CRAZIES

It’s Friday—has your week driven you mad? Well, a friend of mine, actress Christie Lynn Smith, knows all about crazy. She’s here to discuss her latest movie, The Crazies, which opens today.

In the remake of George A. Romero’s 1973 film, Christie plays Deardra Farnum, a farmer’s wife living in an idyllic town where people suddenly start going violently insane.

For more info on Christie, visit her website and check out her busload of credits here. Meanwhile, enjoy our nerd chat about her experience shooting the movie.

Pop Culture Nerd: Did you practice running around screaming in your underwear before you started production?

Christie Lynn Smith: Not in my underwear, but there were some heavy rehearsals on the day of shooting. I think I lost my voice…it sounded very deep and sexy afterwards—haha.

PCN: This isn’t your first horror movie…

CLS: I did a horror film in 2007 called The Cursed; it just aired on the SyFy Channel. I had a cameo role and open the film with a few intense scenes with my daughter. It doesn’t end very well. And a few years back I did a short film called The Last Stop Cafe where I played a serial killer on the run!

PCN: You are a freak! I’m not sitting next to you at Thanksgiving this year because you’ll have access to knives. After you’ve done a few scary movies, are you more likely to watch them?

CLS: I tend to not be able to go to sleep if I watch them too late! I have to be careful—my imagination can play tricks on me.

PCN: You shot this in an isolated town, away from your husband and baby. Ever get creeped out alone at night in your hotel room?

CLS: I flew out of town twice to shoot in Perry, Georgia and then once to an isolated town in Iowa. I never got spooked, just missed my honey and baby.

PCN: What was it like on set? Did people stay in character, or were there pranks to lighten things up?

CLS: It was awesome working on this film! I loved the director, Breck Eisner, and the producers. Breck knew what he wanted and was very clear and gave great direction. No pranks but the mood was fun for sure.

PCN: What was your favorite action scene/stunt?

CLS: There is this scene were I am standing in front of a combine and the blades were going full speed and the sound was deafening! That was cool and a little freaky. They were, like, “Be careful—if this grabs your robe, you will basically be slashed to death.” Yikes! And I had to run and run and run all night one night—that was exhausting but I am a warrior. Bring it on, baby!

PCN: Um, I hope they had good life insurance on the film. In an episode of Bones, your recurring character, Caroline Epps, was decapitated and you got to keep your fake head. Any interesting souvenirs from The Crazies?

CLS: For your readers, here’s me and my head that was found in the freezer on Bones. I have the plaster version in my backyard. We take it out at Halloween to scare kids. Just kidding! [Ed. note: Forget the kids. I almost choked on my hot dog when I saw her head lying in her backyard.]

No souvenirs from the film yet. I did get a hat that says “The Crazies—Let’s Do It in Iowa” because that’s where most of the film was shot. And I hope to get a poster!

PCN: I’m a scaredy cat. I get nightmares after watching Teletubbies. Can someone like me handle this movie?

CLS: Yes, you can handle it. It has a thriller quality to it but with a human element. I did scream and jump a few times but I laughed, too. And I did not have bad dreams [after seeing it]!

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Boys Town—AMERICAN IDOL: Season 9 Top 12 Guys

by Jason Matthews

If a person had never seen or heard of American Idol before (I’m sure there’s a handful of them somewhere, like in Maine or something), and read a description of the show, they would probably assume a girl wins every season. I assume that, and I know this show better than National Treasure Ryan John Seacrest. It’s a show about pop stars, and that means girls. But inexplicably, a guy has won Idol in 3 of the last 4 seasons. Is it because we have SO many female pop singers already that adding one more onto the pile seems like too much work? Or is it because it’s easier for a guy to be impressive singing pop music since it seems like such a fun novelty?

Whatever the reason, the Guys must be watched extra close this season. The Girls are pegged as the better group, but on the whole the Guys were better off the bat. Not that they were so great to watch, though!  Is there even ONE boy worth Googling in this entire group? What a collection of blahs! I’d sooner watch two hours of Randy Jackson trying on neon watches than sit through these guys try to sell me their try-hardy schtick.

