Monthly Archives

November 2012

Nerdy Mad Libs!

Over Thanksgiving, I played Mad Libs™ with some friends and laughed my stuffing off at the results. I’d forgotten how fun it is, how much I enjoyed it as a child, playing with my siblings. So I thought I’d try doing it here. Today, I’m going to ask for a list of words. You leave them in the comments, and when I have all the words I need, I’ll post the result.

Your words will be inserted into a fake book review I wrote, so keep that in mind. Weird, provocative, absurd, could-be-dirty words are encouraged, but no blatantly profane or boring ones, please. Leave words in the order I’ve asked for them, and number them so the people after you know where they are on the list. Example: first commenter should write: 1. [adjective], second commenter 2. [verb], and so on.

Feel free to contribute more than one word, but perhaps not a bunch all at once. Think going back for seconds at the buffet table after others have had a chance to go through the line first.

Have fun, and let’s see your fabulous words!

  1. adjective
  2. verb
  3. decade/time period
  4. place/location
  5. adjective
  6. girl’s name
  7. adjective
  8. noun
  9. mythical creature
  10. verb
  11. ridiculous boys’ name
  12. verb
  13. plural noun
  14. verb
  15. adjective
  16. noun
  17. noun
  18. body part
  19. verb
  20. adverb
  21. adjective
  22. verb

Seussian Thanksgiving

For the past two decades, I’ve most often spent Thanksgiving with my dear friend Mari, who hosts a theme dinner every year. She never fails to make my jaw drop in wonderment at her creativity and how completely she transforms her house into a different universe.

This year, it was Dr. Seuss’s world, and it all started with this invitation Mr. PCN and I received in the mail, depicting the Grinch’s heart growing in size.

The rest of it unfolded as follows.

When we arrived, we were greeted with this.

And our host, Sam I am (aka Mari) with the green eggs and ham.

And all the other wonderful creatures and things.

Truffula trees!

Her whole yard looks animated, doesn't it?

The Lorax and Fox in Socks

The beautiful table...

...featuring Dr. Seuss quotes throughout

Two Cindy Lou Whos & Foxy

Horton, Mayor of Whoville, Sally, and a Sneetch

This night shot is grainy, but how many characters can you make out?

Oh, the places we went! There was fun to be done!

Hope your holiday was magnificent.


Thank You, Universe

I have so many reasons to be thankful—the most loving family, friends more generous than I deserve—but luckily those have been true my whole life. This year, I thought I’d mention my thanks to the universe, for sending me a special, unexpected message.

I’ve worked in the arts for many years, as an actress, writer, and editor. I love everything I do, and have had great times and hard times, due to the nature of being a freelancer and subjecting myself to regular bouts of rejection. There’s no job security, but never a shortage of reasons why I’m too this or too that or not enough whatever for some gigs. And that’s when people would actually tell me why. Often there’s just silence.

But then this happened two months ago. Read it if you haven’t already, or the rest of this post won’t make sense.

Are you back? OK. When I recently shared that story with someone who also works in a creative field, she started crying in front of me. I was somewhat surprised, since it’s a very personal story and I thought I would be the only one weeping.

But after wiping her eyes, she said, “We choose certain paths in life and often wonder, ‘Am I doing the right thing? Should we be somewhere else?’ The universe just sent you a very clear sign that you were exactly where you were supposed to be in that moment. Do you know how lucky you are? Some people wait their whole lives and never get an answer.”

I will pause while you absorb that.

Yes, exactly.

I was struck speechless by that statement, and really can’t express it any better. So I’ll just stop here and say thanks to the universe for revealing some of its magic to me.

Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you find the answers you seek.

Photo: Sarah G.


Movie Review: HITCHCOCK

Hitchcock (out Friday, Nov. 23), which takes place during the making of Psycho, should be called Hitchcock and Alma. Yes, we get to peek behind the shower curtain to see how the iconic movie was made, but the focus is more on the relationship between the legendary director, played by Anthony Hopkins under layers of latex, and his wife, portrayed by the indomitable Helen Mirren. The veteran actress has the best role in the film, showing quiet strength, fierce intelligence, and vulnerability as she stands by her man and smiles while he basks in his glory.

Hopkins does a somewhat credible job, but it feels more like impersonation than transformation. I was always aware of the heavy makeup, and his voice is 20% Hopkins and 80% Hitchcock. Sometimes his belly protruded more than other times, making me wonder if he had differently sized fake bellies.

All this was distracting, as was casting other name stars like Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel as Janet Leigh and Vera Miles, respectively. When Johansson first appeared, I thought, “Oh, that’s Scarlett Johansson in a retro wig.” The actress eventually won me over, especially in the shower scene when she looks truly terrified, but I shouldn’t have to get over the hurdle of seeing Johansson before I saw Leigh up on screen.

