Monthly Archives

March 2010

Soulless Night: AMERICAN IDOL Season 9 Top 10 Perform

by Jason Matthews

In case you missed it, an article in last week’s Entertainment Weekly said that this season of American Idol is unconscionably bad. If you’ve seen even a moment of the last month of performance shows, you would be hard pressed to disagree. Unoriginal song choices, lackluster arrangements, charmless Idolists and restless judges, not to mention the terrible voices. For the first time since Taylor Hicks Soul Patroled his way past the luscious Katharine McPhee, American Idol is a chore to watch. Besides Crystal, Siobhan and maybe Lee, there isn’t one compelling Idolist. Even Ryan seems bored with the proceedings, and he can make ANYTHING riveting. Just a sorry state of affairs.

Simon has the right idea, leaving at the end of the season. Maybe we should consider joining him.

Here are reviews of the performances, from best to worst.

Photo: Michael Becker/FOX

Lee Dewyze – “Treat Her Like A Lady” by Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose

At least one Idolist came to play tonight. If Lee was told to “bring it,” his performance would have been the musical “it’s already been broughten” comeback. Soulful, powerful, melodic, heartfelt—four things he hasn’t been in weeks, but was tonight in spades. The best of the night, and it wasn’t even close.

Crystal Bowersox – “Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight

Massive style points for changing instruments, getting up and delivering sans-guitar, and for the first time ever, truly looking like a star. Wasn’t her best vocal, she was distracted by the piano a bit too much, but the whole performance was fun to watch, and a welcome change of pace. She caught back up to Siobhan after two consecutive weeks of falling behind.

Siobhan Magnus – “Through the Fire” by Chaka Khan

The biggest tragedy isn’t that Siobhan toned down the Lambert-vocal antics. Or that she followed Usher’s misguided advice to dress simple. It’s that she didn’t sing the Kanye version of the song, ‘Through the Wire.” Isn’t that what we all wanted, our quirky Idol singing music’s quirkiest rapper? I would pay all the dollars I will ever make to hear Siobhan do a non-auto tune version of “Golddigger.” The glory note she’d deliver on “holla we want pre nup, we want prenup, yeah”? Let’s all put that in our dream journal, with a gold star next to it.

Casey James – “Hold On I’m Coming” by Sam and Dave

Did my DVR mistakenly record a drunken frat house session of Guitar Hero? Cause I THOUGHT this was supposed to be the singing competition known as American Idol. This is not a jam band concert, Casey! It’s a show about people with amazing VOICES. Even Blake stopped beatboxing eventually.

Didi Benami – “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” by Jimmy Ruffin

We love Didi, right? So can we band together and get her to keep the “emotions” in check? Nobody wants their American Idol to be a cryer. Kelly only cried when she won, and I don’t think Carrie Underwood even HAS tear ducts. Love the torch singer dress, the crazy fake lashes and the intensity, but she’s coming off the rails faster than a Paula Abdul soundbite. Can she try having some fun next week?

Michael Lynche – “Ready for Love” by India.Arie

Instead of writing about Big Mike, I wish I could just paste a screenshot of Usher staring hatefully at him while he strummed his guitar during mentor rehearsal. I’m all for musicality and range, but on R&B night the one African-American crooner left on the show is playing the guitar? With his back to the judges (who aren’t even turned around to watch him)? Does that make sense to anyone? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!

Aaron Kelly – “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers

Putting Aaron in the hammer spot and slapping a hot jacket on him doesn’t do anything to make him more interesting, but at least he looks awesome. The Clay Aiken-ing of his skin problems and little-boy hair is truly commendable. The Idol stylists are working harder than the actual Idols this year. Aaron is everything that is wrong with the show this year: fine to listen to, gorgeous to watch, but not spectacular in any way and severely lacking in charisma.

Katie Stevens – “Chain of Fools” by Aretha Franklin

What’s more fun than watching Miley try to mack on Tim Urban? Watching Katie barely legal herself over Usher. Flirting with the mentor instead of practicing, when you keep landing in the bottom three? Way to prioritize, Stevens! No, no, don’t worry, all that work paid off. You didn’t at all seem like a 5-year-old trying on Mommy’s makeup for the first time. And you didn’t at all sound like a teenager singing along (poorly) to the radio in your off-white 2-door Ford Focus. I’m sure Usher will accept your friend request aaaaaany day now.

Andrew Garcia – “Forever” by Chris Brown

Why is he hunched on top of a stool? Is he TRYING to look like a kid playing dress up? Straight up now tell me does he really think Chris Brown is the way to keep him on the show? It’s a fantastic jam, to be sure, but that song has such a stink on it, going acoustic can’t Febreze the smell out.