Let’s get to the recap; the sooner we do this, the sooner the blessed Idol Girls will be back on stage again, making my television far easier to look at (if not necessarily listen to). Here are the reviews of each performer, in order of best to worst.

Casey James – “Heaven”

He will make the Top 12 on the strength of his hair and torso alone.  People won’t even notice he’s singing for another month! Gross? Maybe, but that’s how it works with himbo contestants on this show. (See: Maroulis, Constantine.) Too bad, too, cause he has nice tone, is easy to listen to, and seems like a genuine, nice guy. But man alive, Kara needs to cut the cougar crap and Randy and Ellen need to stop encouraging her. If Simon did this with Jannell Wheeler he would be castrated, so let’s ease back on the double standard, OK, show?

Andrew Garcia – “Sugar, We’re Going Down”

What a disappointment. This is what happens when you give us the Paula. It’s all we’re ever going to want, and everything else will be a letdown. Also? His voice is secretly very thin and reedy. His musicality, though? Perf to the ect. He’s going to go very deep into the season, so this is all basically jokes, but I agree with the judgery—he can do better.

Todrick Hall – “Since You Been Gone”

Instead of singing, can he just do those awesome ninja back flips we saw him bust out during Hollywood Week?? I’d put him through just for those! One of my favorite things to look for on this show is when the judges tell contestants to make songs their own, do their version, and when they do it, the judges criticize them for changing the original. Todrick doing this is the same as Andrew doing slow jam Paula Abdul. You can’t have it both ways, Randy!  Hip Hop Clarkson is a wildly fun arrangement. I can’t wait to see what this guy does next. May I suggest a little T-Pain-style autotune on Carrie Underwood?

Alex Lambert – “Wonderful World”

Do I have a biased opinion of Alex because he has the exact same mullet I had when I was eight years old, and secretly wish I STILL had? Possibly. But that’s beside the point, because the kid has talent. Great recording voice, nice style; I can very easily see him putting out a James hit, be it Cullem, Blunt or Morrison.

Lee Dewyze –  “Chasing Cars”

There are a literal billion of these guys in frat-house living rooms the world over. Lee is lacking the charm of David Cook, the charisma of Kris Allen, and the vocal ability of Adam Lambert, just to compare him to AI guys. And that’s all before we start comparing him to all the soundalike alt-rock frontmen. Would it be an insult to Lee or to Nickelback if I said he sounded like a broke-ass Chad Kroeger? It’s pretty much bad all around, yes?

Michael Lynche – “This Love”

Let’s talk realistically about Big Mike—he is not winning American Idol. Does he have a nice voice? Yes. Is he likeable? Absolutely. But is his penchant for singing white-boy pop-rock songs completely off-putting? Uh, that would be OBVS. This is going to come off as racist, but it’s simply a fact: Idol voters want their African American guys to either sing hip hop or R&B. Period. This John Mayer, acoustic guitar nonsense? Not gonna fly, engrossing personal story or not.

Aaron Kelly – “Here Comes Goodbye”

Watching him feels like a 3D RickRoll. That Groban-y voice should just not come from such a small child. What do we even do with him?  Is he even Tiger Beat enough to get the tween vote? He’s too dweebish to be the Season 9 David Archuleta, and Kevin Covais is still holding the patent on the Chicken Little look. Aaron is boring to listen to, boring to watch, and uninteresting as a potential American Idol. There’s no future here.

Tim Urban – “Apologize”

Can we discuss the pit stains in his Idol photo shoot freeze frame? No? OK, moving on then. The same way Whitney and Mariah are verboten on this show for the girls, One Republic needs to join that group for the guys. We get at least one or two of these slapdash, homeless-person rip-offs every season and it’s never fun to listen to. Not EVER. If Kris Allen couldn’t sell it, why did wee Tim Urban think he could? He has a weak vocal unfortunately combined with a severely underwhelming stage charisma. If he survives this week it will only be because of his Efronesque hair mullet.