Biel can never be convincing to me in a period piece because she has modern-day Chiclets teeth—seemingly veneered, perfectly even and white. I kept thinking teeth did not look like that more than 50 years ago. This may sound trivial, but anything that makes a performance less believable is a problem. On the flip side, James D’Arcy is very effective as Anthony Perkins, even if the role is small. I had no idea who D’Arcy was so I totally bought him as a young, jittery Perkins.

Director Sacha Gervasi, working from a script John J. McLaughlin wrote based on Stephen Rebello’s book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, never clearly defines the movie’s tone. It seems he was unsure if it should be an exploration of the troubled personal life of a director many considered to be genius, of Alma’s loneliness and feelings of neglect, or if it should be a collection of Hollywood anecdotes and wink-wink moments, inviting the audience to laugh along at things we already know about Psycho and Hitchcock’s oeuvre. It ends up straddling the line, which leaves story lines stranded, such as Leigh being seemingly terrorized by Hitch during the shower scene, but then acting friendly toward him as if nothing happened.

One could argue the movie is like the man himself, wanting to be commercially entertaining but also wishing to be taken seriously. While Hitchcock’s work is revered now, he never won a competitive Oscar, and this movie will also probably not garner much respect from the Academy.

Nerd verdict: Hitches in Hitchcock

Photos: Fox Searchlight


Weird Casting Conversation

Some of you know Mr. PCN is a casting director. I sometimes help answer phones. Yesterday, I had this conversation.

Man on the line, in heavy accent: “Yes. I have Japanese ladies. You looking for Japanese ladies?”

Me: “Um, not at this time.”

Man (after whispering in Japanese to someone): “Can I still send to you?”

Me: “You can email us pictures and resumes.” (In case he wanted to send actual women to our door.)

Man (after another rush of Japanese whispers): “Oh. Thank you.” Click.

What just happened?



I still have to see many more awards contenders, but Silver Linings Playbook is an early favorite. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, charming, moving, wacky, and…well, you’ll have to see for yourself.

Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a bipolar former teacher newly released from a court-ordered stay at a psychiatric facility, eight months after an incident had made him turn violent. He moves back in with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver), determined to rebuild his life and win back his wife, Nikki, despite everyone telling him she’s moved on.

He meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), whose cop husband recently died, and rumor has it she’s dealing with her grief by turning into the town slut. Their lack of social skills and edit buttons make others wary, but the two form a tenuous bond that lead to surprising discoveries about themselves.

The biggest surprise for me was finding that Cooper could act. I’ve never been a fan because I’ve never been able to sympathize with any of his characters (this includes Will on Alias). Not only is he sympathetic here, he takes on mental illness, one of the two hardest conditions to portray convincingly—the other is drunkenness—because the inclination is to overdo it.

But Pat desperately wants to show how well he’s coping post-treatment so Cooper suppresses the crazies, keeping his character grounded while allowing us to see that the cracks are right beneath the surface and could reappear any moment. Pat is not so much unhinged as someone who’s passionate and idealistic and doesn’t understand why the rest of the world doesn’t feel the same way.

Lawrence is even more impressive as the only person who does understand Pat. She has never been more alluring and self-assured than she is here. She goes toe to toe with De Niro in one scene and comes out on top (it’s written that way but still takes a skilled thespian to pull it off). She’s not a girl but a woman on fire; this is a mature, full-blooded performance from a young actress who keeps getting better. I think a long career is ahead of her if she wants it, and an Oscar nomination is almost certain for this role.

In adapting Matthew Quick’s novel, director-writer David O. Russell, a gifted but inconsistent auteur, has crafted his most mainstream, uplifting movie yet. Among its pleasures is its unpredictability. The story takes odd turns, making me ask at times, “Where is this going?” and “How did we get here?” The answer is by Russell throwing out the playbook of Hollywood cliches.

Nerd verdict: Silver Linings has a shot at Oscar gold

Photos: The Weinstein Company


ANNA KARENINA Review + Notes from Q&A with Joe Wright & Keira Knightley

I attended a Variety screening Monday night of Anna Karenina, and stayed afterward for the Q&A with director Joe Wright and Keira Knightley. It’s the kind of movie that benefits from such a chat.

For the latest adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novel about a married woman who falls in love with another man and is destroyed by her affair, Wright and company decided to take the highly stylized, theatrical route, placing many of the scenes on an actual stage with props and matte paintings in the background, revealed by velvet curtains. Everything is heightened, and how much you like it will depend on how willing you are to forgo realism. If you’re a Baz Luhrmann fan, you’ll probably love this.

