Monthly Archives

April 2010

Hello Again, GLEE

Photo: FOX

Who’s happy Glee is back?! I didn’t realize until the show was over that I was smiling the whole time, especially after Sue’s “Vogue” video at the end. More on that later.

In the spirit of Finn’s “previously on…” speed-through at the beginning, here’s my recap of last night’s ep: [SPOILERS]

The New Directions’ assignment was to find a song with “hello” in it to re-introduce themselves to everyone; Finn (Cory Monteith) has doubts about dating Rachel (Lea Michele), who then hooks up with Vocal Adrenaline’s Jesse St. James (Jonathan Groff) but tells everyone in glee club they’re not dating; Emma (Jayma Mays) tells Will (Matthew Morrison) she’s a virgin and that he needs to spend some time alone before they jump into a relationship; Will makes out with Vocal Adrenaline’s coach, Ms. Corcoran (Idina Menzel); Finn wants Rachel back and says he’ll fight for her; the gang ends the show with a performance of the Beatles’ “Hello, Goodbye.”

So, how cool was it to discover Emma is still a virgin? I can’t remember the last time we had a prime-time TV character in her late 20s/early 30s who’s still saving herself. I didn’t want Emma and Will to jump in the sack right away so that was a nice surprise. What wasn’t surprising was Will’s freak-out and then make-out with Ms. Corcoran, but Menzel looks so much like Michele, it felt a bit like Will was kissing Rachel. Hmm…a Freudian thing?

Groff makes a great addition to the cast; Michele finally has a worthy duet partner in her former Spring Awakening co-star. I usually start twitching and developing a rash whenever I hear Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” but when Jesse and Rachel sang it, I got goosebumps. Too bad he’s a sleazebag, based on that creepy way he was looking at Ms. Corcoran while kissing Rachel.

Speaking of sleazy, can’t believe Sue roofied Principal Figgins and blackmailed her way back to McKinley High! But of course, Glee would be nothing without her making inappropriate comments about Will’s hair and scheming to destroy the New Directions. We also wouldn’t have that “Vogue” video. I was stunned by how pretty she looked in the sleek Veronica-Lake bob and how well Lynch sang. My appetite is now fully whetted for next week’s Madonna extravaganza.

What did you think of this episode? Favorite moments? Was it worth the wait or just meh for you?


Review & Giveaway: Scott Turow’s INNOCENT

No, I didn’t accidentally omit the Presumed in that title. Scott Turow follows up his 23-year-old blockbuster debut with a sequel, out May 4, titled simply Innocent. But that’s the only thing simple about it.

Rusty Sabich has aged in real time and is now the 60-year-old chief judge of an appellate court in Kindle County. He’s up for state Supreme Court when he wakes up one day to find his wife dead next to him. He waits almost 24 hours to call in authorities, claiming shock. But Tommy Molto, the lawyer who accused Sabich of killing his mistress in the previous book, doesn’t buy it, and once again, Sabich finds himself on trial for murder with Molto as his prosecutor.

Having read Presumed, I anticipated a final twist and tried to crack Turow’s formula to figure it out early on. I couldn’t. All my theories were debunked and 25 pages from the end, I still hadn’t guessed the whole truth. When Turow finally reveals everything, it’s horrible but makes perfect sense, not something tacked on just for cheap shock value.

Though Innocent is expertly plotted, the characters are hard to like. I often referred to Sabich as Sumbich in my head because he, along with a couple other characters, behaves selfishly and stupidly at times. They use emotional pain as an excuse, or say mistakes are necessary en route to self-realization. That’s an understandable justification if they only recognize their wrongdoing in hindsight. Knowing something is deplorable and doing it anyway is another thing altogether.

But, hey, these people make you glad you’re not nearly as screwed up as they are. The legal and mystery aspects are engrossing, and I could clearly envision the sure-to-be-made movie. Harrison Ford and Bonnie Bedelia could return as the Sabiches; Jesse Bradford, who portrayed 8-year-old Nat in the 1997 movie of Presumed Innocent, has grown up to become a fine adult actor and could easily reprise his role, too. But someone else would have to play Sandy Stern, the lawyer who reps Sabich in both trials, since he was played by the late Raul Julia. His would be big shoes to fill.