John Park – “God Bless the Child”

Multiple choice question: John Park sounds like A) a lounge singer B) a cruise ship singer C) the house band for a low-key bar on New Year’s Eve D) a boring person. Give up? The answer is secret choice E) All of the Above! Class dismissed.

Tyler Grady – “American Woman”

I think I saw this performance once before; it was called Val Kilmer in The Doors. Didn’t like it then, outright loathe it now. And anytime you can remind me of that atrocious Lenny Kravitz cover (but not show me the Heather Graham music video hotness) you’re going to lose points—that’s just science. Can we please retire this obnoxious song? It is the absolute definition of male musical indulgence. About Tyler, though, I love it when a contestant says they want to prove they’re a singer, not a performer, and then pick a performer song and don’t sing! That’ll help your cause, T-Grads!

Joe Munoz – “You and I Both”

I feel like I shouldn’t even waste words on this because Joe is NOT making the Top 12. He may not make it ’til the end of this recap! The scarf was a Titanic-sized mistake, and David Archuleta may sue him for vocal, facial and follicle copyright infringement. I was forgetting about him as he was singing. Be honest, you were, too. Even now, you’re reading this and going “Joe Who”?

Jermaine Sellers – “Get Here”

Nick Cannon just sued Jermaine for theft and defamation of character, and then texted Mariah to make sure she wasn’t anywhere near the Idol set. Not that he needs to worry, since Jermaine is a screechy, wildly off-key, whiny-voiced male diva nothing. And by to the way, I still hate him for throwing the band under the bus during Hollywood Week, despite his claims he wouldn’t do it again (which he then proceeded to do almost IMMEDIATELY). I can’t wait to not have him in my American Idol life. Should only be a day or so before that happens.

Do you think Simon is wrong about a girl winning this season? Based on what you heard from the Guys, can any of them win the Idol crown?

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Ladies First—AMERICAN IDOL: Season 9 Top 12 Girls Perform

This post was written by new contributing writer Jason Matthews, who will be covering American Idol all season. No bad outfit, note, or attitude will be safe from his insightful commentary.—PCN

American Idol is finally in America’s hands again, and not a moment too soon. After six long, long weeks of who-cares sob stories, atrocious auditions, and unsatisfying filler judges (we miss you Paula!), we get to watch people actually perform and start picking the next American Idol.

But before we begin, it’s important to note the following:

  • I could watch Ryan say “This is American Idol” on an hourly basis until I am an old person. Such is the joy and drama he brings to his intros. There isn’t a better professional working in television today.
  • If having Ellen on the show means we have to sit through skits of Simon molesting the daytime talk queen, well then I am a-ok with it!
  • Kara has never looked better in her life. She needs to always have a front poof and teased ponytail. Always.
  • Randy does not know the definition of the phrase “give advice.”
  • Simon thinks a girl will win this year. I want to agree, but after watching them perform for the first time, my confidence is shaken.

All right, let’s pick us a pop star!  Here are reviews of each performer, in order of best to worst.

Michelle Delamor

Of all the soundalikes tonight, and by “all” I mean ALL of them, Michelle was the best and came closest to sounding as good as the original (Alicia Keyes on “Fallin’ “). That counts for something.  She has great control, knows how to rock an arrangement, and is style-hot like fire. Big fan of her diva arm swings. She’s the only one going for that diva spot, which has always been dicey (no diva has ever won OR made it to the Top 2), but she’s seasoned enough to make a big, long run on the show.

Katie Stevens

If this were Disney Idol, we could just crown her right now and call it a day. Katie would start recording immediately, and the Mouse House would politely thank Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez for their hard work, then boot them out of the Magic Kingdom. But this is not Disneyland, it’s American Idol, and Stevens’s faux-Aguilera voice, recital outfit style and mature song choices are going to tire. Quickly. She got the pimp slot tonight, so you know she’s fine, but there is trouble on the horizon.

