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December 2010

Things I Observed and/or Learned During Holiday Travels

I’m back in L.A. after 9 days with family for Christmas. I fly every year during this time so I’m usually prepared for hassles due to delays and changed flights. I find the best way to combat the exhaustion and frustration is to look at everything from a humorous angle. Here are some random things I experienced/learned:

  • A family Skyping via netbook while eating dinner at 2 a.m. at Denny’s, the only joint in town open all night. The computer was passed around so everyone can wave their food at the screen. The face on the screen kept insisting she couldn’t see clearly what everyone was eating so each person speared a huge chunk of steak/meat loaf/chicken on their fork and waved it around extravagantly for the Skypee to ooh and ahh over. I started mentally forming narration a la Tina Fey and Steve Carell in Date Night when they provided commentary in a restaurant while observing other diners: “See my big piece of meat? You want some, don’t you? If I actually put it in my mouth, I bet it’d be delicious.”
  • When I got into the rental car, the airbag indicator said: “Off.” When I returned to the rental agent and asked why, the agent said I didn’t weigh enough to trigger the airbag function. My response: “Well, since the car doesn’t recognize me being in it, can you just pretend I’m not really renting it?”
  • If you see a small yappy dog or baby is being carried onto a plane, you can rest assured it’ll sit right behind you. But hey, that’s still better than someone with a bag o’ snakes.
  • The $12 airport sandwich does not have gold nuggets in it and looks an awful lot like the sandwich I can make at home for 89 cents.
  • Orlando, Florida is stinkin’ cold in December—32 degrees during the day! At night, I could’ve poured food coloring on my fingers and eaten them as popsicles.
  • People who freak out and threaten the lives of gate agents when their flights are canceled do not get better service.
  • Kindness always seems to arrive when you need it most. When my plane landed at LAX after I’d been on the road for 15 hours and looked as if I was a half-breath away from collapsing (found out later I was suffering from a viral throat infection exacerbated by cabin air), the man in the aisle seat stepped back, pulled my suitcase from the overhead bin, handed it to me and said, “You go first.” Among a mob of people fighting to get off the plane, this was no small act.
  • Despite the hardship, I remain grateful for the fact I get to travel at all. Some people don’t get to be with their family for the holidays—e.g. the men and women in our armed forces—and/or never have the opportunity to explore the world. Focusing on the positive aspects of my life instead of its imperfections helps me get through obstacles big and small.

How were your holidays?

Once I’ve decompressed, I’ll post a review of Biutiful and notes from a lively Q&A session with star Javier Bardem. That man is one huge ball of charm in person! If I’m extra productive, I might also do a “best of” list but that requires re-examining all the pop culture I’ve watched/read/heard this past year and that’s a lot of stuff.

Happy New Year! Got resolutions?



I’m leaving town this weekend for the holidays and am hideously behind in everything. Someone reminded me today Christmas is next weekend and I gave her a blank face. Wha…?

Thus, in the interest of saving time so I can go hustle up a present for my first cousin’s second son, I’ll do only mini-reviews of five movies that are getting some awards attention this season. If you’re planning on seeing any of these, consider this your cheat sheet.

Frankie & Alice (out now in Los Angeles)

Based on a true story, this is a nice showcase for Halle Berry playing a woman with multiple personality disorder but overall it feels more like a cable movie. Berry clearly delineates between Frankie’s personalities—a genius child, a racist white Southern woman, and a black stripper—without getting too showy (except for one scene near the end). The movie takes place in the early 1970s when MPD wasn’t widely understood, so the plot consists mostly of Frankie’s psychiatrist, Dr. Oz (a sympathetic Stellan Skarsgard), trying to identify her illness. There’s a small mystery regarding the traumatic event that caused her personality to splinter but the revelation is somewhat anticlimactic. Nerd verdict: More personalities than plot.

Rabbit Hole (opens Dec. 17, limited release)

Nicole Kidman does strong work as a fragile mom grieving for her little boy months after he was killed in an accident. Her pale, thin frame adds to the sense that her character Becca might collapse and never recover if she doesn’t force herself to put one foot in front of the other every day. Dianne Wiest as Becca’s mother is very good and Aaron Eckhart is solid as Becca’s husband though this is Kidman’s movie (she’s one of the producers).