Tim Urban – “Sweet Love” by Anita Baker

Did Usher just take Tim through puberty? ‘Cause it sure was awkward enough to seem so, as did the performance. Starting legs spread on the steps? Not a good look. Looking to the rafters instead of connecting to the audience? Way to listen to anything Usher told you, Tim! Did Paige secretly mentor Tim this week? If not, why does this feel so much like he’s throwing a fight? I’ve never wanted Simon to be wrong more than with his prediction about Tim’s fate.

Is this the worst Top 10 in the history of American Idol? Let me know in the comments!

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Kim Wright: Finding Closure In MID AIR

The starred Publishers Weekly review for Kim Wright’s debut novel, Love in Mid Air, may have aroused my interest, but I really wanted to read the book and host Wright on her blog tour because the lead character’s name is Elyse. In all the books I’ve read in my entire life—and that’s a WHOLE lot—I’ve never encountered a protagonist who shared my first name (have you?). Thankfully, the similarity ends there.

Kim with Otis

Elyse is unhappy in her marriage with a husband who, while not an outright jerk, is frustratingly uncommunicative. She meets an attractive man on a plane and wonders if she should jump into a possibly destructive situation or remain in a comfortable suburban life that “most women would be happy with” but Elyse feels is suffocating. It’s the equivalent of choosing to skydive or stay seated with your seat belt fastened and tray in the upright position.

Because Kim based the story on her own experience (though Elyse is NOT her), I asked if writing the book gave her a satisfying do-over or helped her find closure on any unresolved issues. I give her the floor as she responds.

In a way, writing a novel is one big “do over,” a chance to revisit old conflicts and wounds but this time you’re infinitely more clever because you’ve had years to come up with the perfect response. Natalie Goldberg says in her memoir, Old Friend From Far Away, “Writing gives you a second chance.”

So yeah, I guess you can use a novel to re-imagine events in your personal history, only now you have the authorial power to punish the guilty and reward the innocent and say all the things you wish you’d said the first time.

But I didn’t use Elyse’s story that way. I wrote Love in Mid Air in first person present tense—we see what’s happening to her as it’s happening— so she’s not always thinking clearly. Divorce makes you crazy. You do and say things you never would have believed you’d possibly do or say. To make Elyse all balanced and perfect and aware of what was happening around her would have been a bit of a cheat. I wanted to show what it’s like for a woman in the moment that her whole world is coming apart in her hands. Show a smart woman doing stupid things.

But on a different level, writing a novel does give you closure. Not in the sense you get to go back and fix things, but in the sense that it requires you to imagine how a situation looked from all sides—what Elyse’s friends were thinking, as well as her daughter, her husband, and her lover. I had to give them reactions and dialogue, too, so there were points in the book where I stepped back from Elyse and tried to create the bigger picture. Seeing a situation from someone else’s point of view may be the ultimate closure.

Thanks so much, Kim, for taking time to answer my question and being so open and unflinching with Elyse. Best of luck with the book and rest of the tour!

Readers, hope you’ve enjoyed meeting Kim. For more info, visit the book’s website or click on the link if you’re interested in buying Love in Mid Air.

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AWESOME Giveaway

I’ve given away some great books but this one is literally Awesome. Thanks to Amy Einhorn/Putnam, I have two ARCs of Neil Pasricha’s The Book of Awesome, a collection of everyday awesome things that the author has documented on his blog 1000awesomethings.com. Next month, it comes out in book form so you can tuck it in your bag and pull it out whenever you need a little reminder that awesomeness is everywhere.

I love this book and am intentionally not reading it all in one sitting. At the end of the day, I’ll open to a random page, read the comment or mini-essay that accompanies that particular awesome thing, and find myself smiling and nodding in agreement.

Examples:

  • Successfully moving all your clothes from the washer to the dryer without dropping anything (this is a BIG deal for me ’cause I’m always dropping socks)
  • When the thing you were going to buy is already on sale
  • Waking up before your alarm and realizing you’ve got lots of sleep time left
  • When there’s still time left in the parking meter when you pull up
  • Snow days

Enter to win one of the ARCs by leaving a comment about something awesome you experienced in the last 24 hours. I’ll start: I sat on the couch and read all day while my husband cooked brunch AND dinner. If that isn’t a definition of awesome then I need to relearn the entire English language.

You also have to:

  • be a subscriber or Twitter follower (tell me which). Current subscribers/followers automatically get an extra entry; people who tweet about the giveaway get 3 entries
  • live in U.S. or Canada, no P.O. Boxes

Giveaway ends Monday, April 5, at 5 p.m. PST. Two names will be randomly drawn; winners will only be announced here and on Twitter and have 48 hours to reply with address before alternate name(s) are chosen.

Let’s start the Awesomefest!

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PCNews Roundup

Didn’t have time to keep up with pop culture news this week? No worries. Watch my quick slideshow and you’ll be up to date in no time.

