Monthly Archives

January 2015

Movie Review: CAKE

cake one sheetLast fall, when raves came out of the Toronto International Film Festival about Jennifer Aniston’s “Oscar-worthy,” vanity-free performance in Cake (in limited release now), I was doubtful. Just because an actress goes without makeup doesn’t mean she deserves an award for it. Then I went to a screening, where Aniston also did Q&A, and walked out thinking this is her best performance to date.

Aniston plays Claire, a woman suffering from chronic pain after a traumatic incident, though we don’t know at first exactly what happened. We see that Claire, who has long scars on her face and body, has stopped taking care of herself and become a bitter woman. The only person who seems to care about her is her housekeeper Silvana (Adriana Barazza), but as Claire snaps, “I pay her to care about me.”

We see Claire in group therapy, pop pills, be cranky with people. It doesn’t sound like much happens, but Claire’s journey toward healing is never boring and even funny, with Aniston holding interest in every frame.

Aniston said in the Q&A that night—and elsewhere—that this role is the most challenging one she’s ever had and it’s clear she committed fully to it. She didn’t just go without makeup and shampoo, stopped working out, applied some scars, and left it at that. The stiff way Aniston moves, the tiny winces that flutter across her face when she’s in a car on a bumpy ride (Claire has to recline all the way back while Silvana drives her), and the biting way she talks all make viewers feel Claire’s acute pain without Aniston having to overdo it.

Viewers would experience a different kind of pain while watching Cake if Claire were a self-pitying drag, but she’s prickly and sardonic, providing much needed levity. Some of Claire’s remarks in group therapy are grossly inappropriate but they got laughs from the audience.

Writer Patrick Tobin makes a risky choice in not allowing viewers to know right away the cause of Claire’s grief—does it justify her brash behavior toward others?—and even when the revelation happens late in the movie, it’s done subtly with details withheld. But this structure works. It shows Tobin’s and director Daniel Barnz’s trust in the audience to fill in what’s not being spoon-fed to us.

After last week’s Oscar nominations were announced, much was said about Aniston being snubbed for best actress, that Marion Cotillard, nominated for Two Days, One Night, got the slot Aniston should’ve received. I do think Aniston deserves to be in the top five, but not that Cotillard shouldn’t be there. If one actress had to be bumped to make room for Aniston, I would’ve chosen Reese Witherspoon in Wild.

Speaking of people who should’ve been nominated, it makes no sense to me that Barazza hasn’t received any awards attention. Silvana’s heart balances out Claire’s crabbiness. Having Barazza as a scene partner during much of the movie could only have helped Aniston’s performance.

Several name actors also show up in supporting and cameo roles, including Anna Kendrick, William H. Macy and his real-life wife Felicity Huffman, Sam Worthington, Chris Messina—each is spot on. But this is Aniston’s movie, and those who still think she plays herself or Rachel Green in every movie will see she’s really not Friendly here.

Nerd verdict: Aniston sinks teeth into Cake


Quick Thoughts on SAG Awards 2015

The SAG Awards may have a lower profile than the Golden Globes and the Oscars, but it’s the most personal awards show for me because I get to vote for the winners.

This year I did well in the movie categories—4 of the 5 winners received my vote: Eddie Redmayne for best actor in The Theory of Everything (he is not an upset over Michael Keaton!), Julianne Moore for best actress in Still Alice, J.K. Simmons for best supporting actor in Whiplash, and the Birdman cast for best ensemble. I knew Patricia Arquette would win best supporting actress for Boyhood but I thought Emma Stone’s performance in Birdman had the edge.

My choices didn’t fare as well in the TV categories because I don’t watch as much TV these days as I used to, and when I do, it’s usually binge-watching BBC series.

I voted for Homeland for best dramatic ensemble (Downton Abbey won) because it just concluded its best season since its first. The too-quiet finale aside, almost every episode was so suspenseful, if not outright shocking, I had to watch through my fingers with only one eye. If you gave up on this show after the terrible third season (that whole Dana arc made me want to pull my own fingernails out), I recommend you take another look.

I did get Mark Ruffalo right for best actor in a TV movie or miniseries. He won for The Normal Heart. This was a tough one for me because he was up against Benedict Cumberbatch for Sherlock.

There were some really good, heartfelt, gracious, witty acceptance speeches. Moore remembering how excited she was to play evil twins on As the World Turns, only to realize “it was super boring” to act by herself. Redmayne thanking Stephen Hawking and his former wife Jane for reminding him of “the will to love, and the will to live every second of your life as fully and as passionately as possible.” Simmons getting excited about his wife writing and directing now “because it’s more jobs for me.”

But the speech that resonated most with me was Viola Davis’s, who won best dramatic TV actress for How to Get Away with Murder. She thanked the people who gave her the role for “thinking that a sexualized, messy, mysterious woman could be a 49-year-old dark-skinned, African-American woman that looks like me.” It can’t be said enough that people come in all shapes and colors and ages in the real world, and it’d be nice if we can see more diversity on the screen.

This was the first year I personally knew not just one but two people in the In Memoriam segment, Meshach Taylor and Misty Upham. It was a sobering moment.