In a post-screening Q&A at the AFI Fest presented by Audi, director John Cameron Mitchell said that this movie is an exploration of the grief he felt after his brother was killed in a war and his family never talked about it. The tone is melancholy, with some bits of humor thrown in, but I was never deeply moved. I could appreciate the artistry of the work, though, and I like the very last line in the movie better than the one in the play (David Lindsay-Abaire wrote both) because it contains a slightly stronger hint of hope. Nerd verdict: Kidman’s good but Hole didn’t go deep enough for me.

Somewhere (Dec. 22, limited)

The only reason I could possibly see for this movie winning the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion (its top award) was because it was partly shot in Italy. Otherwise, I’m stumped as to why jurors thought this dull exploration of the life of a movie star deserves such an accolade. Director/writer Sofia Coppola uses pretentious, long shots that call more attention to her technique than help tell the story. I’d understand if there’s something captivating going on to justify a shot lasting forever but there usually isn’t. When not making a movie, Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff)’s life is aimless. He lives in the Chateau Marmont, plays Guitar Hero with his kid (Elle Fanning), suntans by the pool, hires strippers to come to his room. I couldn’t tell who was more bored—him or me (probably me, since I was sitting in a theater instead of by the pool). Johnny eventually recognizes how empty his life is but by that time, I’d already checked out. Nerd verdict: I’d rather be anywhere than Somewhere.

Another Year (Dec. 29)

Mike Leigh’s latest moved so slowly, I almost walked out. I figured I could get snacks, use the restroom, make some phone calls or just leave altogether without missing much. It’s a character study of a content, middle-aged married couple at the center of a group of friends with unraveling lives. I can’t complain about the acting; Lesley Manville completely steals the film, just as her needy character Mary sucks the energy out of every room she’s in. But after umpteenth scenes of people sitting around drinking, smoking, and complaining about their depressing lives without much else happening, I wanted to jab a pen in my eye to distract from the pain in my brain. Nerd verdict: Felt like Year unfolded in real time.

Blue Valentine (opens Dec. 31, limited)

I’m so glad the MPAA recently reversed the rating from NC-17 to R because this movie will now have a chance at a wider audience. It didn’t deserve the NC-17 anyway because the “offensive” scene doesn’t even have nudity, only Williams simulating an orgasm while receiving oral sex. As director/co-writer Dean Cianfrance said in a post-screening discussion, the MPAA was “objecting to a feeling” and penalizing the actors for acting too well.

And that they do—Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams give painfully naked performances as a couple who go from two dewy-eyed people in love to a husband and wife who may not be able to save their crumbling marriage. The movie is depressing as hell but you can’t stop watching them. The actors are often shot in extreme close-ups so there’s no faking any expression or emotion. Williams even gained weight for the latter part of the relationship (she did it during a one-month break in production) after her Cindy becomes a disillusioned wife and mother. The actress remains beautiful throughout but her bright blue eyes seem to lose their sparkle as she realizes her life is not turning out as planned. Nerd verdict: Blue contains red hot performances.

There you have it—my opinions on some titles you’ll hear mentioned during upcoming awards shows. If you haven’t seen them, here are my full reviews of How Do You Know, True Grit, and The Fighter.

This may be my final post for the year, depending on how productive I am in the next couple days and if I have Internet where I’m going. I’d like to wish you all a holiday season filled with joy, love and good health. Thank you for reading and coming along on my nerdy adventures for another year. You have enriched my world and certainly made it more fun.


Winners of Robert Crais’s THE SENTRY

For the giveaway, I asked for creative versions of a Joe Pike pizza and you stepped up with some great concoctions. The first winner had the entry I thought best exemplified Joe’s persona:

  • Eddy

Hardtack crust? Meat from the Esox lucius ? I think Pike’s mouth would twitch if you told him he had a pizza like that named after him. He wouldn’t necessarily eat it but that’s not the point.

The second winner’s name was randomly drawn:

  • Patrick

Though Patrick was randomly chosen, he also had a great entry. Love the gunpowder topping and the pizza being served with a vengeance.

