Monthly Archives

March 2010

LOST: “Recon” Review

by Sarah Carbiener

“Wait, when did that plane crash?”

“It was like two days ago because the second half of last season was all one day, and the temple stuff was just the day after that.”

“No, it’s been at least a week.”

“What about Jack’s ugly scar thing on his face?”

“It doesn’t tell time; it’s just inconsistent make-up.”

This is a snippet from the confused, hilarious conversation that ensued at my weekly Lost viewing party once the credits rolled on this week’s episode, “Recon.” While I was thrilled that this was an episode about Sawyer, another of my favorite characters, this conversation points out everything that was wrong with this week’s show. If it had been a genuinely good Sawyer story, my friends and I would have been babbling somewhat incoherently about how amazing and brilliant he was, and wasn’t “Locke’s” new nickname hysterical?

Although the first fifteen minutes were great, seriously great, as in the off-island scene **SPOILER ALERT** where Sawyer starts to run his usual con on a woman he’s just bedded and when she pulls a gun on him, he reveals that he’s an undercover cop! And his partner is Miles! Sheer brilliance!

But then this whole reveal off-island is wasted as it just drags out Sawyer telling Miles something we’ve all known for years: Daddy shot Mommy and then killed himself and Sawyer will murder the man responsible. All the off-island scenes were literally Miles telling Sawyer that he could tell him anything, or demanding Sawyer tell him the truth and then Sawyer being a damaged, obsessed guy hunting down the actual, um, Sawyer. (No wonder Lost fans sound insane to people who don’t watch the show.)  **END SPOILER ALERT** While the off-island scenes run on auto pilot, the home viewers have time to worry about the convoluted timeline of the past few seasons.

The island scenes weren’t much better. Unlike last week’s episode, where I had no idea what Ben was going to do in his incredibly life-threatening, life-changing situation, I could foresee all of Sawyer’s moves this week. He’s a con man. He’s done with the others and Jacob and the Dharma Initiative so he’s looking out for number one and the select few he still gives a damn about. And that’s exactly what he does in the most predictable manner ever, and he doesn’t even coin any awesome new nicknames doing it!

The only surprise this week, other than the previously mentioned spoiler, was that I didn’t hate Kate. She was the closest to being outright murdered that she’s ever been and, though I was initially disappointed that she didn’t bleed out, I actually enjoyed the rest of her scenes. Go figure.

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IMPERFECT Giveaway

Are you a writer who carries around a marked-up, tattered copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird in your knapsack? Perhaps you’re into spiritual journeys and are a fan of her Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith. How about a reader who just loves good writing?

This giveaway is for you: Two ARCs of Lamott’s latest work, a novel called Imperfect Birds being released April 6 by Riverhead Books, are up for grabs. Here’s the description from the Penguin website:

A powerful and redemptive novel of love and family, from the author of the bestselling Blue Shoe, Grace (Eventually), and Operating Instructions.

Rosie Ferguson is seventeen and ready to enjoy the summer before her senior year of high school. She’s intelligent-she aced AP physics; athletic-a former state-ranked tennis doubles champion; and beautiful. She is, in short, everything her mother, Elizabeth, hoped she could be. The family’s move to Landsdale, with stepfather James in tow, hadn’t been as bumpy as Elizabeth feared.

But as the school year draws to a close, there are disturbing signs that the life Rosie claims to be leading is a sham, and that Elizabeth’s hopes for her daughter to remain immune from the pull of the darker impulses of drugs and alcohol are dashed. Slowly and against their will, Elizabeth and James are forced to confront the fact that Rosie has been lying to them-and that her deceptions will have profound consequences.

This is Anne Lamott’s most honest and heartrending novel yet, exploring our human quest for connection and salvation as it reveals the traps that can befall all of us.

I haven’t read the book but think the idea is that we’re all imperfect birds. To enter, leave a comment telling me something about yourself you’d like to improve. I’ll go first: I wish I enjoyed cooking and grocery shopping more. I love a well-cooked meal but have no patience for selecting just the right melon or all that dicing and simmering. Sometimes I stand in front of the oven and yell, “Hurry up!” at the turkey inside.

Most of the time, we try to hide our flaws, but here’s a chance for you to get them out in the open and possibly be rewarded for your candor!

To be eligible, 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 Wednesday, March 24, 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 confirmation and address before alternate name(s) are chosen.

Let’s start the oversharing!

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Peter Graves 1926-2010

One of my very first memories of TV was when I was about 5, living in Saigon. My family would gather around the tube and watch Mission: Impossible. The struck match and that pounding Lalo Schifrin score burned themselves into my brain as surely as that tape would self-destruct after 5 seconds every week.

I couldn’t understand a word of English then but loved Peter Graves as Jim Phelps—that authoritative voice and those crinkly eyes represented a reassuring solidity during chaotic times. I knew that no matter what, Phelps would lead his team out of trouble.

About a decade later, after I’d moved to the States and could speak English, Graves gave me stomach cramps from laughing at his portrayal of Captain Clarence Oveur in Airplane!, asking those inappropriate questions of little Joey in the cockpit. “Joey, have you ever seen a grown man naked?” and “Do you ever hang around a gymnasium?” (See highlights reel below.) I was delighted to see my childhood idol have such a terrific sense of humor.