Crystal Bowersox

When Simon is right, he is the rightist right that ever righted. He is incapable of left. Crystal may be the best musician of the group, but we’re not looking for 52nd street subway buskers. We’re looking for the next great pop star; that’s the reason we are here. Playing the harmonica is all well and good, but this is a singing competition. Also, if you’re gonna choose to do Alanis but not sing “You Learn,” you can’t be trusted to entertain this fine country.

Didi Benami

I am biased here, because I have fallen into utterly helpless hard love with her, but I will try to be objective. Didi has nice control, is technically proficient, and happens to be delightful to watch. But she’s too precious with her talent and Simon was right—the song choice and performance were indulgent. Despite my passion for D-Bens, I don’t know that I can listen to her roll through the indie-rock chic genre for four months. She’s one or two Regina Spektor songs away from becoming the spokesperson for a Lillith Fair revival.

Katelyn Epperly

The first thing I thought when she started singing: In. Just in. Her voice is a VOICE. Great raspy quality, nice tone; she is a very confident talent, which is nice to see so early on in the competition. What was most shocking about her time on stage, though, was Randy giving her truly insightful criticism (about her focus on tone over flash). Who knew Randy could even form coherent, grammatically correct sentences with the English language, let alone speak intelligently about the art of music?

Lilly Scott

Don’t we already have a Fiona Apple, who is a better singer and doesn’t have Grandma hair? Let me pose this to you: Who will buy her album? What demo does she appeal to? What radio station will her first single play on? I get that she has a distinct look and feel, I can appreciate that the judges find her “unique.” But let me tell you “unique” doesn’t always mean “good,” especially in this case.

Siobhan Magnus

There is so much here to like, but even more to be confused by. What look is she going for, exactly?  Why was she wearing flip flops? Does she really believe being the quirky girl will get her past six other girls? She has undeniable vocal skills but she has no idea how  to adapt them situationally.  “Wicked Game” is haunting and interesting, yes, but it’s also ragged and dirty; grimy, even. Siobhan’s version was too clean, too sterile. I would bet she has never seen the music video for this song.

Janell Wheeler

Let’s say a bunch of sad facts in a row: out of tune for the whole performance, the back-up singers blew her off the stage, the song was too big for her, and she had ZERO control of her nerves. Since she’s not going the Britney route (hot girl singing cheesy pop music), she needs to convince us she has presence and authority. After tonight, I don’t think anyone’s gonna buy it.

Ashley Rodriguez

If you had asked me before tonight who I thought would be the next American Idol, sight unseen, I would have said Ashley Rodriguez. Perfect look, good voice, gorgeous, fun to watch. But based on her first performance, I would be surprised if she made the Top 12. Her voice was alternately flat and sharp, she was jittery and unpolished. Simon said it best—Ashley was clumsy. Clumsy can be charming (see: Vaughn, Haeley), but not in A-Idol-Rod’s case.

Haeley Vaughn

Was she slurring her words during the song? It didn’t sound like she completed any of her phrasing.  And girl was screechy. Saved by the Bell-level of screech. The melody and key transitions were amateur hour, the guitar was distracting, and the song choice was deplorable. The Beatles? On Night One? Really, 16 year-old Haeley? REALLY?! That’s the type of precociousness that gets you muted.

Paige Miles

Don’t we already have a Jill Scott? Also, who was this person? I’ve watched her performance twice and still wouldn’t be able to pick her out of a lineup. Was she just put through so she could get kicked off in Top 24 and insure that other, better girls would be safe? I suppose there are worse reasons to be on the show. For a week, anyway.

Lacey Brown

If she survives this week, it will be because the entire world, and all of Earth, love that song. “Landslide” is practically a national treasure but she did it no justice. A catastrophically bad arrangement, made worse by her poor phrasing, slow delivery, and her inability to hit the low notes.  But hey, at least she got to be the first person Randy called “pitchy” this season; that counts for something. Sadly, it’s the only thing she can count on, because she is going HOME.

Who do you think should get sent home this week? And could Ryan be more awesome and professional? The second question is rhetorical, obvs, but please take a minute to answer the first one in the comments below.