Congrats to both! You get an ARC of The Sentry to wave in front of your friends’ faces and brag on Facebook that you get to read it before it’s released on January 11. But first, you must hit the “contact” button or the red envelope icon in the sidebar and let me know your address (no P.O. boxes). If I don’t hear from you by Saturday Dec. 18 at noon PST, alternate winner(s) will be chosen.

If you didn’t win, you can pre-order the book from the venues below (I belong to their affiliate programs).

Pre-Order The Sentry from Amazon| B&N| IndieBound| Powell’s


Awards Are Coming! Awards Are Coming!

I’m a little behind but want to cover Golden Globe nominations and winners from some major critics’ groups.

First, GG noms in the big movie categories, with a few brief observations:

Best Motion Picture–Drama

Black Swan
The Fighter
The King’s Speech
The Social Network

It’s a toss-up between Inception and The King’s Speech for me. Both are remarkable but in completely different ways.

Best Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical

Alice in Wonderland
The Kids Are All Right
The Tourist

Burlesque? Seriously? Kids is the obvious choice here.

Best Director – Motion Picture

Darren Aronofsky–Black Swan
David Fincher–The Social Network
Tom Hooper–The King’s Speech
Christopher Nolan–Inception
David O. Russell–The Fighter

Again, it’d be between Nolan and Hooper, but I’m surprised Danny Boyle didn’t make the cut. He turned what people said was an unfilmable book into an exhilarating and intensely moving motion picture.

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama

Jesse Eisenberg–The Social Network
Colin Firth–The King’s Speech
James Franco–127 Hours
Ryan Gosling–Blue Valentine
Mark Wahlberg–The Fighter

Firth is tops for me, with Franco a close second and Gosling a very close third.

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama

Halle Berry–Frankie and Alice
Nicole Kidman–Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence–Winter’s Bone
Natalie Portman–Black Swan
Michelle Williams–Blue Valentine

Portman would get my vote, but Williams’s performance also got under my skin. Huge omission: Lesley Manville’s raw portrayal of a woman in denial slowly falling apart in Another Year.

Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Comedy

Johnny Depp–Alice in Wonderland
Johnny Depp–The Tourist
Paul Giamatti–Barney’s Version
Jake Gyllenhaal–Love and Other Drugs
Kevin Spacey–Casino Jack

Haven’t seen all these perfs so not sure about this one.

Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Comedy

Anne Hathaway–Love and Other Drugs
Julianne Moore–The Kids Are All Right
Annette Bening–The Kids Are All Right
Emma Stone–Easy A
Angelina Jolie–The Tourist

Tough to pick between the Kids leads but I’d go with Moore for her insecure, vulnerable, conflicted, lovely turn.

Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture

Christian Bale–The Fighter
Michael Douglas–Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Andrew Garfield–The Social Network
Jeremy Renner–The Town
Geoffrey Rush–The King’s Speech

Bale is the clear winner but Renner and Rush are very strong. I’m disappointed John Hawkes didn’t get recognized for his creepy turn as Teardrop in Winter’s Bone.

Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture

Amy Adams–The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter–The King’s Speech
Mila Kunis–Black Swan
Melissa Leo–The Fighter
Jacki Weaver–Animal Kingdom

Haven’t seen Weaver’s performance. Between the other four, I’d go with Leo for her brassy, trashy mama.

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture

127 Hours
The Kids Are All Right
The King’s Speech
The Social Network

Tough call between Inception, 127 Hours and King’s Speech, all complex and smart. Good thing Oscars distinguish between original and adapted screenplays. For originality, Inception should get it. For adapted, I’d go with Hours since it was probably more difficult to rework the mostly internal story into something cinematic.

In the last couple days, film critics associations have also been doling out awards, with most naming The Social Network and David Fincher as best picture and best director. I strongly disagree but here are partial lists from some of the more prominent groups. (Click on links to see full lists.)