[cincopa 10572866]

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Serial Reader

This topic has come up a few times for me recently so I thought I’d open it up for discussion. If you’re about to start reading an author who writes a series, how important is it for you to start at the beginning? If you’re a reader who has been reading that series from the start, how much backstory do you want the author to include to fill in those who don’t read in order?

My husband was reading Jim Butcher’s latest Dresden Files adventure, Changes. It was the first one he’d sampled but 12th in the series. He said, “I wish Butcher had included more details on past events so I’d have a better understanding of what’s going on.” I said, “Well, if you’re curious, you can always go back and read the other ones. At least he didn’t spoil them for you.”

See, we’re not sticklers about starting with book one. What if the author doesn’t hit his/her stride until book 8? You might stop reading after the third one and miss out on a masterpiece. I know writers who’d prefer you don’t judge their series by the first book, like actors who try to steer you away from their very first gig in Children of the Corn: Impaled on the Cob. I’ve also known readers who quit a series too soon and no nagging on my part could get them to hang on for the breakthrough book.

Now, I’m not talking about a finite series with serialized plots heading towards an ending that’s already been planned out. If anyone ever advises you to start the Harry Potter series with Goblet of Fire or the Millenium trilogy with The Girl Who Played with Fire, just slap them hard. It’s like saying you should watch the Star Wars movies by starting with The Empire Strikes Back. You’d be sitting there, thinking, “What is a Muppet doing in here and why does Luke keep hearing some old dead guy in his head?” No, I’m only discussing series with self-contained installments here.

And let me be clear that I’m not against reading in chronological order. I’ve often done so and am all for it if that option is available/feasible to you. The experience will be richer if you know all the backstory before embarking on a new adventure. Which brings me to the second question in my opening paragraph: How much background is needed in each subsequent book?

When I’ve been following a series from the start, I sometimes get impatient as it progresses because the author has to include details from past books so new readers don’t feel lost. Depending on how well the writer incorporates those threads, I find myself skipping passages, thinking, “I know that already. Get on with the current story!” I’m also averse to TMI if I jump in mid-series: “The dead guy in the last book wasn’t really dead? Guess I won’t be reading it now.” It’s like I said to my husband: New readers can research the backstory on their own.

Do you ever feel this way? Am I being Grumpy McBitchy? What are your preferences when reading a series?

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Winners of Anne Lamott’s IMPERFECT BIRDS

Random.org selected two winners for me: Charlotte Cecilia and Storeetllr will each receive an ARC of Imperfect Birds courtesy of Riverhead Books. (Interestingly enough, both said they hate cleaning the house, something I also loathe.) The book will be available April 6.

Charlotte Cecilia and Storeetllr, please click on “contact” & send me your address, which will be forwarded to Riverhead. If I don’t hear from you by 6 p.m. PST Friday, March 26, alternate winner(s) will be selected.

Thank you to all who entered and shared your imperfections. I can relate to many of them so you are not alone. If you didn’t win, I have more great giveaways coming up very, very soon so keep your eyes peeled!

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Party in the US AI: AMERICAN IDOL Season 9 Top 11 Perform

by Jason Matthews

When Simon leaves Idol at the end of the season, can Miley Cyrus take his place? She makes the show SO fun. She’s just as bitchy, just as divisive, and just as deliciously awesome as our grumpy British boss. Let’s be real: in the history of things, “Miley Cyrus” is a perfect idea. A 17-year old trapped with an 80-year-old cigarette smoker’s voice. Brimming with sexuality, but only able to take it so far cause of the Disney thing. (She will simulate sex in the first video she shoots after her contract expires. Count on it.) A secretly horrible voice, making the catchiest jams of this decade? There’s no one better than Miley.

Who didn’t love Miley? Telling Crystal how to sing better? Trying not to molest Tim? Not hiding her hate of Andrew? Dorking out with Siobhan? And acting out in the best and grossest ways in the audience?  Everyone loved it. The performances tonight were uniformly abysmal, but it was still the best episode of the season, for obvious Cyrus-related reasons.

Here are the reviews of the performances, from best to worst.

Siobhan Magnus – “Superstition”

How can you not love the mutual coofest that was Siobhan and Miley? Did you see how with Siobhan, Miley desperately wanted to seem cool to her, whereas with Katie, she thought she was too cool for school? And Siobhan with her full-on, no-shame admittance of her love of Miley? It’s too great! Can we have more of them smiling at each other with their beautiful girl crushes, please? Don’t we all just want two hours of Siobhan dorking out with Hannah Montana, interspersed with her looking superfly and glory-screeching through Stevie Wonder hits? Isn’t that what happiness looks like?