So news of his passing on Sunday, just four days short of his 84th birthday, brought great sadness. But I choose to remember the laughs he gave me, and silently thank him for making a girl believe that the big mission she was about to embark on would not be an impossible one.

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Book Buffet

The other day, I was looking at my humongous stack of books, thinking, “Wish I had more time to read all those” when lo and behold, my TV broke. Ha! With no American Idol or Cougar Town to distract me, I tore through six books in quick succession, including the following four March releases.

The Last Child by John Hart (Minotaur, paperback edition, available now)

Thirteen-year-old Johnny Merrimon’s twin sister Alyssa disappeared a year ago while going home from school but he refuses to give up looking for her. He’s more convinced than ever that she’s alive after he witnesses a murder in which a dying stranger tells him, “I’ve found her.” His relentless search jackknifes him across the paths of sex offenders and other dangerous people with desperate reasons for keeping the truth from coming out.

Edgar-nominated for Best Novel this year, Child has a chilling timeliness considering the Jaycee Dugard and Chelsea King cases, though it was obviously written before those incidents. The prose can be overly descriptive at times but Johnny is a character who stays with you. He’s a child living a nightmare even his parents can’t seem to bear, forced to be an adult before his time, losing faith in God along the way but never in his family. The way he takes care of his incapacitated, grief-stricken mom; longs for his father to come home; and keeps a suitcase of Alyssa’s favorite things ready for when she returns is heartbreaking in its defiant conviction.

Hart tackles so many themes—redemption, faith, loyalty, forgiveness—and Johnny goes through so much in this book that it’s difficult to summarize his arc here. Suffice it to say that in the end, to paraphrase the Stones, he may not get exactly what he wants but finds he gets what he needs. Nerd verdict: A Child that’s hard to forget.

Buy The Last Child from Amazon
Buy from IndieBound

The Spellmans Strike Again by Lisa Lutz (Simon & Schuster, March 16)

After the darkness of Child, I reached for the new Spellman installment to lighten things up. Lisa Lutz didn’t disappoint. In her fourth novel about the wacky P.I. family from San Francisco, Izzy has taken over the business from her parents but her personal life is still one big puzzle. She’s juggling cases involving a missing butler and a screenwriter’s trash while being blackmailed by her mother into going on dates with men her mother thinks are good for her. There’s also her mission to take down her slimy nemesis in the P.I. business, Rick Harkey, and her unrequited feelings towards her cop friend, Henry Stone.

The cases are beside the point here. There’s no horrific violence, great tragedy or high body count; you read these books for the quirky characters. If you’re thinking, “But quirky can be annoying!” let me tell you that Lutz knows how to keep her characters on the right side of Crazytown. When one character does cross the line and goes too far, Lutz slaps hard and apt punishment on that person.

Several ongoing subplots get resolved in this book, some very satisfyingly, one realistically, and one sadly. There’s a sense that things, while not yet perfect, are finally falling into place for the Spellmans. Perhaps that’s why many publications, including Publishers Weekly, are reporting this is the last installment in the series. But in a goodreads discussion, Lutz said: “What I can say right now is that there won’t be another Spellman book in March, 2011. I’ve been working on other projects. However, I think I will probably do at least one more Spellman book after that.” Nerd verdict: Strikes the right note.

Buy The Spellmans Strike Again from Amazon
Buy from IndieBound

Caught by Harlan Coben (Dutton, March 23)

Wendy Tynes is a TV journalist who specializes in taking down sexual predators. When her latest story, targeting a social worker named Dan Mercer whom many swear is honorable, causes violent consequences, Tynes wonders if she helped excoriate an innocent man.

She also discovers a disturbing pattern of people with past ties to Mercer being publicly disgraced within a short amount of time, all involving evidence which seems to appear suddenly out of nowhere. Throw in a missing teenaged girl, a disappearing dead body, a mysterious character who hides in shadows, a vigilante parent of a molested boy and you’ve got the usual Coben tale that makes you stay up late and leave your chores undone.

This feels like a deeply personal novel for the author. A father of four, Coben writes about different types of family dynamics—a young widow raising a teenaged boy, a seemingly perfect family who may not be quite so, extended families with friendly ex-spouses—and kinds of situations I imagine keeps him up at night as a parent.

Like Hart, Coben covers themes like forgiveness, faith, and redemption, as well as the timely issue of what unemployment does to one’s identity and dignity. There might be too many plotlines here, though; several endings are required to wrap up everything, one of them hinging on a discovery that Tynes should’ve made much earlier in the book. But it moves at breakneck pace, has poignant moments plus a Win cameo, and will leave you with lots to think about. Nerd verdict: You’ll get caught up in Caught.

Buy Caught from Amazon
Buy from IndieBound

Known to Evil by Walter Mosley (Riverhead, March 23)

Up until recently, I’d never read Mosley. Boy, did I feel foolish when I finally cracked one open. I read last year’s The Long Fall and this follow-up back to back, swooning at the writing, envying how he makes it look so easy.

Now that Easy Rawlins is retired, Leonid McGill is Mosley’s new hero, a black man with a Russian-Irish name, a New York City private eye who’s trying “to go from crooked to slightly bent.” When one of his underground contacts asks him to watch over a young woman to make sure she’s safe, Leonid finds she’s gone into hiding and deadly assassins are after her for reasons unknown. Meantime, his two sons have also gone missing, getting into some trouble of their own.