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Susan Jane Gilman’s Hell in HEAVEN

Photo by Francois Bourru

It’s with pleasure that I welcome author Susan Jane Gilman to Pop Culture Nerd today to discuss her memoir, Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, recently released in paperback. It’s the tale of Susan’s adventures with her friend Claire in China upon graduating from Brown in 1986. The two had wanted to go on their own Homerian odyssey around the world but soon, the hardships and isolation in China began to fray their nerves, culminating in a series of alarming events which support the notion that truth is stranger than fiction.

I love to travel, sometimes to non-touristy places, but don’t think I’d ever have the courage to do it the way Susan and Claire did, backpacking and hosteling, not knowing the local language. Susan explains their gutsy choice below.

The People’s Republic of China was the catalyst for almost everything that occurred in Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven. It was such an alien place—and so cut-off from the rest of the world—that it amplified every challenge we had as travelers.

In 1986, there were no direct flights from the USA to the People’s Republic, no direct-dial overseas phone lines, and very little television coverage or news reporting out of China. (Perhaps the only country somewhat comparable to this today is North Korea.) And although we made the trip just a couple of decades ago, this was truly a different technological age—no Internet or cell phones. So once we arrived, we felt massively isolated and vulnerable, as if we’d been set adrift at the far end of the universe.

And this universe was often rough-going. Much of China was filthy and underdeveloped. The air was filled with coal dust and the streets glistened with phlegm, which meant we got sick a lot. Tourist facilities were rudimentary. For two sheltered Americans, the constant roaches, outhouses, and ice-water showers were wildly unsettling. Oh, we’d been so pampered! To be sure, the poverty and squalor also made the beauty of China-–-and the incredible kindness of so many of the people—that much more remarkable. It forced me to toughen up and appreciate more of what I had, but for some reason, this process never comes easy. Why is it more second-nature to bitch than to appreciate?

On top of all this, of course, we couldn’t speak or read Mandarin, so the world around us was literally indecipherable. Street signs, menus, even train tickets—we couldn’t understand them! And so, every little conundrum easily escalated into a crisis.

Added to this was my own inherent fearfulness, plus what turned out to be my friend Claire’s precarious mental state. These were exacerbated by the hardships of China and we quickly spiraled out of control.

Had we begun our journey in Europe, we would’ve no doubt still experienced some culture shock and homesickness, but our level of helplessness would’ve been a lot lower. It would’ve been easier to cope, communicate, and navigate. We might not have been able to escape our own demons, but they wouldn’t have had such fertile ground in which to take root.

Starting our trip in, say, London or Paris would’ve been a matter of traveling “the Road More Taken.” Certainly, it would’ve been a hell of a lot easier. Yet, I’d also have come away with a lot less wisdom, humor, and character—and a lot less of a story to tell.

Many thanks to Susan for stopping by today. For more info, visit her website and listen to an excerpt here.

Have you ever traveled to a place which left you feeling completely isolated? Are you the adventurous type or more the my-hotel-has-to-be-four-stars-and-right-next-to-the-Eiffel-Tower kind of tourist?

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One Cool DRINK

Reading a good book is always a pleasure, but there’s something extra exciting about discovering a new author and his smashing debut, a PWA winner for Best First Private Eye Novel. Thomas Kaufman‘s Drink the Tea is a witty, fast-paced mystery that made me hope, only a few pages in, that it’ll be turned into a series.

Willis Gidney is an orphan who spent his childhood in and out of foster homes, becoming an expert at stealing and lying, heading for a life of crime until he gets taken in by Captain Shadrack Davies of the D.C. Police. The experience changes him, not completely, but enough so that he grows up to be a smart-ass D.C. private eye.

An old acquaintance, jazz musician Steps Jackson, asks Gidney to find his daughter, Bobbie, the result of a one-night stand twenty-five years ago. Supposed to be a straightforward missing persons case but right away, thugs show up to rough up Gidney, people start dying, and Gidney realizes he’s stumbled upon something which might involve a powerful corporation and a corrupt congressman.