Casey James – “Power Of Love”

Ooh, dicey call, not kissing the Miley ring. Her evil eyes during the mentor rehearsal should have clued Casey in that maybe a tip of the hat to “The Climb” would have been a better way to go. But for the rest of us, singing “Power of Love” is all the ring kissing we need. One of the best pop songs of the last 30 years, instantly making us nostalgic for Back to the Future, Casey could have burped this song and I still would have loved it. Helps that he delivered a solid vocal, nice stage presentation, and a super fun arrangement. Can Casey sing Huey every week?

Didi Benami – “You’re No Good”

That performance should carry a NSFW label. It was hot! Maybe it was a bit screechy, but I’ll take her pseudo-sultriness and saucy mean-face growl-singing over the cornball hairspray nonsense of Tim Urban, or the soulless yipping of Andrew Garcia any day of the week and twice on Sunday. At least she was taking a risk, playing outside her comfort zone. Trying! Big points for our girl Didi tonight, no matter what the cranky judges thought.

Aaron Kelly – “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing”

His best performance, and it wasn’t even close. And by that I mean I stayed awake through it. Dug the dramatic blue light walk to the mic, the slow intro and the first chorus. Can’t tell you about the rest, though, cause I zoned out and didn’t come back in ’til Randy started yo’ing at me. But hey, Aaron was legitimately riveting for a good thirty-five seconds. That’s progress!

Katie Stevens – “Big Girls Don’t Cry”

Were we watching Miley mentor Katie, or a scene from Mean Girls 2? Miley’s non-advice, her looks of “Bitch, don’t you DARE think you’re gonna be where I am,” her insincere well wishes? Classic bitch work, Miley. Really great stuff! Katie could have really used her help, too. You could tell from the first note Katie didn’t believe she could pull it off. She was stiff, stilted and out of rhythm. Fergie gets that song done by oozing sensuality; Katie isn’t old enough to know what that is. Miley fakes it, and knows how, but darn if she was gonna teach Katie how to do it. Poor Katie…

Crystal Bowersox – “Me and Bobby McGee”

I could stare at Miley’s stunned reaction to Crystal all day long; I want it as my screen saver. How cool was Crystal to include Miley in her collection of female singer autographs on her guitar (when Miley CLEARLY doesn’t deserve having her name associated with a talent like B-Sox)? Doesn’t even matter that it was her coolest moment in the show (as her actual performance was quite subpar). Crystal may be treading water, or even losing momentum, but she’s gaining fans and that’s way more important for her post-Idol career.

Michael Lynche – “When A Man Loves A Woman”

Mike created some love tonight! Ellen was making out with Ryan’s hands, Miley was so sprung on Big Mike, Jungle Fever balloons were popping all around her crazy precocious head, and Kara was working overtime to produce more fake tears. But how was the performance? He sang just fine, looked fine; it was fine. Manipulative like whoa, as is his M.O., but fine all the same. It’s funny when Kara calls Mike over-indulgent when that is his sole reason for being on the show! It’s like calling Crystal a hippie; no need to restate facts about things, judges.

Lee Dewyze – “The Letter”

One thing’s for sure: Michael Bublé has nothing to worry about. Simon was right—that was a magnificently poor song choice. Why Lee thought he could croon on stage and not look like a buffoon is anyone’s guess. He should never move away from rock music. It fits his voice the best and hides all his weaknesses (did you notice how badly he was scraping his lower register?). He’s not Danny Gokey; he shouldn’t perform like him.

Tim Urban – “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”

It’s always fun when the female mentors invent reasons to touch the male contestants. Miley was throwing her raccoon eyes and Florida Grandma face all over Tim’s business. Thankfully (or maybe not), he survived long enough to deliver a super karaoke performance, whose only saving grace was his hot blue-gray blazer. Everything else was corny. Also? When a contestant jumps into the crowd, that’s a sure sign of desperation. He should write Paige a thank-you note for gifting him a place on the Idol tour.

Andrew Garcia – “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”

When you can’t impress Miley Cyrus, who is still knee-deep in her “SHINY!” phase, how can you expect to impress America? Answer: You can’t. Talk-singing isn’t going to do it. A voice flatter than Ellen’s jokes?  That’s not it. Corny arrangement, clunky dance moves and an amateur presentation? Boring our poor Miley in the audience (AGAIN)? Nope! It’s safe to say Andrew failed to impress this week.

Paige Miles – “Against All Odds”

Paige must have summer plans ’cause I have never seen someone try so actively to get kicked off American Idol. Everything was bad. E-ver-y-thing. Shaky opening, low-energy start on the steps, random wandering on the stage. Did she fire her tone? Wow, that was so, so bad. Miley was right; it was a Pitch Party in the USA.

Should Miley mentor the Idols every week? Would you buy a Miley/Siobhan duets CD? These were obviously rhetorical questions, but let’s talk Idol in the comments!

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LOST: “Ab Aeterno” Review

by Sarah Carbiener

Disclaimer: This was one of eight episodes left in the final season of Lost.  At this stage of the game, avoiding spoilers is nigh impossible. You have been warned.