So, want to be able to say to your friends, “Of COURSE I know there’s a sequel to Presumed Innocent coming out next month, I’m already reading it”? Thanks to Miriam at Hachette Book Group, I’m giving away FIVE copies of Innocent, with one grand-prize winner getting a copy of Presumed Innocent, too. (You don’t need to read the first novel before the sequel because Turow skillfully avoids spoiling the former’s surprise ending, but it would give you a deeper understanding of some characters’ motivations.)

To enter:

  • leave a comment about something you were falsely accused of
  • be a subscriber or Twitter follower (tell me which). Current subscribers/followers get two entries; people who tweet about this giveaway get three
  • you must live in U.S. or Canada, no P.O. Boxes

Giveaway ends Saturday, April 24, at midnight PST. Five names will be randomly drawn; the first name chosen will get both Presumed Innocent and Innocent. I won’t be contacting each person individually; winners will only be announced here and on Twitter so make sure you check back. Winners will have 48 hours to reply with a mailing address before alternate name(s) are selected.

Now, let’s hear some guiltless secrets!


Movie Review: DATE NIGHT

Date Night is a flawed movie with plot holes bigger than Central Park but boy, is it funny. Steve Carell and Tina Fey are sharp comic actors who manage to elevate a script that might have turned into an unwatchable movie if it had starred, say, Matthew McConaughey and Katherine Heigl.

Carell and Fey play Phil and Claire Foster, “a boring couple from New Jersey” who starts re-evaluating their lives after learning their friends Brad and Haley (Mark Ruffalo and Kristin Wiig) are separating. To spice things up, they decide to have date night in NYC at the latest hot spot in town, a pretentious restaurant called Claw with prices that make Phil say, “I’ll just suck on a napkin.” Not having a reservation, they take the one belonging to “the Tripplehorns” when that couple doesn’t show. This seemingly harmless stunt results in an outrageous, all-night adventure that involves mob bosses, strippers, corrupt cops and politicians. Yes, it strains credulity but fuggedaboutit, you’re there for the laughs, not the logic.

What also seems unbelievable is that Carell and Fey never worked together before this or knew each other well. Theirs is such a lived-in, real-world chemistry that I had to keep reminding myself they’re not really married to each other. Their comic rhythms are perfectly synced, making every scene as funny as possible without looking like they’re trying too hard.

The rest of the cast consists of many name actors, most of whom are criminally underused. Taraji P. Henson, who excels in emotionally complex roles, is wasted as a tough cop. Ruffalo and Wiig don’t have enough screen time to make an impression, while the only thing notable about Ray Liotta’s appearance is how much eyeliner he wears. And Gossip Girl‘s Leighton Meester as the Fosters’ babysitter? The gig should have been given to a middle-tier actor who could use the paycheck instead of someone already on a hit series who doesn’t need a thankless part.

More successful in supporting roles are Mark Wahlberg, hilarious as a shirt-shunning security expert who helps Claire and Phil, and James Franco and Mila Kunis as the real Tripplehorns, though that’s not their real names, either. Franco may be an academic in real life looking to pursue a PhD at Yale, but he cracks me up when he plays clueless and stupid. Sometimes it takes a lot of smarts to portray morons (see Carell as Michael Scott on The Office). And Kunis has consistently proven she is as funny as she is gorgeous.

Director Shawn Levy, he of the Night of the Museum movies I have no desire to see, throws in car chases, helicopters and shoot-outs for those in the audience who might be resistant to something called Date Night (does it say in Levy’s contract he’ll only direct movies involving nocturnal activities?). But the main attractions remain Carell and Fey. I had no expectations except to laugh and laugh I did (stay for outtakes over the end credits). I also expect—hope—that Carell and Fey will have many more cinematic dates together.

Nerd verdict: Fun first Date with Carell and Fey

Photos: Twentieth Century Fox


Who IS That Actor? Part 2

Several times while I was watching TV this past week, I came across actors who made me say, “Hey, it’s that guy!” or “Who IS that actress?!” You know, familiar faces you instantly recognize from countless shows and movies but whose names escape you. And then you obsess and can’t focus on what you’re watching because it’s making you crazy (thankfully, I identified them eventually).