New York Film Critics Circle:

Best Film:
The Social Network

Best Director:
David Fincher, The Social Network

Best Screenplay:
The Kids Are All Right

Best Actress
Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right

Best Actor
Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

Best Supporting Actress
Melissa Leo, The Fighter

Best Supporting Actor
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right

Best Cinematography
Matthew Libatique, Black Swan

Best Animated Film
The Illusionist

Boston Society of Film Critics:

Best Picture
The Social Network

Best Actor
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network

Best Actress
Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale, The Fighter

Best Supporting Actress
Juliette Lewis, Conviction

Best Director
David Fincher, The Social Network

Best Screenplay
Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network

Best Cinematography
Roger Deakins, True Grit

Best Animated Film
Toy Story 3

Best Film Editing (awarded in memory of Karen Schmeer)
Andrew Weisblum, Black Swan

Best Ensemble Cast

The Fighter

I like how the L.A. Film Critics Association threw in a few surprises:

Best Picture
The Social Network

Best Director
Olivier Assayas (Carlos) and David Fincher (The Social Network)—tie.

Best Actor
Colin Firth, The King’s Speech

Best Actress
Kim Hye-ja, Mother

Best Supporting Actor
Niels Arestrup, A Prophet

Best Supporting Actress
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

Best Screenplay
Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network

Best Cinematography
Black Swan

Best Foreign Language Film

Best Music/Score
The Ghost Writer (Alexandre Desplat) and The Social Network (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross)

If you’re still with me, here are links to winners from the Toronto Film Critics, D.C. Film Critics, Southeastern Film Critics and AFI’s top 10 movies of the year.

Do you agree The Social Network is this year’s best movie? Any others you’re rooting for? What about favorite-but-overlooked performances?


Movie Review: HOW DO YOU KNOW

The title of James L. Brooks’s latest movie, How Do You Know (opening Dec. 17), refers to when you realize you’ve fallen in love with someone. But the question I asked myself while watching was: How do you know a movie is in trouble? When even charismatic stars like Paul Rudd and Reese Witherspoon can’t save it.

Witherspoon is Lisa, a professional softball player who’s considered over the hill at thirty-one and forced to transition to another career. Rudd plays George, a man who learns he’s under federal investigation for stock fraud but doesn’t know why. The two are set up by a mutual friend and have an awkward dinner, during which both are trying to figure out their next moves and neither is in a friendly mood.

That should’ve been the end of that, especially since Lisa is casually dating a baseball player, Matty (Owen Wilson). But Lisa and George keep running into each other—his father (Jack Nicholson) lives in Matty’s swanky apartment building—and a friendship develops, despite Lisa moving in with Matty and the possibility that George might go to prison. As they try to sort out their lives, they also have to figure out how they truly feel about each other before one of them does something which would destroy their chances of being together.

Witherspoon has said in several interviews Brooks wrote the part for her so it’s odd what a bad fit it is. She makes a lot of exaggerated facial expressions to indicate her emotions without convincing me she was actually feeling them. This is unusual because she’s normally such a natural actress. I never quite bought her as a professional athlete or someone suffering from a lack of direction. There’s something about Witherspoon’s headstrong, go-getter persona (her production company is called Type A Prods.) that doesn’t lend itself well to a character who doesn’t know what to do with her life and sits around drinking and talking about her ennui. The actress looks as disengaged from the role as Lisa is disconnected from her true feelings.

Rudd is charming as usual, even when George is supposed to be a sad sack, the complete opposite of a chick magnet. He has such clear, expressive eyes that you can almost identify the exact moment George realizes he’s in love with Lisa. While she stays cool towards him for most of the movie (granted, she’s with someone), Rudd is the one who sells the growing attraction. Meanwhile, Wilson does his playboy-afflicted-with-stunted-maturity act and Nicholson is Nicholson, doing what you’d expect of him.

Brooks wrote and directed two of my favorite films of all time, Terms of Endearment and Broadcast News, but his more recent work has been so frustratingly uneven. The pacing is off here, with some scenes cutting away too soon and many going on for way too long. Other scenes seem superfluous and should have been deleted and saved for the DVD’s extras. The tone is also uncertain; the movie is billed as a romantic comedy but is more dramatic than funny. Brooks has insightful things to say about relationships but sometimes loses focus, leaving us with scattered thoughts that don’t add up to much.