Mosley’s writing has such a rhythm to it that I often read aloud to fully appreciate it. I can hear and see the city in his mean, lean descriptions, leavened by a healthy dose of humor. Witness the following passage about a day he took his family to Coney Island:

Two redneck Brooklynites got it in their heads that a beautiful white woman like Katrina could do better than a fat little black man. All three kids were with us…

The two guys had a brief span of time in which to retreat. I stood up, walked over to them, and time was up.

Leonid is a singularly complex character, a man who can’t bear to leave his loveless marriage for the woman he loves because his wife has asked him to forgive her infidelity (only one of their three children is actually his). It’s as if he’s doing penance for his own past actions; if she doesn’t deserve forgiveness, then neither does he.

I must say I was in love with the book until the last five pages or so, when the big bad person is revealed. The motivation behind all the killings is so illogical based on previous information that I had a hard time accepting it. Hit men were hired, multiple people died, and for what now? Come again? The explanation felt rushed, like a cop-out. Despite that (and this is rare for me because I have low tolerance for lame endings), I’d still recommend this book (and read future ones in the series) because the other 99.5% of it is so enjoyable. Nerd verdict: Weak ending, but still a lot of good in Evil.

Buy Known to Evil from Amazon
Buy from IndieBound

Do any of these strike your fancy? What other March releases are you looking forward to? What do you have on deck for this weekend?

Disclosure: If you click on any of the “buy” links here and actually purchase these or any other books, I’ll get a tiny commission that might eventually accumulate enough for me to buy a cup of coffee. I’m already overly caffeinated, you say? Then I’ll put the money towards maintaining this website. Thanks.

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Next Stop, Top 12: AMERICAN IDOL Season 9 Top 8 Guys Perform

FOX/Michael Becker

by Jason Matthews

Now I get to do that great breakdown of the remaining contestants, analyzing their pros and cons, and determining who truly belongs in the Top 12. Let’s consider which 6 should move on, and not which 2 should go home.

Casey James is a great country voice and a real fan favorite. He’s in. Michael Lynche has been a vocal homerun hitter and continues to be a compelling story. He’s in. Alex Lambert and Tim Urban are one voice two mullets, and they are both equally awesome and vital. Both are in. Lee Dewyze has the best voice of the group, but is a nothing performer. Since we don’t have a true male rocker to match wits with Siobhan, Lee needs to be in the Top 12. He’s in. That leaves us with three guys for one remaining spot…

Out of Aaron, Andrew and Todrick, only Todrick brings something original to the show. Tim and Alex cancel Aaron out, Lee and Casey block out Andrew, but there isn’t another guy doing stylish Neyo-style R&B. With Paige Miles going home, the show needs a dynamic R&B singer. Will Todrick make it through, though? Doubt it. Andrew is still riding the Paula Abdul wave, so he gets the final spot. Aaron and Todrick sadly get the boot.

We’ll tackle the early chances for the Top 12 next week, but at this moment, none of the guys look likely to overtake the powerhouse Crystal, or the enigma that is Siobhan. It is still the girls’ season to lose.

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

Alex Lambert – “Trouble”

He basically did the same exact thing as last week. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. He was awesome then, and still pretty brilliant this week. My concern is now that he got a bit of praise, he’s going to keep doing the same trick over and over again. I call it the Andrew Garcia Corollary. He’s got maybe 2-3 weeks of the Jack James MorcalBluntJohnson thing before he’ll have to knock it off and try something new. Here’s hoping his other tricks are as good.

Casey James – “You’ll Think of Me”

A solid “B” performance, not much more you can say about it. He was sincere, invested, and professional; he’s the Jason Castro of this season. Casey isn’t getting much better, per se, but he is getting more polished. Tonight, he looked as if he’d be doing this for years and years. And he didn’t even need to show his chest. He doesn’t have a chance in the world of winning American Idol, but he’s definitely earned the right to stay around for a while.

Lee Dewyze – “Fireflies”

I was wondering when someone was going to do this song, just always thought it would be Tim Urban. It was kind of odd watching his voice project an image of Nickelback making sweet, ugly love to The Postal Service, as dressed by the state of Montana, but it didn’t sound bad. One thing he does need to watch out for is the soft notes. His voice is more suited for those harsh, vibrato notes, so when he has to project sweetness it comes off more as whiny. Going back to rock and staying away from emo pop would be a good idea.

Tim Urban – “Hallelujah”

This song had “Bad Idea Jeans” written all over it. There are just too many versions of this song for Tim to have a chance to stand out. It’s designed to make you sound good, but soundalike. And soundalike it was. There wasn’t enough soul to his performance, and he came off very young, which in this instance was not a good thing. He, Alex and Aaron are all fighting for the same voting base. He needs to channel older if he wants any chance to winning that group. Also? Get rid of the Zefron mullet already. A Seacrest-style buzz cut gets him into the Top 6.

Todrick Hall – “Somebody to Love”

You gotta give it up to Todrick—he was the only guy to actually bring a show to the show. Cool staging, nice arrangement, great style. Maybe it was theater, but at least it was entertainment, and not yet ANOTHER dude on a stool. His voice isn’t much of anything, and he doesn’t have much to offer, but the guy is likeable. On this show, likeable goes a long way. It would be cool if that long way started now.