Since it’s no fun being crazy alone, I thought I’d do another edition of “Who IS that actor?” See how many names you can come up with for the following actors; I’ll accept the name of a character they’ve played if you can’t remember their real ones. (Unlike the actors I saw this week, I know who these are.) I’m not going to tell you their credits because then you’d be able to look up those titles on IMDb and go down the cast lists. If you’re really stuck, you can hover your mouse over their pictures and see their initials.

Let’s see who’s the nerdiest person who always reads the credits!
















Since this is a YA novel, I thought my contributing writer, Aline Dolinh, 12, who reads at a 30-year-old’s level, would be a better reviewer than I.—PCN


Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan is an enjoyable read. The story is told from the perspectives of two teens coincidentally named Will Grayson, alternating every chapter.

The first Will seems more or less normal; he goes through life abiding by two rules: 1) Don’t care too much and 2) Shut up. He has an overly theatrical, large, gay friend named Tiny Cooper, who seems to be Will’s polar opposite despite being his best friend out of the few he has. In fact, much of the book is focused on Tiny and how both Wills feel and are affected by his actions.

The other Will Grayson is a somewhat troubled and clinically depressed guy who seems less than amiable at times. His first sentence is “I am constantly torn between killing myself and killing everyone around me,” which gives you a sense of what he’s like. His narration is distinguished from the other Will in that nothing is capitalized and all dialogue is in script form. The lack of capitalization is probably supposed to convey his indifference about the world, but sometimes it comes off like someone trying to show off his indifference to the world. The writing style felt forced in a few places and some of the emotion is lost through the script format.

These guys don’t meet until the middle of the book, which is plenty of time for their respective lives to branch off into what seems like completely different directions. Will Grayson No. 1 forms a maybe-crush on a girl, goes along with Tiny and puts up with his sometimes-over-the-top gay behavior, which is stereotypical and slightly irksome. Will No. 2 has a mild addiction to the Internet due to an online relationship with someone named Isaac, who seems to be the only person in Will’s life he actually feels happy with.

I don’t want to reveal any crucial plot points; I will just say by the end of the story, both Wills have discovered a few things about themselves. The character development in the book is pretty good, even if some characters aren’t particularly likable. At some points I got tired of Will Grayson No. 2, with his constant lack of enthusiasm for almost everything; he sometimes comes across too whiny for my taste. Sometimes, I found myself rooting for one Will or looking forward to that Will’s chapters over the other.

But the book is well written for the most part; both characters have distinguishable styles and there was nothing too purple-prose-y or painful to read. The story leads up to a climax during Tiny Cooper’s musical production of epic proportions and has a satisfying ending. This—mixed with originality, a few sprinkles of humor, and a theme that’s thought-provoking yet not too preachy—makes it a book worth reading.

I would recommend it to kids twelve or older, since there’s strong language as well as some parts that are suggestive and not entirely ethically correct. It’s definitely not appropriate for any kid younger than ten.


All You Need Is IDOL: Season 9 Top 9 Review

by Jason Matthews

Lennon/McCartney was hard to swallow two years ago when the group was super strong, and it doesn’t go down much more easily now, with a lesser cast of Idols. Watching Tim, Andrew, and Aaron fumble their way through the defining music of the 20th century does not good television make.

But hey, at least we got to learn new things about our Idol wannabes. Wait, no we didn’t. Oh, is Crystal a mom? Does Tim smile a lot? Casey has hair! Katie is a teenager! Siobhan is “unique”! Wow. Shocking tidbits, those. I would have rather learned important things like: why Andrew got a neck tattoo, whether Siobhan ate paint chips as a child, if Aaron has ever seen an R-Rated movie, and if Lee and Andrew are the real-life Troy and Abed. But alas, those facts continue to go unrevealed.

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

Courtesy FOX

Lee Dewyze – “Hey Jude”

Has Lee always been doing that David Cook super-fast-vocal-raise-from-the-side-of-the-mouth thing? How did I JUST notice this? No wonder Lee is doing so well on the show. And the show does love him. Not only did they give him the coveted anchor spot, they gave him the most recognizable song, a bagpiper and a crowd-pleasing “sing it with me” moment (always good for a voting boost). That wasn’t an Idol performance, it was a darn rock show! And it easily wins the night.