The story jumps back and forth between the present case and Gidney’s time in foster care, slowly doling out what happened between Gidney and Davies during their short stint together. Gidney has a quick wit, but we find it was born as survival instinct. We get to witness Gidney’s evolution from problem child to a man trying to do the right thing, if sometimes reluctantly.

Kaufman, an Emmy-winning cinematographer who’s shot shows like The FBI Files and The New Detectives, brings his eye for detail to his writing and excels in showing instead of telling. He describes a picture of a boy in a high-school yearbook thusly:

His interests included biology, chemistry, debate. He looked apologetic, as though his violin lesson had run over and he’d shown up late to chess club.

Kaufman didn’t need to write “nerd”; the description couldn’t be clearer. And instead of using variations on the word “big,” the author writes that an internet cafe “had an espresso bar the size of Congress but with less hot air,” and about “a pair of shoes that would have won me free tuition to Clown School.”

Gidney’s background and sensibilities make him part Elvis Cole, Robert Crais’s wisecracking P.I. who was an old youngster once; and Harry Bosch, Michael Connelly’s foster-care-raised detective whose biggest mystery is his own lineage. Since those two are top of my list of favorite series characters, Gidney is in lofty company indeed.

Nerd verdict: Drink this

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Events I’d Like to See in the Olympics

Like the rest of the world, I’ve been watching and enjoying the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. I must admit, though, that I don’t get some of the sports. Curling? The Biathlon, which involves shooting & skiing because you might want to do some hunting while going down the bunny slope?

I started thinking about activities which would really impress me if someone can complete quickly and came up with the following:

  • Getting through airport security when you’re behind people with lace-up shoes and babies
  • Totaling receipts for tax itemizations
  • Driving 2 miles on the 405 freeway on a Friday at 5 p.m.
  • Getting through to a live agent when calling the DMV
  • Putting together an IKEA computer station
  • Opening the vacuum-packed plastic packages electronics & toys come in

What alternative events would you like to see?

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Shut-Eye ISLAND

Saying this might make me seem insane, but Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island bored me silly. Having loved Dennis Lehane’s novel of the same name (read my review here), I thought I’d at least enjoy the movie, maybe not as much as the book, since that rarely happens. Last thing I expected was to be sitting in the dark, rolling my eyeballs back and nodding off as if I’d been given too much Thorazine.

In 1954, U.S. Marshals Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule are summoned to Ashecliffe, an institution for the criminally insane on an island off Boston Habor, to locate a missing patient, Rachel Solando. The woman seemingly escaped without shoes (island terrain is rocky) or anyone seeing her, from a room locked from the outside. The staff’s and marshals’ search efforts are hampered by a hurricane which shuts down the island’s electrical system, allowing all 66 violent offenders to run wild. But wait. Solando left behind a note implying there’s a 67th patient. Who is this mysterious person whose existence everyone denies?

And that’s just one of the island’s mysteries. Daniels and Aule soon wonder if the doctors at Ashecliffe are really treating their patients or doing illegal experiments on them. Daniels also has his own agenda for being there: He’s searching for his wife’s killer, Andrew Laeddis. The plot has more twists and turns than an Olympics slalom, culminating in a twist which may or may not shock you, depending on whether or not you read the book or are an especially astute viewer.

The cast is very good here. The intense DiCaprio and laid-back Ruffalo balance each other nicely; Ben Kingsley plays Dr. Cawley with a cool presence which keeps you guessing about his true intentions; Jackie Earle Haley, Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson turn in notable performances as patients. (Michelle Williams, as Daniels’s deceased wife, doesn’t have much to do until the end.)

But the actors are failed by the movie’s sedate pacing. With this kind of (literally) crazy plot, the thriller should be more, well, thrilling. Instead, lots of long expositional scenes and dream sequences slow down the momentum, and characters meant to be creepy become less so when they linger on screen for too long talking too much.

Scorsese also heightens every scene with a lot of DRAMA: the hammering Bernard Herrmann-esque score, the artsy slo-mo and overly saturated colors in the dream sequences, twisty camera angles, lots of water imagery. It’s like announcing Creepy Scene Alert! at every turn, which takes away any surprise that might lie around the corner.