I’m incredibly conflicted and frustrated after watching this episode, and it’s not because I didn’t enjoy it. I did. I think…It was the Richard episode. Something I’ve been looking forward to since we learned he doesn’t age and his eyeliner never smudges! It’s not that my expectations were so high that it was impossible for me to enjoy it. Season six up to this point has done plenty to lower my expectations, and I had very few preconceived notions as to what Richard (Nestor Carbonell) was about because he’s always been so mysterious.

There were things I absolutely loved. They dropped the sideway flashes in favor of one continuous flashback in which we learned exactly what Richard went through to get to the island. They didn’t splinter the forty-three minutes between so many characters that each ends up with too little to do. Richard is in almost every single scene, and these scenes take place over a hundred years before the rest of the gang was born.

Since we spent so much time in the mid-nineteenth century, there wasn’t a lot of, “Tell me what’s going on!”  because it was obvious to a Catholic like Ricardo (Richard’s given name). He died and went to hell. Not only is that a brilliant nod to one of the earliest, most prevalent Lost theories,* but it’s so true to Richard’s character that it doesn’t feel cheap. The guy is literally old school.

I also really enjoyed the way they built up to Richard’s immortality. After he accidentally murders a man, he asks a priest for God’s forgiveness. The priest cruelly tells him the only way to regain God’s grace is through penance, and because he’s going to be hanged in the morning, he doesn’t have time for that.

Then there was the scene on the beach where Jacob laid it all out. This episode answered a lot of the mythology, and while some of it was about the set dressing (how Black Rock ended up in the middle of the jungle and how the statue on the beach became a four-toed foot on the beach), Jacob gave us a pretty major answer. He brings people to the island to prove to the Man in Black that, of their own free will, people are inherently good.

I don’t mind at all that this is coming down to a battle of good versus evil. In fact, I think that’s the most satisfying place a series this sprawling could go. I don’t know, though, if I can stomach Jacob crashing planes and ships, bringing people to the island and letting them watch their loved ones die in their arms, just so the Man in Black can see how kind they were to their fellow man before they kick it. I mean, really?

When Jacob asked what would be the point of his telling people to do the right thing, I absolutely love that Richard countered with, “But if you don’t, he will!” Jacob obviously hadn’t considered this, and that’s how Richard got his job as the man who tries to convince people to do the right thing on behalf of Jacob, the Jiminy Cricket of the island.**

Maybe I just need to sit down and watch the whole thing again. Was anyone else as torn as I was? Want to chime in on the wine bottle, the boar, Isabella, and the dozen other things I glossed over?

* It reminded me of the Hurley episode where he’s convinced he’s back in the mental institution and everything is happening inside his head. Another Lost theory intelligently disproved in a great episode.

** In this economy, anyone who can create a position for themselves is to be appreciated.

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BREAKING BAD: “No Mas” Review

This review was written by contributing writer Ethan Ogilby, who’s pretty badass himself. The post contains spoilers.–PCN

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“You either run from things, or you face them,” Jesse (Aaron Paul) tells Walt (Bryan Cranston) in the Season 3 premiere of Breaking Bad, unwittingly nailing Walt’s current shortcoming. While Walt may be ready to choose family over meth dealing, at least for today, he’s far from ready to face anything or anyone. Despite the glimpses of his solitary self-loathing, Walt never makes any sort of acknowledgment of his wrongs. He thinks that getting out of the meth game should fix everything, but in this episode he learns (even if he refuses to accept it) how far from the truth that notion is.

In the premiere, Walt has entered even more severe stages of justification and denial, and though his meth obsession has led to him likely losing his family, he’s still not quite capable of really leveling with Skyler (Anna Gunn). He admits he has manufactured drugs, but he doesn’t get near an apology and is indignant when Skyler hands him divorce papers. Walt has hidden the truth from Skyler for so long that he thinks revealing the basics to her should be enough for her to forgive him, but he can’t even understand that their problems run much deeper than the logistics of his actions. On top of that, when Skylar first accuses him of being a drug dealer, he briefly denies it, even though he probably had no other story to explain anything because lying to her has become so ingrained in him.

Walt also has to find a way to ignore the guilt of more blood on his hands than ever before. Even if the crash was due to butterfly-effect-type circumstances, Walt can piece together, just as Jesse does, that whoever was at fault for Jane’s death (undeniably Walt, though Jesse has no idea) is ultimately responsible.

But Walt is running away from this tragedy just as quickly, whether it’s by making painful assembly speeches about moving on (though the logic seemed a bit strained that Walt would be asked to say something, even if the payoff worked well) or by trying to convince Jesse that the crash was due to a mechanical problem and lack of government oversight. Walt knows he’s done wrong, but he wants so desperately to believe otherwise that he’ll try and sell his fantasy to anyone who will listen. And so, we wonder, if these catastrophic circumstances can’t snap Walt into reality, what can?