Michael Lynche – “This Woman’s Work”

It’s the size. That’s the problem. I can’t take him seriously because he’s so cartoonishly big. The falsetto seems ridiculous coming out of him, the preaching church-style vocal moves are corny, and after weeks and weeks of BIG MIKE, I can’t take him seriously when he pulls the humble card. Maybe it was good tonight. Maybe it was soulful and beautiful and daring. But taking the whole package in? As Randy would say, for me, for you, it didn’t work for me, dude.

Andrew Garcia – “Genie in a Bottle”

No one has fallen out of my good graces as quickly as Andrew. He’s been exposed as having a bad voice, so these gimmicks better hold up, and hold up WELL, or he is gonna get that surprise Top 7 Michael Johns boot. He’s not even connecting to the music anymore; he’s just doing his schtick. And the schtick isn’t just getting old, it’s applying for an AARP card. It won’t happen, ’cause he’ll make the Top 12, but the show would be better without him on it.

Aaron Kelly – “I’m Already There”

Didn’t Aaron learn from Paige that a walking-in entrance is a bad way to start your performance? Didn’t he learn from one million previous Idol performances that a sketchy first note takes you too far into the red to comfortably pull yourself back out? And who is dressing this kid? Another kid? Everything about this performance was misguided. It got better vocally as he went along, but it wasn’t enough. And man alive was it boring. I drifted off for a bit, thought about how crazy it is that Avatar didn’t win Best Picture and how gorj Didi looked last night and how funny Community has been lately, and when I got back, Aaron was STILL singing! Just the worst.

Be honest, do any of guys have a chance to beat Crystal or Siobhan? Who do you think will make the Top 12. Comment it up!

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Last Stop Before Top 12—AMERICAN IDOL Season 9 Top 8 Girls Perform

by Jason Matthews

This intro was originally planned as a complex breakdown of the remaining eight girls, detailing the pros and cons of sending each to the Top 12, analyzing why each were or were not vital to the show.  It was full of Idol factoids, complex mathematics and fun jokes at the expense of Lilly Scott’s total witch troll hair.

Sadly, that paragraph will never see the light of the Internet, because it just isn’t required. Katie Stevens and Paige Miles so sung themselves out of the competition that even attempting to drum up tension is like dancing about architecture. Let’s just break the performances down, say some fun stuff and get the guys out of the way, so the real competition can finally begin.

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

Crystal Bowersox – “Give Me One Reason”

Photo: Fox

Crystal doing Tracy Chapman is like catching fish with dynamite—it’s just not fair to the other girls.  She’s basically Will Hunting up there, burning pages of perfectly solved, impossible math proofs, cause it’s just too easy. Her talent is effortless. She looked amazing in the black, her dreads were actually appropriate for once, and she has the Rockstar moves down pat. I also loved her full-on pitching a squat on her amp during the judges’ comments, and then making Ryan join her, instead of getting up. When you got her kind of skills, you get to sit, while the rest of us stand.

Siobhan Magnus – “House of the Rising Sun”

She is utterly mesmerizing in every way. How in the world did she become everyone’s extra special Idol favorite? And Siobhan had the Superstar hair on “blast” tonight! The a capella was riveting, her tone was amazing, and the arrangement was perfectly suited for her. Even though the performance was a touch low-key, she was still riveting. This girl can do THINGS with her voice, things we might not understand for a long, long time.

Didi Benami – “Rhiannon”

From jump street, ten million hundred thousand times better than last week. You could tell when she stepped on stage that she was gonna make it work. Didi brought back her perfect, lovely tone; her voice was a Tony the Tiger-style grrrrreat match for Stevie Nicks. I wanted to hear something a bit bigger from her, a bit crazier. At some point we need to hear Didi get LOUD! But it is nice to see and hear her return to the captivating, emotional work she showed us in Hollywood Week.

Lacey Brown – “The Story”

You shouldn’t get credit for not sucking at singing a perfect song. Oh, did you do good karaoke on this national karaoke contest? Whaddaya want, a cookie?! Brandi Carlisle should demand a residual from that performance. She sang it well, as the judges said, but there was exactly ZERO dynamism to her personality or performance. What does she bring to this competition? What is unique to her beyond the crazy cool burgundy hair? More than two girls were worse than she tonight, but it still feels like she’s stealing a spot in the Top 12.

Katelyn Epperly – “I Feel the Earth Move”

That is what an American Idol performance on auto-pilot looks like. Everything is as it should be, the notes were fine, the melody was fun, the arrangement was bouncy, she looked super cute, but the whole thing was completely hollow. She made a less-than-zero connection to the music; it was practically an anti-connection. Did she have somewhere else to be tonight? Was she worried about what might happen to Ben on Lost? Something was going on in her head, and it wasn’t competing on American Idol.

Lilly Scott – “I Fall To Pieces”

I guess this is what it’s like to go to a Bjork concert. It was technically masterful, had a funky arrangement, fascinating vocal…and utterly crazy to watch at all times. She doesn’t have nearly the best voice of the girls, let alone the whole group, and she will be an afterthought in the Top 12.