One might argue there are no surprises for people who have read the book. All I can say is, I also knew what would happen in Scorsese’s last movie, The Departed (having seen the original Hong Kong version Infernal Affairs), and still found it to be quite suspenseful. The director should have trusted his source material here; a leaner, less heavy-handed approach would have allowed the story’s creepiness to crawl under our skin.

Nerd verdict: More wreck than treasure on this Island

All photos © Paramount Pictures/Andrew Cooper

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AMERICAN IDOL Season 9: Meet the Top 24 (Spoilers)

FOX unveiled their other 24 tonight (the kind without Jack Bauer) and there were few surprises. Starting next week, when American Idol goes live, the following will be vying for your votes:

GIRLS

  1. Didi Benami
  2. Katelyn Epperly
  3. Janelle Wheeler
  4. Ashley Rodriguez
  5. Lacey Brown
  6. Crystal Bowersox
  7. Lilly Scott
  8. Michelle Delamor
  9. Siobhan Magnus
  10. Haeley Vaughn
  11. Katie Stevens
  12. Paige Miles

GUYS

  1. Michael Lynche *
  2. Casey James
  3. Todrick Hall
  4. Lee Dewyze
  5. Joe Muñoz
  6. Alex Lambert
  7. Tim Urban **
  8. Jermaine Sellers
  9. Tyler Grady
  10. Aaron Kelly
  11. John Park
  12. Andrew Garcia

* Some websites are reporting that Mike Lynche was replaced after his father confirmed to a newspaper back in January that Lynche had made the top 24, violating a confidentiality agreement (click here to read People.com’s article). FOX hasn’t made an official announcement.

** A replacement for Chris Golightly, who was disqualified after making the top 24. Read more about it here.

It’s way too early to predict but I think Bowersox, Garcia, Benami, Stevens and Dewyze are the ones to watch. Since the real competition starts next week, time to start learning their names!

What did you think of this bunch? Is there an Adam Lambert in there? Who’s being eliminated first next week?

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LOST: No “Substitute” for Locke

by Sarah Carbiener

I was first inspired to watch Lost by hearing someone recount a Locke (Terry O’Quinn) episode from the first season. After getting the play-by-play of the first Locke-centric episode, where he tries to go on his walkabout, I knew I had to watch this show. Six seasons later, he is still the main reason I keep tuning in. After the shocking reveal at the end of last season, I’m very happy the character and the actor are getting the treatment they deserve.

The biggest difference between this week’s episode and last week’s is obviously that the “flashbacks” were so much more meaningful. They were entirely believable and, even though there were no guns or fugitive shenanigans, everything felt like it mattered more. Even when Locke has nothing left to lose, as is often the case, he still fights like he has everything at stake.

I find that in episodes where the writers don’t heavily broadcast what they’re trying to get across or what they may or may not reveal (unlike episodes where Jack demands answers over and over again) are the most riveting. This week, it’s never entirely clear what exactly we’re going to figure out by episode’s end, and so when we do learn something new, the impact is that much greater.

Locke episodes are great, but man, are they exhausting. Watching him struggle against the terrible hand life has dealt him over the course of an hour really takes it out of me. I sit there, tense, willing good things to happen for him and they almost never do.

Locke makes it worth renting Season 1 and starting the whole series from the beginning. But if you’re going to do that, you’d best catch up before the series finale in May. I’m guessing spoilers will be even more rampant than the spoilers for the final Harry Potter book.

What did you think of this episode? Were you exhausted like I was afterwards?

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AMERICAN IDOL Season 9: 7 of Top 24 Revealed

AP/FOX, Michael Becker

I watched this two-hour show in about 40 minutes because it was so annoyingly full of filler. Yes, I know that’s how they always do it, but this ep seemed more padded than usual. A hundred twenty minutes weren’t enough for them to reveal all the top 24 contestants? It’s like James Cameron thinking he needed almost 3 hours to give us a nature video!