Nerd verdict: Wish I liked You more

Photos: David James/Columbia Pictures


Exclusive Video & Giveaway: Two ARCs of Robert Crais’s THE SENTRY

I’m thrilled to share with you the following video I made. You don’t need to know anything more; just click play. Then check out the giveaway below where you can win one of two ARCs of Robert Crais’s The Sentry (Putnam, January 11, 2011). U.S., Canada and Mexico residents are eligible!

Can’t wait to see the REAL video and read The Sentry, right? For more info, visit the Robert Crais website and check out his tour dates.

Now, how about an advanced reading copy of the book? Putnam has generously allowed me to give away two.

To enter:

  • be a subscriber or follower (tell me which if you’ve never entered a giveaway)
  • leave a comment telling me what you’d put on a Joe Pike pizza and why (think beyond traditional toppings)
  • be a resident of the U.S., Canada or Mexico

Giveaway ends next Wednesday, December 15 at 5 p.m. PST. It’s a short window but I want you to get the ARCs before Christmas, even (especially?) if you’ve been naughty.

For one copy, I’ll pick the commenter with the most creative Joe Pike pizza and for the other, I’ll randomly select a name. Winners will only be posted here and on Twitter; I won’t be notifying you personally so please check back to see if you’ve won. Any prize(s) not claimed within 48 hours will be given to alternate winner(s).

Have fun and show me some pizza!


TRUE GRIT: Review & Comparison Between Both Versions

Last Saturday, I saw the Coen brothers’ remake of True Grit (opening Dec. 22), about a U.S. Marshal who helps a young girl avenge her father’s murder, with my friend Eric Edwards, who had re-watched the original John Wayne version recently. I’ve only seen parts of that movie so I thought we’d have a conversation about the two versions instead of my usual review.

PCN: What did you think of the new version?

Eric Edwards: I think it’s much edgier and grittier.

PCN: So, it lives up to its title more? The characters are literally grittier here. Jeff Bridges’s Rooster Cogburn is much more unkempt than John Wayne’s. I remember Wayne always looked pulled together, with his little bandanna tied neatly around his neck. Bridges looks like he smells.

EE: But I think that’s more realistic.

PCN: How did you like his Cogburn compared to Wayne’s?

EE: I thought Bridges made it his own. He didn’t try to put on any kind of John Wayne swagger. He just played a hard-ass who’s gone to seed and did it believably.

PCN: I thought he chewed scenery in parts and sometimes his performance resembled The Dude more than The Duke. But he eventually won me over and after a while, I stopped thinking about John Wayne in that role.

EE: I was happy to lose both Glen Campbell as La Boeuf and his song on the soundtrack.

PCN: Oh, man, Campbell was pretty hammy. Matt Damon did a much better job as the Texas Ranger.

EE: I thought both Damon and Bridges adopted some kind of speech impediment for their roles. Bridges sounds like he had at least three marbles in his mouth at all times and Damon sounds as though he was wearing a set of false teeth over his regular teeth.

PCN: I didn’t notice that. I just thought they slurred their words because Cogburn was drunk most of the time and La Boeuf had that unfortunate accident with his tongue.

EE: But you could still understand them for the most part, which is no easy feat, considering the old-fashioned type of dialogue.

PCN: The dialogue stayed pretty true to the original’s. I think some of the lines were verbatim from the previous version.

EE: I’d say about fifty percent is verbatim from the old version, and the rest seems to be more authentic to the way people spoke in that time period. In the ’69 movie, the speech was more conversational overall.

PCN: I can’t believe that 14-year-old actress, Hailee Steinfeld, who played Mattie, could handle all that dialogue! Not only was there a lot of it, it wasn’t colloquial at all. That scene when she’s bargaining with Colonel Stonehill seemed like twenty pages but she plowed through it like a champ.

EE: I kind of had a problem with her. I liked her spunk but at no time did I feel she was mourning her dad. I didn’t think she had a full character arc.


PCN: That was one thing that bothered me, too. I loved how scrappy and no-nonsense Mattie is but I never saw her affected by all the gritty stuff that was happening around her. She saw a man’s head blown off only a few feet from her, another one stabbed to death, she encountered a corpse still hanging from a tree, and she watched her horse get shot. All that would traumatize anyone, more so a young girl, I’d imagine. I would be freaking out but she remained placid throughout.