Katie Stevens – “Breakaway”

A pyrrhic victory for wee Katie. She finally picked the right song and it’s the last one she gets to sing.  Even with her big voice she couldn’t match Kelly’s power or spirit. There was something so clearly defeatist about her. She knew she was going home before she belted note one, and you could read it on her face. Poor kid—at least there’s a lucrative Disney contract waiting for her. I look forward to hearing her voice a colorful talking elf in the next princess movie.

Paige Miles – “Smile”

There was nothing to like here, save the hair and makeup. The entrance was misguided, the arrangement was maudlin, and she was boring and ineffectual with her vocal. She knew, we knew, the judges knew, AMERICA knew she was done. Hard to watch, knowing how done she was. It’s possible Paige printed her boarding pass for her flight home during that performance. And who would have noticed? We certainly weren’t paying any attention to her.

Are you pleased with the 6 girls being sent into the Top 12? Who do you think has the chance to win it all? Sound off in the comments.

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LOST: “Dr. Linus” Review

by Sarah Carbiener

Would you trust this man?

I loved, loved, LOVED this week’s episode, and not just because Kate was nowhere in sight. “Dr. Linus” reminded me where the bar should be and, in retrospect, last week’s episode has lost all its luster.* It’s not just that Michael Emerson is absolutely mind-blowing as Benjamin Linus and completely rocked this episode, but the show was about the characters this week, not the answers! I feel like I have been rewarded for putting up with Kate all these seasons.

It’s incredibly clear that the series is gearing up towards a big battle between good and evil. Characters are knowingly and unknowingly choosing sides, and quite a few bodies have hit the jungle floor. Up until this week, however, I forgot why I should care about a big battle on a mythical island that attracts planes and polar bears. The answer is the fallout; it’s always been the fallout. From the first time they crashed onto the island, the best episodes have been about the characters sorting through the wreckage, making decisions, and dealing with the horrible consequences one way or another.

Ben has made a lot of bad decisions with some really horrifying consequences. This week on the island, we get the biggest and best payoff ever with his character. He faces up to everything he’s done and what it’s cost him, and then he makes another choice, a new choice. It tangentially relates to the mythology, the answers, and the big battle on the horizon, but it’s incredibly powerful because the focus is on what Ben and Ilana (Zuleikha Robinson) are suffering through as human beings, independent of all the symbolism and callbacks and statues on the beach.**

Also, in the off-island scenes, Ben was put in a situation parallel to one of the most traumatic events his character has experienced so far. This made the comparatively lower-stakes off-island stuff feel so important. I knew exactly why I cared what happened; I don’t know why it hasn’t been that way in every off-island storyline this season. If it’s because they’re saving the really extreme parallel storylines for the main Oceanic 6 later on, that’s seriously lame.

It felt like the show’s creators flipped a switch this week and suddenly the whole series is back on track. Like Alan Sepinwall, I even enjoyed the Jack scenes this week. They had the classic montage at the end where a bunch of people were reunited on the beach. My heart, it was warmed.

What did you think? Are you also holding your breath to see if they’ll keep up this momentum? Did you notice the two Real Genius alumni in the off-island scenes?

MILDLY SPOILERY DISCUSSION QUESTION:

If someone had you at gunpoint, would you dig your own grave?

*Spoilers from last week’s episode

In last week’s “Sunset,” there were a few good scenes with Sayid. However, the baseball backstory, the horrible exposition—Sayid’s brother telling Sayid that he was a torturer for the Republic, something I’m pretty sure Sayid knows already, and the anticlimactic end to the temple (yes, I think the smoke monster is fairly anticlimactic at this point)—all made for a pretty eye-roll-inducing episode. I think I was just distracted by all the violence after the week before where in “Lighthouse,” Jack drank, felt sorry for himself, and smashed stuff. Mirror make Jack MAD!

**More spoilers!

At the end when Ilana asked Ben why he would go with Locke, and Ben said, “Because he’s the only one who’ll have me,” that is what this show is all about: the real, human reasons the characters on the island do what they do. I need to re-watch that entire scene immediately.

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Nerdies for Best & Worst of 82nd Annual Academy Awards

Mark Boal, Kathryn Bigelow, Greg Shapiro. Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Oh, man, I didn’t do so well this year in my predictions. Usually, I miss only 2-4 categories but this year I tanked by getting 7 wrong (17 right). I thought Avatar would win more technical awards but The Hurt Locker demolished it in the sound categories, too.

I assume you already know that Hurt Locker, Jeff Bridges, Sandra Bullock, Christoph Waltz, and Kathryn Bigelow won the big awards. (For the rest of the winners, click here.) So I’m only going to discuss the moments which stood out for me for reasons both good and bad.

Most Confusing Guest? Host?: Neil Patrick Harris opening the show with a musical number. I like him and he’s a talented singer but he was neither Alec Baldwin nor Steve Martin. It felt odd that he was auditioning to be host of next year‘s telecast while this year’s was just beginning.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Best Agency Dis: Baldwin. At the beginning of the show, he said, “In Precious, Gabourey Sidibe is told she’s worthless, nobody likes her, that she has no future. Hey, I’m with CAA, too!”

Least Prudent Interruption: Elinor Burkett, producer of documentary short winner Music by Prudence, Kanye’d director Roger Ross Williams’s acceptance speech by hijacking the mike and talking over him, complaining that women never get to talk. Her rudeness and anger were ironic since the film is supposed to be uplifting. (Salon.com has the story behind the incident here.)