Siobhan Magnus – “Across the Universe”

This is tough for me because my all-time favorite crazy person singer, Fiona Apple, did a ridiculously beautiful cover of this song (with an equally amazing music video where she sings on a platform that rotates her 360 degrees while people destroy a coffee shop around her. It’s awesome, seriously, YouTube it NOW!), and the difference between Fiona and Siobhan is basically invisible (’cause you can’t measure crazy), so I’m partial to my favorite Shadowboxer. BUT, Siobhan was captivating, beautiful, controlled and riveting. She took a HUGE chance not screaming her glory note, but that’s the beauty of her—she has no fear. She takes the risks. And it’s what going to vault her past Crystal in the end.

Katie Stevens – “Let It Be”

As pretty as she’s ever looked. As precocious and steely in her Ryan interview as she’s ever been. And she absolutely gets points for nailing the “Single Ladies” dance. This was a good night for Katie. She’s going to get major votes simply for the song choice, but she actually delivered a very worthy, star-like performance. We’re about two weeks from making her the Dark Horse favorite to win this whole thing.

Crystal Bowersox – “Come Together”

Here’s the problem with Crystal: She’s never going to transcend the stage she’s on, the way Adam Lambert, David Cook, and Fantasia did. She’s always going to deliver a rollicking, fun set. She’s solid, but there’s no second level. “Come Together” is a lay up for her. Of course she’s going to nail it! But where’s the daring? Where’s the ambition in it? I’d rather watch Siobhan go crazy with the screaming, risk failure and be a roll of the dice between brilliant and awful, then sit through a billion same safe songs from Crystal. Because safe is what we expect, but brilliant is what we hope for.

Michael Lynche – “Eleanor Rigby”

Big Mike is the Tyler Perry of American Idol, not nearly as fun or enjoyable as the trailers would lead you to believe, lots of bluster only to be revealed as scarily soulless. And worse yet, like Tyler, Mike has the platform to do something and actively chooses not to use it! He could be redefining R&B for the masses, showing that adding some rock and country to it is OK. But he instead chooses to pander for votes with his Peebo Bryson, “preach it” shenanigans. Maybe he is a good singer, but I can’t get past his utter fakeness.

Casey James – “Jealous Guy”

This show can be grossly manipulative sometimes (read: “all the time”). Watching Casey’s boring, slow, not at ALL authentic ballad, I knew the judges were going to trip over themselves to call it brilliant. To say he was brave to use an acoustic guitar! To commend his control and command! Because he has that face, and that hair and the show needs him bad, they were gonna give him a pass. It’s a fraud, and I’m not gonna stand for it. I’m not giving him a pass. He is less interesting by the week, relies too heavily on his guitar, and hides behind his look. It’s a joke. It’s a decoy. And it’s going to get better artists sent home early. I think I may hate Casey James.

Aaron “Yoda” Kelly – “The Long and Winding Road”

Charisma, stage presence? An American Idol needs not these things. Country, he makes the Beatles. Sleepy, he makes me. Solid performance? Maybe. Assured vocal? Yes. But I sense much bottom 3 in him.

Andrew Garcia – “Can’t Buy Me Love”

Being the Latin Buddy Holly, as Andrew attempted to pull off tonight, isn’t a bad idea. In fact, it’s the road he should have tread weeks ago, but someone should tell him this very important point: big hair does not equal big personality. It just makes you look doofy, and not in the “fun” way the incessant and obnoxious video package wants us to believe. And it doesn’t fix his bigger problem: he’s not any good! You can be completely devoid of personality and still run the Idol table, so long as you have the skill (see: Underwood, Carrie). But you have to have the skills. Andrew doesn’t.

Tim Urban – “All My Loving”

If Simon is gonna wave him through, content to let a Haircut Idol crap on the legacy of the show he built with his two furry hands, content to let DIDI go home over an idiot with a sparkly smile, then why should I bother reviewing him? You know what he did up there; he was a C- vocal with an A+ look. Whatever. He’ll be back next week.

What did you think of Beatles night? Can anyone make a Beatles song their own?


LOST: “Happily Ever After” Review

Courtesy ABC/Mario Perez

by Sarah Carbiener

“I want to punch Damon Lindelof in the face.”

“Get in line.”

“I miss when the show was about polar bears.”