**End spoilers**

EE: In the original, there’s this scene I liked where Mattie, played by Kim Darby, had a quiet moment and was allowed to grieve for her father behind closed doors. It shows the heart of the character, that she’s not just plucky for pluck’s sake. She has some vulnerability; she’s just not gonna show it to the men around her. And I appreciated seeing that.

PCN: What did you think of Josh Brolin as Tom Chaney?

EE: I thought he was funny. It was entertaining to watch him play evil and dumb at the same time.

PCN: I’m really enjoying the work he’s doing and where his career is going. He has really matured as an actor. So, do you think this movie needed to be remade?

EE: At first, I thought no, but I really liked what the Coens did here. They made it darker and a little scary. The original had bright colors and scenery and looked Disney-esque at times. Even the night scenes were well lit. Here, everything is in shades of brown and black, there’s snow and rain and you feel the cold coming off the screen.

PCN: What did you think of the framing device of Mattie as an adult and doing voiceover? Did it add anything to the remake?

EE: I thought it made it more powerful because it hammered home the point this was an adventure with real danger and real consequences, not some cute romp through the countryside.

PCN: I didn’t think the original was “cute” but Mattie did come off girlier while this new Mattie is dead serious. And she certainly comes out of it worse for wear. I’m just glad a Coen-brothers movie had an ending. A Serious Man pissed me off.

EE: Yeah, maybe [executive producer] Spielberg had something to say about that. I noticed the brothers still included their trademark weirdness, like that guy in a bear skin.

PCN: But they dialed it way back. This is their most accessible movie in years.

EE: I agree. And it’s rated PG-13 so parents can even take their kids.

Nerd verdicts: PCN & EE—True Grittier


Winners of Pat Conroy’s MY READING LIFE

My two randomly selected winners are:

  • Coffee and a Book Chick
  • Eddy

Please contact me by Thursday, Dec. 9 5 p.m. PST to claim your book or alternate winner(s) will be chosen.

Thank you all for entering and sharing your stories of how you learned to love reading. Because it’s the holidays, I have another fantastic giveaway coming up very soon!


Movie Review: THE FIGHTER

Wahlberg at the AFI premiere

When The Fighter (opening Dec. 10) had its world premiere at the AFI Fest presented by Audi, Mark Wahlberg introduced the film and said if anyone didn’t like it, “I will personally come to your house and give you back the two hours you spent watching it. I’ll cook, clean, move shit!” I don’t think he’ll get too many phone calls from people asking him to do yard work unless they just want an excuse to see him with his shirt off.

The movie, which the actor produced as well as stars in, is based on the true story of underdog boxer “Irish” Micky Ward’s (Wahlberg) unlikely journey towards an eventual world championship. He’s trained by his half-brother, Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale), who once fought Sugar Ray Leonard and knocked him down, which makes Dickie a local celebrity in their hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts. But Dickie has turned into a crackhead and become unreliable, often not showing up for training. He also thinks he’s being filmed for an HBO show about his making a comeback but it’s actually a documentary about crack users.

Micky’s situation isn’t helped by his mother/manager, Alice (Melissa Leo), who seems to only set him up to lose. He starts making smarter decisions after meeting Charlene (Amy Adams), a waitress at a local bar who becomes his girlfriend and encourages him to distance himself from his family if he wants a shot at the title.

While the movie is well-directed by David O. Russell and handled beautifully by the cast, it doesn’t add anything new to the underdog boxing movie sub-genre. It follows the basic structure of so many others, e.g. Cinderella Man or Rocky, though it isn’t as bloody, which I appreciated.

The Fighter does have a couple of knockout performances from Bale and Leo. The former is almost unrecognizable with sunken eyes, bad teeth, and bald spot on a skeletal frame. At first I wasn’t sure whether he was trying too hard by piling on the tics and drastic changes in his appearance, but when a clip of the real Dickie played at the end of the movie, I realized Bale was dead-on.