Well, probably more gangsters. Now, over the fantastic final episodes of Season 2, Vince Gilligan and Co. earned my trust, deftly intersecting their various story lines into a gripping, crazy, and even poetic finale. The rise in the show’s quality coincided with the elimination of over-the-top, cartoonish drug dealers, Tuco (Raymond Cruz) being the worst offender. Maybe I’ve just been spoiled by The Wire, but all the supposed “thugs” in Breaking Bad didn’t convince me they were serious villains. I’m holding out hope that these new silent cousins match the realism of the rest of the show’s current state, but if their shooting rampage and Nic-Cage-movie-style walkaway from the exploding truck are any indication, perhaps I should prepare myself for more cringe-inducing bad guys.

Initially, I sort of had the same hesitation about Jesse, who has turned into the best non-Walt element of the show. While Jesse didn’t dominate the screen today (not that I expected him to) we did get some excellent scenes with him, as well as some solid, seemingly permanent character development. The campfire scene in particular really resonated, when the audience was as blindsided as Jesse to find that this seemingly by-the-book square running the discussion had actually done something as unforgivable as anyone there, we could believe that such a revelation might be a wake-up call for Jesse.

Unfortunately, in classic, tragic Breaking Bad fashion, Jesse doesn’t come to the conclusion he probably should have and instead embraces his criminal persona. Even if he’ll refrain from using drugs himself, it was sad because once again we find Jesse, who is at heart more moral than Walt, falling victim to circumstance and taking the easy way out.

Which leads us to both of our main characters getting about halfway to where they need to be, then abandoning the course. Walt agrees to some facts, but he’s not getting at the truth, certainly not about himself. And while Jesse more or less makes peace with what happened, it’s only because he seems ready to carry the blame of Jane’s death with him indefinitely. With the pair now at least temporarily living together, it’s probably only a matter of time before their self-hatred boils over into more bad decisions.

What did you think of the premiere? Think it’s heading in the right direction?

All photos courtesy AMC

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The Girl Who Watched Tattooed Girls

Even though I looked forward to seeing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I held on to a small amount of skepticism so I wouldn’t be too disappointed if it turned out crappy. I’m happy to report the concern was unwarranted. The movie is exactly as I wanted it to be—a tight, tense thriller which stays faithful to Stieg Larsson’s book while bringing Lisbeth Salander, the extraordinary character at its core, vividly to life, hot as the fire she plays with.

The movie strips away a lot of exposition at the beginning of the novel by jumping right into the plot of an old wealthy businessman, Henrik Vanger, summoning disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist to his estate to look into the 40-year-old disappearance of Vanger’s niece, Harriet. Salander, tattooed girl and brilliant computer hacker, does the background check on Blomkvist for Vanger but continues to secretly track the writer’s progress in the case even after her job is done. When she finally reveals herself by e-mailing him an important lead, the two team up to solve the mystery, one much more deviant and deadly than they imagined.

Reading the book, I thought it might be impossible for any actress to do justice to Lisbeth, who’s punked out, idiot savant-y, waifish, ferocious, antisocial, and unpredictable but utterly captivating. It’s amazing, then, to see how spot-on Rapace is, nailing all of Lisbeth’s complexities, disappearing completely into her skin (in real life, Rapace is much softer looking; she shaved her hair and got multiple piercings for the sake of authenticity). Even though Lisbeth doesn’t speak much, her thoughts and emotions come out through Rapace’s eyes, telling us what pages of dialogue probably couldn’t. Whoever takes over this role in the American remake has giant shoes—or rather, black leather shit kickers—to fill.

Everything else in the movie also comes pretty close to my mental pictures, including Michael Nyqvist as Blomkvist and the violent scenes between Lisbeth and her sadistic legal guardian. Yes, they are disturbing to watch, but they are necessary to depict Larsson’s original title for this book, Men Who Hate Women, and director Niels Arden Oplev doesn’t linger on them any longer than Larsson did. Several subplots are pared down or eliminated altogether, but I didn’t miss them, nor did I feel the movie’s two-and-a-half-hour running time.

Nerd verdict: A dark, striking Tattoo.


The other movie I saw this weekend, The Runaways, about the rise to fame of the eponymous all-girl band in the ’70s, could’ve taken a lesson or two from Lisbeth when it came to exuding real girl power. Instead, Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning as lead singer Cherie Currie come across as blank little dolls putting on a tough act with no growl behind it. This isn’t their fault; both are fine actresses who were failed by an inadequate script and director Floria Sigismondi, who focused more on music-video-style flash than character development.