Funniest “Horror” Clip: Martin and Baldwin’s Paranormal Activity spoof, which shows Martin bitch-slapping Baldwin in his sleep, causing Baldwin to fall out of bed.

Most Welcome Close-Up: During the animated sequence featuring the nominees for best animated feature, Up‘s talking dog, Dug, went right up to the camera and licked it before saying, “This is not food.” I love Dug and his big, squirrel-sniffing nose!

Understatement of the Year: Julianne Moore. Regarding filming A Single Man, she said, “Three days is not nearly enough time to spend in the company of the magnificent Colin Firth.” Truer words were not spoken.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Best Nerd Representative: Sam Worthington. He whipped out thick black frames to read the teleprompter while presenting best score nominees. Holla! Sully (and the upcoming Perseus) is a cute myopic nerd!

Rudest Omissions from Memorial Tribute: Where were Farrah Fawcett and Bea Arthur?

Most People Thanked in Least Boring Speech: Sandra Bullock. Somehow, she managed to thank her fellow nominees, the Twohys, her husband, her late mother, all mothers, and her “lover Meryl Streep” while gettiing laughs and reducing her tough-guy spouse to tears.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Best “I So Deserve This” Award: Sandy Powell for best costume. She was decked out in a striking dress with impeccable accessories, right down to her sequined beret. If you saw her walking down the street like that carrying an Oscar, you’d know instantly what category she won.

Strangest Pop & Lock(er) Sequence: For The Hurt Locker‘s nominated score, dancers performed a pop and lock dance routine. How does that represent soldiers deactivating bombs?

Wrongest Place for a Stripper Pole: In the middle of the dance number to Up‘s nominated score, a pair of dancers cavorted around a pole that looked like one from a strip club. I can’t even think about Carl and Ellie in those terms.

Kevin Winter/Getty

Best New Contender for President: Kathryn Bigelow. Can we get her to run in 2012, please? Her arms alone could crush bin Laden’s head like a grape. The woman kicks butt 9 kinds of ways and looks like one of Wonder Woman’s Amazon sisters from Paradise Island.

Which moments were memorable for you? Did you like Baldwin and Martin as hosts? How’d you do in your Oscar pool? Make sure you check out my fashion slideshow here!

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Nerdy Oscar Predictions 2010

I know, I know, everyone’s doing Oscar predictions so what makes mine special, right? Well, I didn’t say they were, but I slogged through all the 10 best picture nominees (the Coens are going to PAY for Serious Man) so I’ll be darned if I don’t have my say. And last year I only got 2 or 3 wrong, though admittedly I guessed wildly when it came to the shorts.

So, here are who I think will win and who it should be:

Best Picture: Will win—Avatar, should win—Up in the Air, which has waaayy better story and acting. I hated Avatar and fell asleep three times.

Best Actor: Will win—Jeff Bridges, should win—George Clooney. The Dude is cool and has always done solid work, but this is not supposed to be a career award. Clooney’s performance was more layered and difficult than he made it look.

Best Actress: Will and should—Meryl Streep. Few years ago, everyone thought Julie Christie would win for Away from Her because she swept all pre-Oscar awards. But I chose Marion Cotillard’s performance in La Vie en Rose because the latter was clearly superior when you compared the two and Cotillard ended up prevailing. So I’m gonna trust that Academy voters watched their screeners and saw that Streep is the obvious winner here.

Best Supporting Actor: Will and should—Christoph Waltz. This is a done deal, an indisputably stunning performance.

Best Supporting Actress: Will and should—Mo’Nique. No argument here, either. Same reason as above.

Best Director: Will win—Kathryn Bigelow. Should—Jason Reitman. I’ll be fine with Bigelow’s win because she kicks ass but Reitman made the better, more emotionally resonant movie.

Best Original Screenplay: Will win—The Hurt Locker. Should win—Up. Carl, Russell, Ellie, and company were complex, fully drawn characters, while Hurt‘s script didn’t explain why James was such a war junkie. He had no character arc and remained unchanged from beginning to end.

Best Animated Feature: Will and should—Up. I am so broken-recordy right now.

Best Foreign Language Film: Will and should win—The Secret in Their Eyes. I like crime dramas.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Will and should—Up in the Air.

Best Score: Will and should—Up. The only score I can still hum.

Best Song: Will win—“The Weary Kind” from Crazy Heart. Should win—who the hell knows? I don’t know any of the other songs except “Take It All,” which was performed amazingly well by Marion Cotillard in Nine but I can’t really remember it.

Best Visual Effects: Will and should—Avatar. Boring movie but it sure was pretty.

Best Art Direction: Will and should—Avatar. See above reason.

Best Cinematography: Will win—Avatar. Should win—The White Ribbon. It was shot on color film and converted into black and white. The result is stunning and atmospheric.

Best Makeup: Will and should—Star Trek. Eric Bana was almost unrecognizable.

Best Costume: Will and should—Young Victoria. Historical costume dramas featuring royal subjects often take this category.

Best Editing: Will and should—The Hurt Locker. The tight editing had me holding my breath at times.

Best Sound Editing: Will win—Avatar. Should win—The Hurt Locker. The silent moments were just as tense and effective as when the explosions went off.

Best Sound Mixing: Will and should win—Avatar. Whatever. I’m bored with this category.