Leo is like we’ve never seen her, leaving behind the mousy brunettes she usually plays with brassy blond hair that’s bigger than Taylor Swift’s career and a wardrobe cheaper than Walmart specials on Black Friday. Alice has no business managing Micky’s career but Leo doesn’t make her an obvious villain, leaving us to decide instead whether Alice is simply inept or truly greedy and spotlight hungry. Adams is also spunkier than usual as Charlene, showing she’s not all Disney-princess innocent, at one point even getting into a fist fight. The film’s chances at snagging Oscar acting nominations are good but I don’t see it winning the Best Picture title.

Note: To watch the real HBO documentary called High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell that features Dickie and is mentioned in the movie, click here.

Nerd verdict: Scrappy Fighter but not quite a champion

Mark Wahlberg AFI photo © AFI/The Fighter photos © Paramount Pictures


Dancing with Myself

Over at Nigel Bird’s blog today, I’m doing something I often do in my living room and in the shower: dancing with myself. Since no one wants to see video of that, Nigel asked me to just interview myself. Hope you’ll check it out so you can clear up some things for me. I’ve also been told dancing is more fun with other people.


Book Review: THE SHERLOCKIAN by Graham Moore

Graham Moore’s debut novel, The Sherlockian, should delight die-hard Sherlock Holmes fans with its nerdy Holmesian goodness, while providing engrossing mysteries for those less familiar with the Canon as well.

Told in alternating chapters between the turn of the 20th century and the present, the book tells two parallel stories. The first is of Arthur Conan Doyle’s investigation into the case of a serial killer, and the second is about a contemporary Sherlockian named Harold White trying the solve the mysterious death of a leading Sherlock Holmes scholar, Alex Cale.

Cale claimed he’d found the long-lost diary of Conan Doyle, but on the day he’s scheduled to present it at a meeting of the Baker Street Irregulars, Cale is found dead in his hotel room and the diary is nowhere in sight. Furthermore, there are clues in the room that are straight from Holmes stories.

The historical chapters reveal what Holmes’s creator was doing during the time period covered in the journal (the last few months of 1900) and why the record of his activities went missing in the first place. We also get to see what inspired Conan Doyle’s method for killing off his famous detective in 1893 and what convinced him to bring Holmes back in 1901 with The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Moore’s passion for the Canon is evident on every page and he has done an amazing job weaving fact with fiction; he tells you which is which in the author’s note at the end. If you’ve read David Grann’s New Yorker article called “Mysterious Circumstances” (also featured in Grann’s book called The Devil and Sherlock Holmes) about the real-life death of a leading Sherlockian named Richard Green, you might have a clue about how Cale was killed.

This takes away none of the fun, though; it’s mighty entertaining to see this and many other facts about Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes re-interpreted in a fictional context. If you don’t know anything about the great detective, you won’t be lost because Harold conveniently explains everything to his companion, Sarah, a reporter who tags along for the scoop.

One problem I had with the book was that Conan Doyle is a much more fascinating character than Harold. I sometimes got impatient with the 2010 chapters because Harold is dull and has no romantic spark whatsoever with Sarah, though we’re meant to believe an attraction is forming. He’s a necessary device to elucidate the Holmesian details but he’s kind of a pushover, allowing Sarah, who behaves in a dodgy manner from the start, to butt her way into the investigation without much of an explanation. She’s there to represent readers less familiar with Holmes, asking all the pertinent questions, but otherwise doesn’t hold much interest. In the end, Harold does something that I highly doubt such a devoted Sherlockian would do. It’s a stretch to say his motive is understandable but his action does not seem plausible at all.

Conversely, I greatly enjoyed being in Conan Doyle’s company, getting a glimpse of his life as he struggles against being overshadowed by his own creation. His hissy fits about how he’s a better man than Holmes are rather funny. He at least makes a much more convincing amateur sleuth than Harold, perhaps because Conan Doyle really did consult for Scotland Yard on many real-life crimes. His friendship with Bram Stoker (his real-life Watson?) is amusing, with the latter lamenting about how his character of a bloodthirsty count from Transylvania “didn’t inspire the imagination of a people as did your Holmes. He was my great failure.” The Sherlockian, on the other hand, is definitely a success.

Nerd verdict: An engaging, far-from-elementary Sherlockian

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