The movie starts with Jett buying a leather jacket right off a man’s back in a store and telling record producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) at a club she’s going to form a band with only girls. Once Fowley plucks Currie’s jailbait blondness out of the crowd to front the band, however, the focus shifts away from Jett, which is a major misstep. Since Currie quickly disappeared from the spotlight, I didn’t care about her story; it’s like asking me to be invested in what happened to the lead singer of, say, Kajagoogoo. Jett had huge success post-Runaways and is still touring and making music today. I want to know what makes her tick but the movie gives me no clue.

Stewart, with her jet-black shag, has Jett’s looks down cold (she’s rumored to head Sony’s list to play Lisbeth) and probably could’ve done more for the movie if she’d been given a story arc along with a guitar to play. Fanning, on the other hand, should’ve just said no. She tries hard but is too soft to make a convincing sexpot, punk-rock singer. She’s not dirrty enough. The romantic scenes between her and Stewart, perhaps meant to be provocative or edgy, are simply confusing because it’s never clear what kind of relationship they had. Similarly confounding is how Lita Ford, the band’s lead guitarist who went on to have a few hits as a solo artist, wasn’t even mentioned in the where-are-they-now end notes. Not only couldn’t the film be bothered with its characters’ backstories, it left out their future stories, too.

Nerd verdict: Stay away from Runaways.

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Movies I’m Anticipating in Spring/Summer 2010

Now that the Oscars are over, we can stop thinking about last year’s films and look forward to what’s coming up this year. Here are the ones I’m most anticipating in the next six months, with release dates and trailers.

Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (today, limited release)

If you’re a regular reader here, you already know how much I love Stieg Larsson’s books. Now the Swedish film is finally opening in the U.S. Yeah, yeah, an American remake is in the works but I ain’t waiting for it (to be ruined, most likely). UPDATE: Read my review here.

Date Night (April 9)

Steve Carell and Tina Fey are two of the funniest actors working, plus it features James Franco and Mark Wahlberg, who makes me laugh even when he’s doing drama. UPDATE: Read my review here.

Robin Hood (May 14)

I’m usually not a fan of movies with men in chain mail but this stars Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett, directed by Ridley Scott and written by Brian Helgeland (Mystic River, L.A. Confidential). It could be about growing potatoes and I’d still go.

Iron Man 2 (May 7)

The first one was a fun ride and this one looks even more badass. Besides the returning RDJ, Gwyneth Paltrow and Samuel L. Jackson, we’ve got Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer, and Mickey Rourke as Whiplash. (He doesn’t need his whips; his teeth alone are scary enough.) And Don Cheadle as War Machine! It’s head-crunching time!

Sex and the City 2 (May 28)

Looks like this time, Carrie and her friends travel to some exotic locales. Since I can’t afford all those fabulous clothes and expensive vacations, I’ll be happy to experience everything vicariously through them.

Inception (July 16)

Isn’t the fact this is Christopher Nolan’s first film since The Dark Knight enough to make you want to see it? How about the noirish trailer and a cast chock full of Oscar winners/nominees like Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Marion Cotillard, Ken Watanabe and Michael Caine? This looks like a head trip but one I’ll gladly submit to, considering that most summer fare asks me to turn off my brain and not even put it on vibrate mode.

Eat, Pray, Love (August 13)

Loved this book and am a fan of Julia Roberts, not to mention Javier Bardem, James Franco, Billy Crudup, Richard Jenkins and Viola Davis. The only glitch for me is that Elizabeth Gilbert is a minor celebrity in her own right, having appeared on talk shows and in speaking engagements, so I kept waiting to see her in the trailer or hear her voice come out of Julia’s mouth. And it’s sad that the real Richard from Texas passed away recently before he could see Richard Jenkins play him.

Which movies are you looking forward to?

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AMERICAN IDOL Season 9: Top 12 (S)Tumbling the Dice on Stones Night

by Jason Matthews

No more fooling around; it’s time to pick our next American Idol. For better or worse (we miss you, Katelyn! Smell ya later, Lilly!), this is our Top 12 and we have to crown one of them. The first impression one gets with this group is how vast the gap is between the talented and untalented. Crystal, Siobhan, Lee, Casey, Didi and Big Mike are so clearly the Top 6 that the next month and a half is mostly just an exercise in patience. A waiting game, while the also-rans get their moment to shine. So let’s all hold our breath for a while, revel in Simon and Ryan’s delicious man love banter, and continue to ignore Randy (and, increasingly, Ellen), and just wait it out ’til the real game begins.

Reviews of the performances, from best to worst.

Siobhan Magnus – “Paint It Black”

Adam Lambert just switched teams. Siobhan has never looked better, like a goth wet dream mixed with ’80s Madonna as envisioned by a Pretty in Pink fanboy. Loved the insane red stage, the dramatic lighting, the ominous arrangement, and her sinister opening. Her emotion was palpable, at once brilliant and frightening. And the crazy glory note that went on forever, then kept on going, and then had children who also delivered glory notes? That was either damn awful or mad genius. I’m almost 80% sure it’s the latter.