Best Documentary Feature: Will win—The Cove. Should? I don’t know and am not even going to pretend I’ve seen or heard of the others. Which leads me to wild guesses for the remaining categories…

Best Documentary Short: The Last Truck sounds topical.

Best Animated Short: A Matter of Loaf and Death. The title’s clever, and it’s a Wallace & Gromit adventure! Nick Park has already won four Oscars for previous W&G shorts; no reason to stop now.

Best Live Action Short: The New Tenants. Why not?

I’ll also predict that Penelope Cruz will wear something stunning, some audience members will give Jeff Bridges a standing ovation when he wins, and Alec Baldwin will be funnier than Steve Martin as co-host.

Now, it’s your turn. Who do you think will and should win? How much money do you have riding on this?

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An Evening with MAD MEN’s Matthew Weiner

by Sarah Carbiener

As part of the WGA Foundation’s fantastic Anatomy of a Script series, I had the pleasure of hearing Matthew Weiner talk about the pilot script for Mad Men. Luckily for me, the three-hour talk evolved into a discussion of his writing career as a whole, how he runs his show (and make no mistake, it is one hundred percent his show), and his obsession with tarot cards. Okay, maybe he didn’t go on at length about his obsession with tarot cards, but it did dominate the first five minutes of the discussion.

The thing that shocked me the most about the pilot that started this amazing series is that no one would read it. That is not hyperbole. He was working on the pilot while writing for Becker (the Ted Danson sitcom where he played a cranky doctor to prove he wasn’t just a laid-back bartender) and no one would read it. He was hired by David Chase to write for The Sopranos and still no one would read it. And this was, is, one of the best pilot scripts of all time, in my opinion.

So when against all odds, he got to shoot the pilot, and then against even higher odds, he got to make the show, Weiner decided to be uncompromising as all hell. He rewrites every episode, demands the show be shot the exact way he wrote it, and doesn’t apologize for any of it. I’ve heard similar stories about showrunner-creators and usually been more than a little disappointed to learn that my idol is a tyrant. Weiner, however, said something that had never occurred to me before: He “doesn’t want to waste it.”

The odds of getting your own show on television are greater than the odds of an airplane crashing into the room where you’re sitting with your computer right now (his expression). Since the impossible happened, he’s going to take full and complete advantage of it. He works, lives, and breathes all things Mad Men, knows it better than anyone, cares about it more than anyone, and so why shouldn’t the shot of Betty looking at the camera be shot the way he wants it?*

As for the pilot itself and its genesis, he dictated the whole thing to someone he paid to type for him. He spent the money so that he would take the endeavor seriously. He hired a researcher, read books, worked for years on the concept, and then literally spoke the whole thing out loud over the course of nine days. Granted, it played on a culture and time that he’d been obsessed with since a child, but still. Nine. Days.

Someone asked if his experience writing his own pilot made him want to change how pilots are developed now. The short answer is yes; longer answer is don’t develop pilots at all. Write them for free, for yourself, because letting a guy in a suit tell you to make the doctor a personal trainer isn’t going to make for a great script.

He also insisted that The Sopranos was a comedy. After he explained that the episode he won the Emmy for was about Tony realizing a guy was a rat because he said Tony looked like he lost weight, I see Weiner’s point. From working on that show, he learned “Don’t talk everything to death,” meaning at a certain point, the room full of writers agreed on how humans behaved and didn’t need to logic everything to death. For example, when are people the most self-destructive? When they’re on top of the world.

Finally—I know this post is running long but trust me, I’m cutting it short because the man talked for three hours—he said one of the truest things about being a struggling writer I have ever heard. Quoting as best I can from my scribbled notes:

“Struggling to make it, everyone thinks about it as the rejection of a finished work. No one will read you, no one will hire you, and that’s part of it. But struggling is really about all the time you’re wasting and not hating yourself for what you haven’t done yet.”

So don’t hate yourself for the scripts you haven’t finished, do your research, don’t assume that because no one’s ever read you that they never will, and never bring a tractor to Madison Avenue.

*He never denied that he appreciates the team behind him. He said over and over that his wife is responsible for half of what you see in the show, giving her advice, support, and opinion on every aspect of it. In fact, she is directly responsible for a speech in season 2 that left me sobbing twenty minutes after the episode ended. He said he couldn’t do the show without the room full of writers fleshing out the stories and characters each episode, but yes, he does rewrite them.

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Girls’ Night: AMERICAN IDOL Season 9 – Top 10 Girls Perform

by Jason Matthews

My predictions for the girls last week were dead wrong; let me own up to that right away. I forgot my Idol history, and was thus doomed to fail. If there’s one thing Top 24 has proved year after year is that the token hottie ALWAYS gets kicked off immediately (think Amy Krebs or Stevie Wright). I should have known Janell Wheeler would be toast.

With Ashley Rodriguez, that was owing to a lack of compelling personal story. Nearly every contestant this year has a tragedy in his or her life or a wacky background; Ashley was just like a prettier Jordin Sparks, not a reason to keep her around.

Staying with Top 24 Idol history, the two girls traditionally kicked off in Top 10 week are singers who just aren’t as dynamic as the rest of the group. They may be cool people with great style, but lack that oomph we want in a female Idol (think Alexandrea Lushington or Casey Carlson). This spells bad news for the Lacey Browns of the competition.