I respect Wright for undertaking this bold experiment, and parts of it are engaging. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick Ass) and Keira Knightley, in opulent costumes, have potent chemistry as Anna and Count Vronsky, making us yearn for them to be together almost as much as they do. Jude Law needed to be dumbed down quite a bit to play the dull, cuckholded Karenin, but his subtle performance is convincing and sympathetic.

Wright is clever in using the stage setting to convey the idea of a much bigger space, and to transition between scenes. Anna goes from a ballroom to her home by simply climbing a set of stairs. She sits down in a chair in her drawing room, but parts the curtains and the scenery outside indicates she’s on a moving train. Because of the stylization, punctuated by a rhythmic score, the actors’ movements—Knightley’s most of all—are precisely choreographed, but the cast makes the “dance” look like second nature, performing what Wright calls “a ballet with words.”

The energy can’t be sustained, though, and once the passion cools between Anna and Vronsky, I started to lose interest in the movie.

After the screening, the director explained that he was trying to get closer to “the expressive interior landscape of the characters” and felt he couldn’t do it with realism. Setting most of the action on an actual stage seemed appropriate, since Russian society at the time “was performing their lives…they wanted to be French.” The people spoke French, wore French fashion, so when Anna gets up in the morning, Wright shows her getting dressed like an actress about to step in front of the footlights.

During the Q&A, Knightley came across smart, funny, articulate, and passionate in her defense of Anna. When the moderator asked how the actress approached playing a character some readers find loathsome, Knightley said, “I didn’t like her. I loved her.” She explained that she’s in no position to judge a woman who’s flawed by her humanity, who hurts those she loves most, because Knightley herself is sometimes guilty of such behavior. She added, “How can you not feel for a creature who’s suffering?”

Wrights wrapped up the evening by admitting this movie is an experiment, saying “filmmakers have an obligation to experiment.” It may not have been a complete success, but I appreciate Wright and his team giving the text a daring new interpretation.

Nerd verdict: A bold—if not entirely successful—experiment

Photos: Laurie Sparham/Focus Features


Nerdy Special List November 2012

Here are the November titles we enjoyed:



From Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts:

The Right Hand by Derek Haas (Nov. 13, Mulholland Books) is an action-packed spy thriller. Haas introduces his American spy, Austin Clay, in the first of what will hopefully be a continuing series. Clay is a traditional loner, but a character readers will quickly embrace as a genre favorite. With fully realized characters, well-timed plot twists, and subtle humor, Haas keeps his readers invested until the very end. And then he leaves them wanting more Austin Clay.

From Jenn at The Picky Girl:

In A Royal Pain by Megan Mulry (Nov. 1, Sourcebooks Landmark), Bronte Talbott is a flourishing ad exec in New York, trying to prove her worth to her dead father, whose intellect and self importance always got in the way of a father-daughter relationship. After a move to Chicago and heartbreak, Bronte is hesitant when she meets Max, a handsome Brit she runs into at a bookstore. Telling him up front that all she wants is something casual, Bronte keeps Max at a distance. But Max, confident and persuasive, wants more, which could be difficult as he’s not just a Brit…he’s also a duke who must uphold the family title.

My responses while reading: “I love Bronte!” “I hate Bronte!” “I love Bronte!” “I LOVE Max.” Though at times this book made me roll my eyes with the typical women’s fiction “barrier” to the romance and the need of the heroine to constantly deny her feelings, I must admit this was a fun read, especially for a woman who dreams of meeting a handsome man in a bookstore…

From Danielle at There’s a Book:

Diverse Energies edited by Tobias S. Buckell and Joe Monti (Oct. 1, Tu Books) This new YA dystopian sci-fi anthology, Diverse Energies, edited by Tobias S. Buckell and Joe Monti (Oct. 1, Tu Books), features an incredible list of authors. From Paolo Bacigalupi to Malinda Lo to Cindy Pon and more, there’s bound to be an author in the group readers will have heard of, if not read previously. Each brings a rich and diverse cast of characters to their individual story within the collection, making this the perfect read for anyone looking for a great dystopian and/or sci-fi read. For me, not only was the genre a huge draw, but the anthology factor played a huge part. During this busy time of year, with activities and holidays coming practically every day until after the new year, it’s nice to have a book filled with fantastic stories by talented authors that you can pick up and read when you have ten or fifteen minutes to spare. Diverse Energies is a quick, well-written and -edited anthology that I’m certain will be just the book  for those of us who love to read, but may be rushed this time of year!

Ed.’s note: This ARC had a November pub date, but the book was moved up to October.

PCN’s recommendation:

While some people like to peek in others’ bathroom cabinets when they visit their homes, I like to peruse their bookshelves, which I think are good indicators of how a person thinks, what their interests are, perhaps even their dreams. (If they don’t have any bookshelves, I judge them harshly and leave immediately.)