Lee Dewyze – “Beast of Burden”

He mumbled the start, opened up nicely in the middle, and finished with his signature bland white rocker snarl, but it was all tempered nicely by his acoustic song choice. He was actually kind of sweet up there, charming, even. Not to commit blasphemy, but it was a very Kris Allen-like performance. He for sure gained fans with that one, me included.

Didi Benami – “Playing With Fire”

Why is it so scary watching Didi perform? Is it because there is even odds she has a complete meltdown at any moment? Or because we just don’t want to see her cry again so we hope she does well? She’s such an emotional whirlwind, that girl! Thankfully, she did well this week. Going with jeans maybe wasn’t the best star choice, but otherwise she looked amazing. The camera has never loved her more. Starting on the steps was a nice choice, and it’s good to see her shine without needing her guitar. She definitely stumbled midway through, but she hung in there and finished strong. Nice soulful, sexy arrangement, great tone.  All in all, this was a nice week for our girl Didi.

Casey James – “It’s All Over Now”

From jump street, he had immediate big stage rock star presence. He’s relying too heavily on his guitar, not showing us enough of his vocals, but for now he’s doing enough. There is a richness to his voice that is great to listen to; he’s definitely getting better. If only he would trust his own instrument! He’s easily safe this week, but he needs to start stepping it up.

Katie Stevens – “Wild Horses”

Dramatic spotlight lighting! A totally robotic vocal! Trying to be sexy, but barely managing smoldering!  Still not making up for the loss of Katelyn Epperly! Oy, this girl is at such the disadvantage. There’s no way she survives the next month. Until then…by far her best performance so far, and her smartest song choice, but she still has a WAYS to go before she can stand with the big guns in this competition.

Crystal Bowersox – “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”

Very underwhelming for performing in the pimp slot. She doesn’t get points for admitting she was in her head and out of focus, but you do have to admire that even her lackluster performance was better than half the people in the competition. At this point, Crystal is her own worst enemy. She is so well liked and revered so early on, she has nowhere to go but down. This is exactly how Kris beat Adam last season.  Watch how she stacks up against Siobhan as the weeks go on. By Top 6 we may be looking back at today and wondering how we ever thought she was the clear favorite.

Michael Lynche – “Miss You”

Simon was right; Big Mike was corny up there. And it wasn’t just the dance moves. He’s got a smooth, silky voice, and his showmanship is in the right place, but he can be so cheese-on-crackers up there. Good energy, super likeable personality, a fine vocal, but the whole thing was more than a touch goofy.

Lacey Brown – “Ruby Tuesday”

Lacey is everything people find tiresome about this show. She’s another poseur, a wannabe singer with no personality, utterly lacking in real drama, and just standing up there performing mediocre karaoke. Way to not use the biggest platform in music, LACEY! I wonder if SHE thinks she can win this competition?

Andrew Garcia – “Gimme Shelter”

We learned tonight that the small stage the Idolists were on the last three weeks was masking just how small and uninteresting Andrew’s voice truly is. Working on the big stage, he was swallowed up. Even with that desperate glory note at the end, he still came off charisma-free. Not to mention his clunky, mismatched fashion. Also? For one the Stones’ signature songs, that was the worst arrangement of the night.

Aaron Kelly – “Angie”

What are the judges seeing that I am not? Aaron Kelly is a charisma suck, a gaping black hole of personality, passion and interest. I wasn’t sure the performance had started ’cause the whole thing was so snore-inducing. I dozed off before he even got off the steps. I think even Aaron fell asleep during that performance. He’ll be safe this week ’cause America loves it some shaky talent tweens, but his days are numbered. And wow, someone needs to get FIRED over that hair of his.

Paige Miles – “Honky Tonk Woman”

She unleashed her big voice for the first time ever, which was good, but just made us feel sorry something so beautiful was trapped in a vessel so dull. The main problem with Paige is that she just isn’t vital. There are literally forty of her on the charts right now, and she’s not good enough to outshine any of them. Beyoncé didn’t even flinch watching her work. Jennifer Hudson just rolled her eyes and went back to shining her Oscar. Paige needs to show us a big personality, not just a big voice.

Tim Urban – “Under My Thumb”

Well, that was some weak, forgettable, Tiger Beat nonsense, lacking in every way: vocally, musically, and aesthetically. Just a safe, small performance by a guy who knows he doesn’t belong. I hope someone was keeping an eye on poor Alex Lambert, because he probably drowned in his own tears watching the spot he so deserved to be in get wasted by Tim.

Who should be the first to go? Do you think Siobhan has what it takes to beat Crystal? Make some noise in the comments!

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