Let’s get right to the point here. The first 7 singers through to the next round are: (SPOILERS!!)

  1. “Big Mike” Lynche, first-time father whose wife gave birth during Hollywood week. He’s a good singer but his smugness kinda turns me off.
  2. Didi Benami, Lauren Holly lookalike who gets intensely emotional with every song. LOVE her but I hope she can keep her nerves and tears in check during live competition. It’s only going to get tougher from here.
  3. Katelyn Epperly, pretty with wild, fabulous hair but nothing about her voice makes her stand out for me right now.
  4. Casey James, blond Zach Braff-y dude who was sexually harassed by female judges during his original audition (they made him take off his shirt). So unnecessary since his voice is quite good.
  5. Aaron Kelly, kid who was adopted by aunt because his parents couldn’t take care of him and his brother. Seems really sweet, has a decent voice, but I don’t think he’s ready for the big time. He forgot the lyrics multiple times during Hollywood week.
  6. Lee Dewyze, guy with the HUGE voice, probably the strongest male in the top 24 so far.
  7. Todrick Hall, with the striking eyes who made Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” his own.

Wednesday night, the judges will reveal the rest of the semi-finalists: 10 more girls, 7 guys. My guesses for some of the females: Ashley Rodriguez (she’s ready to go pro right now), Haeley Vaughn (little guitar-playing girl with a voice bigger than her body), Angela Martin (smooth operator), and Crystal Bowersox (Janis lives!). If Bowersox doesn’t make it, look out your window for flying pigs.

Among the guys, I can only think of Andrew Garcia being worthy. No one else has really made an impression on me. Doesn’t matter; the Idol will be female this year.

Do you have favorites yet? What did you think of Jessica Furney’s begging? Are you glad Mary Powers is gone? (UPDATE: Here’s the full list of the top 24.)

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WE ARE THE WORLD 25 FOR HAITI Video

In case you haven’t seen it, here’s the new version to raise money for Haiti. Love the little kid waving his hand in the air in the beginning. Babs still got it. So moving to see Michael Jackson. And oh my gosh, Jennifer Hudson blows my hair back with her voice. Incredible.

How do you think this compares with the original?

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Movie Review: VALENTINE’S DAY

The marketing for Valentine’s Day makes the movie look like a shiny, pretty gift for those looking for a little romance come February 14. In reality, it’s like a box of candy that’s already been opened, with the contents all stale and hard to swallow.

Many storylines and characters collide to make up the narrative. There’s Reed (Ashton Kutcher), the boy who owns a flower shop that gets a huge boost in business on the titular day; his best friend Julia (Jennifer Garner), the impossibly perky grade school teacher who’s in love with a brilliant surgeon (Patrick Dempsey); Liz (Anne Hathaway), an office assistant who doubles as a phone sex operator; Captain Kate Hazeltine (Julia Roberts), a military officer flying home on leave who strikes up a friendship with a fellow passenger (Bradley Cooper), and a couple of silly teens in love (Taylors Swift and Lautner).

As you can see, almost all of Hollywood is crammed into this movie, and I didn’t even mention the plotlines involving Shirley MacLaine, Jessica Biel, Jamie Foxx and several others. (Kathy Bates and Lautner might as well have been glorified extras, considering how little screen time and few lines they have.) It felt like director Garry Marshall was cooking spaghetti, throwing all these stars up on screen to see who sticks. Sadly, none of them do.

Some of these actors are favorites of mine, but most were directed to overact to the point of embarrassment. Biel’s character, Kara, has a ridiculous meltdown that made me feel sorry for the actress. Swift is goofy but in an over-the-top way, trying too hard to impress in her big-screen debut. No one behaves in any manner that seemed even remotely real (except for Roberts, who wisely underplays her role) and in the end, their stories are wrapped up with unnatural and implausible conclusions. If you’re looking for a romantic movie with lots of attractive stars and real heart, skip the cineplex and rent the superior Love Actually instead.

Nerd verdict: If not a massacre, Valentine’s Day is still a giant mess

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