Clearly, a few of my fellow viewers were not fans of tonight’s episode even though it featured everyone’s favorite constant, Desmond Hume. I don’t know that I was as consistently and vehemently disappointed as the rest of them, but tonight’s episode, “Happily Ever After,” moved at a snail’s pace for me. The direction of each scene was immediately obvious, and yet everyone took their sweet time getting there. This is particularly disappointing as there were some really interesting, satisfying moments buried between the suspense-less hypothetical speeches where everyone took way too long explaining things we already know.

Because I don’t want to get in line to punch Lindelof in the face (while I could take Lindelof, the frighteningly tall Carlton Cuse would end me), let’s start with the good. One of my all-time favorite parts of Lost is the relationship between Desmond and Charlie after Desmond survives the hatch explosion. In large part because of Desmond, Charlie grows up. He becomes a man, the man Claire and her baby need him to be, and he willingly sacrifices himself to save them all from Widmore’s men. Desmond reluctantly gets close to a man he knows is doomed to die and tries to save him anyway. The scene in tonight’s episode where Charlie crashes Desmond’s car into the water to show them their other lives on the island, and the shot-for-shot recreation of the moment of Charlie’s sacrifices were an enormous and thrilling payoff.*

Everything around this payoff, however, bored me to tears. Lost’s love triangles and romantic troubles are a study in extremes. They’re either gut-wrenching in the best way or annoying as hell. If you’re Desmond and Penny or Sun and Jin during the first four seasons, you’re in a gut-wrenching relationship.  If you’re Kate or anyone who loves Kate, you’re annoying. But those relationships can only be one way or the other when the action revolves around the relationships and not hypothetical conversations about love at first sight. There were three long scenes where characters essentially asked, “Do you believe in love at first sight?” That’s not drama. That’s killing time until Desmond puts two and two together and decides that the rest of flight Oceanic 815 needs to know about this other amazing reality they’re missing out on.

Desmond is important. Desmond is aware of more than one reality at once and has the ability to slip through time and space. Desmond loves Penny more than anything. Desmond is not going to die between some big electromagnets because he survived the hatch explosion. Knowing these things, I thought it was incredibly obvious where everything was headed tonight. I love that they’re using Desmond to bring the sideways reality and the events on the island together, but this should have happened sooner. It doesn’t make up for all that time I spent not knowing why I should care about what was happening off the island.  Besides, no matter how relieved I am that the sideways flashes aren’t simply an epilogue in advance, I expect more from my Desmond episodes.

Maybe I’m holding a grudge against this episode because of all the terrible ones I’ve sat through leading up to it. I feel like Lindelof and Cuse are going to bust down my door in the middle of the night and scream, “What the hell do you want from us?”

To quote the little boy on the tricycle in The Incredibles:

“I don’t know. Something amazing, I guess!”

*In five seasons, weren’t there enough moments like this to mirror in the sideways flashes prior to this episode? Seriously epic things have happened on Lost. Why did they wait this long to do something this awesome in the sideways flash?  WHY?


Book Review: Michael Harvey’s THE THIRD RAIL

I’d just schlepped my way through a couple books that were dull and slow-moving so as I picked up Michael Harvey‘s The Third Rail, I thought, “If this doesn’t grab me in three pages, I’m done.” No worries there. The breakneck pace compelled me from the first, third, forty-seventh—all the way to the last page.

In this third novel featuring Chicago P.I. Michael Kelly, he’s on the hunt for a sniper targeting random commuters on an L train and along a busy highway. After the killer (or an accomplice) makes a personal call to Kelly and delivers cryptic clues to his home, the detective starts wondering if the events may be related to an L crash thirty years earlier, one that Kelly happened to be in when he was nine years old. In a plot that never stops hurtling forward and taking unexpected turns, Kelly uncovers nefarious plans involving bio-weapons, greed, corruption and the Catholic Church.

Though I sped through Rail and enjoyed the ride—it reads like a ’70s action flick starring Steve McQueen as Kelly—I realized afterward some things didn’t make sense. Revenge is directed at a blameless person because the blamed party isn’t available, and it’s unclear what a sniper attack on Lake Shore Drive has to do with the 30-year-old L accident that occurred at a different location. (There are other spoilery head-scratchers I can’t discuss.) I even asked my husband to read the book in case I missed something and he could answer some questions for me. He couldn’t.