Let’s see how our girls did with an extra day to prepare. Here are reviews of the performances, from best to worst.

Siobhan Magnus – “Think”

Going after Aretha on this show is a dicey prospect. That is, unless you have a sneakily amazing voice like Siobhan. She absolutely cuh-rushed that big note. There were better performances tonight, but none as electric as hers. And Simon is right—she is strange, and oddly compelling. That slow speaking voice, which makes you really not sure what the next word is gonna be or when it will come? Intriguing. Aside from her wardrobe, Siobhan worked it out. She’s definitely one of the ones to watch.

Crystal Bowersox – “Long As I Can See the Light”

A professional performance from note one. I don’t know if it’s because she was in the hospital and now we’re inherently rooting for her to overcome and triumph, but there was a softness and likability to her tonight that we hadn’t seen before. Great song choice, wonderful tone, and as crazy as it sounds, she’s getting prettier as the weeks go on. Here’s what that all means: Jewel can officially retire from music now; her services are no longer required.

Katelyn Epperly – “The Scientist”

Aside from Siobhan, Katelyn is the most fun to hear talk. When she’s riffing with Simon or sparring with the judges, there’s a great confidence and intellect on display. That might be the key to her: she’s smart. It comes across on stage. Picking Coldplay was a master stroke, being the only person on the piano helped her to stand out, she took Kara’s style tips and looked incredible, and the vocal itself was wonderful—so sweet, so loving. I continue to be surprised by how much I like her.

Paige Miles – “Walk Away”

Oh, I get it now—she’s the big ’90s pop singer. That Mariah-on-“Dreamlover”-meets-“Miss Independent”-Kelly-Clarkson voice—we can work with that. She’s still not very exciting to watch, but she CAN sing. And picking Kelly to do, and then doing it well, is exactly the right way to stay in the competition. I was worried she was starting to get lost in the shuffle of quirky indie rockers that have infested the competition this year, but she’s standing out perfectly as a pop diva. Hers was the only nakedly fun performance of the night, and it probably kept her on the show.

Lilly Scott – “A Change Is Gonna Come”

What do we do with this girl? She’s playing up the kooky Bjork angle, which is fine artistically but makes for a very divisive position on the show. She’s not as talented as Crystal, not as likeable as Didi, and not as unique and sparkly as the Haeley/Siobhan/Katie trio, so how is she going to keep up her fanbase? And I completely disagree with the judges on her Sam Cooke. It was too talk-singy, passionless, slow and pitchy. She’ll be fine for now, but as the weeks go on and the field crowds around her, she’ll be pushed out. And the show will be better for it.

Haeley Vaughn – “The Climb”

OK, let’s just take a minute here to breathe. Taking on The Beatles is one thing; every precocious young singer tackles those legends at some point. But it’s a whole OTHER thing to go after Miley Cyrus. “The Climb” is universal perfection. You can’t just smile and throw glitter around. You have to BRING it. And Haeley cannot and did not bring it. Lispy, soundalike (in a bad way), weak, rushed, horrendous bridge into the first chorus, and the end was a travesty. Miley can rest easy, but Haeley should not. She’s in the doghouse until further notice. (She’s LUCKY she didn’t do “Party in the USA” or I would have rioted the set. Rioted!)

Didi Benami – “Lean On Me”

This was heartbreaking. The complete wrong song choice, even MORE indulgent than last week (get a better dictionary, Didi), a scratchy, uneven vocal, and a mediocre arrangement. What is our beloved Didi doing? Why would she ever not be playing her guitar? Why is she not doing Rilo Kiley or late-career Tori Amos? Hell, she could win the whole show if she just did Fiona Apple’s “Criminal”! I love how she invests herself into each song, really grabbing the emotions of the lyrics, but she’s stopped being fun to watch. It’s now like watching a baby take its first steps—you’re just waiting for her to trip and fall over. Sad, sad development here.

Katie Stevens – “Put Your Records On”

She’s a bouncy, cute girl with severe Tracy Flick issues. Trying WAY to hard, utterly unable to pick the right song (mostly because she has not spent even one second of her life considering what kind of artist she wants to be, or even what being an artist means), and oddly old-sounding and young-looking at the same time. Like Kara says, her instrument needs a TON of work. Give it 2-3 years and she could win American Idol. But this year? Not a chance.

Michelle Delamor – “With Arms Wide Open”

Done. Gone. See ya, Shells! I mean, Creed? Are you TRYING to get kicked off? You can soul it up all you want, Beyoncé the thing to death, Andrew Garcia that beat and it STILL wouldn’t matter. Because it’s Creed, and that’s a FAIL every day of the week and twice on Sunday! The only good thing to come out of Michelle’s slow, painful, Scott Stapp-ian performance is that it means Didi will be safe this week.

Lacey Brown – “Kiss Me”

Give her this much—she handled her first-week nerves like a champ. It seemed like she was even having fun. Let’s hope she did, because it’s going to be her last performance on the Idol stage. There is absolutely nothing dynamic about her; we would not miss her at all if she were gone. Fun look, nice person, nobody doesn’t love a little Sixpence None the Richer, but she’s just not important enough to keep around. The Idol history lesson never fails; Lacey will be kicked off.

So who do you think was better this week, the girls or the guys? Were you more or less affected by Crystal because of her recent hospitalization? Sound off in the comments!

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