My Ideal Bookshelf, by Thessaly La Force and illustrated by Jane Mount (Nov. 13; Little, Brown), allows me to look at some well-known people’s bookshelves right from my reclining sofa. It’s a thrill to see what books have shaped them, to learn tidbits such as Michael Chabon reads Sherlock Holmes, James Franco’s shelf is overflowing with classics, David Sedaris’s collection is full of sad stories because he believes “humor needs some aspect of tragedy in order to be memorable.” It was also fun to see the shelf of one of my favorite authors, Robert Crais, without having to climb up his drainpipe and peek through his window, and though I don’t read James Patterson’s books, I applaud his placing Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon and Don Winslow’s California Fire and Life on the list of books he reveres.

Note: Check out the Pinterest sweepstakes going on right now to win a painting by Jane Mount of your ideal bookshelf, or autographed books. You can also chat with the authors and some of the contributors on Twitter tomorrow, Nov. 13, by using the hashtag #myidealbookshelf.


Once again, I really like the diversity of this month’s list. Hope you find something to your liking. Which November releases are you looking forward to reading?


Movie Discussion: SKYFALL

The AFI Fest started last week (wrapping up today) and for the third year, I’ve been attending as a press member. Last night was the annual “Secret Screening,” revealed at the last minute as Skyfall. Guess who fell out of her chair when she read that announcement?

Mr. PCN and I hustled down to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, and following are our reactions to the 23rd James Bond movie, directed by Sam Mendes and starring Daniel Craig, Dame Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, and Naomie Harris. The spoiler-free plotline is that things get personal for M.

Mr. PCN: I love the title sequence. Reminds me no one else does it like that.

PCN: It was gorgeous and hypnotic. I can’t hum Adele’s tune, though.

Mr. PCN: As with most Bond movies, the opening action was awesome.

PCN: It was intense. Love how the audience cheered when he first appeared.

Mr. PCN: Craig is wonderful, but he looks a little more beat-up than usual. It makes sense in context of the plot, but was still startling.

PCN: Like you said, he had to look like that, considering all that happens to him in just the first fifteen minutes. Makes him more human. But then he puts on those Tom Ford suits and all is right with the world again. I was obsessed with those suits! They could cut you, they were so sharp. They fit him so well, in silhouette he looked naked.

Mr. PCN: *rolls eyes*

PCN: These are astute observations. Costumes are an important part of cinema.

Mr. PCN: Uh-huh. Moving on to Bardem. It’s no surprise he shines as the villain. His performance is flawless, and the flirtation scene between him and Bond is hilarious.

PCN: Bardem is mesmerizing. He’s so unpredictable; I could never tell when he was going to smile at someone or kill them. He doesn’t overdo the villainy, but instead exudes charm and humor, which makes him even scarier, a la Hannibal Lecter. And his introduction via that one long take in which he does the monologue while walking slowly toward the camera is well done. What’s with him and ugly character hairdos, though?

Mr. PCN: Ha! What I want to know is: Why is Bérénice Marlohe getting so much press when her Sévérine is so underwhelming?

PCN: I agree. Naomie Harris, though, is sexy because she’s smart and competent.

Mr. PCN: She’s more of a driving force. Q is bit of a conundrum. He’s not as fun as John Cleese or Desmond Llewelyn. And Q’s gotta have fun with Bond and his gadgets.

PCN: And he’s not that smart. Makes mistakes, and is kind of slow to realize things that seem obvious to viewers. Not Ben Whishaw’s fault, though, more the way the role was written. What did you think of the action sequences?

Mr. PCN: The opening train-and-crane is the best.

PCN: Yeah. Supposedly, most of the stunts were real, not CGI’d. Craig had to fight on a moving train, tethered to a safety line, and told not to look down.

Mr. PCN: Komodo dragon was good, too. Short and snappy.

PCN: The Shanghai fight was nicely shot, against the neon lights and shadows.

Mr. PCN: But it was kind of confusing.

PCN: Yes! I wish some of the fights were filmed in two-shots so we could see the choreography more. As is, there are a lot of fast cuts and closeups. I couldn’t see the moves or tell what was going on sometimes.

Mr. PCN: I enjoyed the nods to early Bond films, like the Aston Martin DB5.

PCN: With the original plate from Goldfinger! And when Q gives Bond simple gadgets and says, “Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that anymore.”

Mr. PCN: I don’t think this breaks any new ground, but harkens back to vintage Bond.

PCN: I think it’s both old and new. Several important elements were reinvented, but with reverence to what’s gone before.

Verdicts: Mr. PCN—Skyfall floats, but doesn’t rise; PCN–Skyfall‘s a solid soldier

Note: Besides the AFI Fest, the Variety Screening Series has also begun. Check back soon for reviews of Anna Karenina, Hitchcock, Silver Linings Playbook, and Life of Pi.

Photos: Francois Duhamel/Columbia Pictures