I think the problem stems from Harvey incorporating aspects of two real, unrelated incidents—a 1977 L accident and a 1993 Pentagon report called “Terror 2000”—into one story and they don’t mesh seamlessly. Throw in the Catholic Church angle and there’s a lot of ground to cover; two separate novels might have been a better idea (Harvey said in this Amazon interview a follow-up is possible). I take no issue with the ending leaving some threads untied—it adds to the sinister feel—but am confused by the lack of clarity and logic of the answers that were provided.

Nerd verdict: Third Rail zips by, but derails a few times along the way


Winners of Neil Pasricha’s THE BOOK OF AWESOME

Congrats to Julia F and Erin, who won ARCs of Neil Parischa’s The Book of Awesome! Their names were randomly drawn with the help of Julia and Erin, please send me your address via the “contact” form above and the awesome Lydia from Putnam will ship you each an ARC. If you don’t respond by 9 a.m. Thursday April 8, alternate name(s) will be selected.

Thanks to all who entered and shared your awesome moments with me. The book will be available April 15 if you’d like to buy a copy.

Stay tuned for another fantastic giveaway coming up soon!


Five Phrases That Should Be Permanently Retired from Reviews

Happy Monday! Hope you survived all the chocolate eggs and ham, or Pad Thai if you celebrate Songkran.

Since it was Easter weekend, I didn’t do much work. Read plenty, slept and ate even more, but didn’t quite get around to finishing my reviews.

In thinking about them, though (I’m much more productive in my head), I came up with a Top 5 list of words/phrases that make my eyeballs roll when I see them in reviews. If you ever see these in mine, you have permission to send me hate mail.

  1. “A roller-coaster ride.” Seriously, have you ever said this in your life after seeing a movie or finishing a book? Besides, I hate roller-coasters. They make me sick.
  2. “America’s Sweetheart.” This label has been slapped on everyone from Julia Roberts to Sandra Bullock to Meg Ryan to Jennifer Garner to Reese Witherspoon. Shouldn’t the correct phrase then be “one of many members of the America’s Sweethearts Club”? Plus, who determines this status? Sometimes I’ll look at someone labeled thusly (not anyone mentioned above) and think, “She’s not my sweetheart.”
  3. “Best movie/book of the year” when it’s March. ‘Nuff said.
  4. “Breath of fresh air.” I thought this was stale first time I heard it.
  5. “Unputdownable.” I just hate that word, and not because it’s not a real one. I’m all for new words being coined and it was (maybe) cute the first few times, but after the 2,927th time, I’m done.

What about you? Is there a hokey phrase that will guarantee you won’t buy a book if you see it on the cover?


Tell Me a Story About…Fence

Last night, the hubster and I played that game I’ve featured here a couple times, where one person throws out a random, ordinary word and the other tells whatever story/memory that word triggers. (This is based on something Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about doing with her lover Felipe in her book, Committed.)

The word my husband gave me was “fence.” Here’s my story.

When I was a kid living in Saigon (I don’t know why I always reach way back to childhood memories), my bedroom window overlooked the neighbor’s backyard. Every afternoon, my mother made me go to my room to take a nap, but instead of doing so, I’d spy on the people next door. Not all Rear Window-y with binocs or anything; more like killing time until I could go downstairs and say I’d slept.

Usually, the only thing I ever saw was the old lady next door taking her nap in the backyard hammock. What amused me was she’d wake up with diamond-shaped etchings on one side of her face from the hammock pattern. It made her look like she’d been standing for a long time with her face pressed up against a chain-link fence. I started referring to her as “fence-face lady”—though never to her face—because I didn’t know her name.

One day, after she awoke, she abruptly pulled down her elastic-waist black pajama pants and urinated right there in the yard. (No wonder her grass was always so green.) Seeing the same criss-cross indentations on her rear, I yelped, “Oh no! She has a fence butt, too!” From that moment on, she became fence-butt lady.

I’m not trying to be crude or cute with this story. I honestly still think of her when I hear the word “fence.” I wonder if she got out of Viet Nam after the war, though I’m quite sure she didn’t because most of the older people I knew chose to stay. I can only hope she didn’t end up behind a different kind of fence.

So, what/who do you think of when you hear “fence”? Have you ever been in a Turkish prison?