Regarding the fashion, I didn’t see much that wowed me so I’ll just leave you with the best dressed of the evening, bar none—Lupita! She is perfection every time.

lupita sag awards 2015

For a complete list of winners and transcripts of their speeches, go here.


A Peek Inside My TBR Stack

As I was perusing the opening passages of books I’ll be reading over the next month or so, for myself and for Shelf Awareness, I thought it’d be fun to share them with you. We all like discovering new books and authors, right? Several of these are new to me, and in a couple of cases that’s because the novels are the authors’ first.

Here’s the stack:

TBR stack Jan 2015

And the openings:

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

I may have found a solution to the Wife Project. As with so many scientific breakthroughs, the answer was obvious in retrospect. But had it not been for a series of unscheduled events, it is unlikely I would’ve have discovered it.

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

Orange juice was not scheduled for Fridays. Although Rosie and I had abandoned the Standardized Meal System, resulting in an improvement in “spontaneity” at the expense of shopping time, food inventory, and wastage, we had agreed that each week should include three alcohol-free days. Without proper scheduling, this target proved difficult to achieve, as I had predicted. Rosie eventually saw the logic of my solution.

Canary by Duane Swierczynski

November 27

Hi, Mom. Last night I got arrested. (Sort of.)

I’m writing this so I can sort out the details, just like Dad taught me. He always said things have a weird way of making sense once you write them down. Putting this on physical paper (and not on the laptop) for a number of reasons:

1. These days you have to assume that anything you type on a computer or cell phone can be read by some random geek anywhere in the world

2. Nobody can ever see this, and I don’t want some random geek trolling for revenge porn yanking it off my laptop

3. Paper burns

My Sunshine Away by M. O. Walsh

There were four suspects in the rape of Lindy Simpson, a crime that occurred directly on top of the sidewalk of Piney Creek Road, the same sidewalk our parents had once hopefully carved their initials into, years before, as residents of the first street in the Woodland Hills subdivision to have houses on each lot. It was a crime impossible in the daylight, when we neighborhood kids would have been tearing around in go-karts, coloring chalk figures on our driveways, or chasing snakes down into storm gutters. But, at night, the streets of Woodland Hills sat empty and quiet, except for the pleasure of frogs greeting the mosquitoes that rose in squadrons from the swamps behind our properties.

All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer


There’s a delay taking off from San Francisco—caused, I’m guessing, by an overburdened airport, but no one will tell us for sure. At times like this, sitting stalled on the tarmac, it’s easy to think apocalyptically—airports at the bursting point, highways clogged with SUVs helmed by citizens in meltdown, smog alerts and gridlocked emergency rooms, corridors lined with the bleeding. When you’re in California this kind of vision explodes into grandiosity, and you imagine the earth ripping apart, spilling all this overconsumption, all the cell phones and seaside villas and hopeful young starlets noisily into the sea. It almost feels like a blessing.

Dark Rooms by Lili Anolik

The first time I saw Nica after she died was at Jamie Amory’s Fourth of July party. I’d slipped into the study, dark and cool and strictly off-limits, was crossing the carpet to get to the liquor cabinet, when I felt someone behind me. I paused, flesh prickling. Slowly I began to turn. A set of doors, French. On the other side of the glass, a girl. I didn’t run, didn’t move, didn’t even breathe, just stood there looking, looking, this girl so familiar: straight black hair, narrow nose, scarlet bloom of mouth, top lip nearly as fat as bottom. My skin recognized her before I did, rippling once then tightening on my bones.

My sister, Nica.

Done in One by Grant Jerkins and Jan Thomas

White. Nothing but white. Stretching to the horizon in every direction, infinite and limitless and as full of potential as an unpainted canvas or a child’s soul—pure, clean, unsoiled. But that will change.

The Swimmer by Joakim Zander

July 1980

Damascus, Syria

Every time I hold you is the last time I hold you. I’ve known that since the very first time. And when you came back, and I held our child in my sleepless arms, all I could think was, this is the last time.

The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen

The reader was at first surprised, then shocked, as the criminal Raskolnikov was abruptly slain in the middle of the street, right before her eyes. Sonya, the hooker with the heart of gold, shot him through the heart. It happened midway through an essay on the Dostoevsky classic.

See anything you like?

Since you’ve read this far, I’m happy to say that not only am I sharing these openings with you, I’d like to give you the chance to win two books from this stack: The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect.

Project was an international bestseller and one of the best reviewed books of 2013, with its movie rights optioned by Sony Pictures. Effect is the just-released sequel. The first is a paperback copy and the latter will be hardcover.

To enter, leave a comment telling me what kind of effect you have on other people. As usual, fanciful answers and outright lies are encouraged.

Giveaway ends Tuesday, January 27, 9 p.m. PST. US residents only, per publisher’s request.  Winner will be randomly selected and have 48 hours after notification to claim prize before an alternate winner is chosen.


Thoughts on Oscar Nominations 2015

Since the Oscar nominations were announced at dark o’clock this morning, many articles have appeared griping about the snubs. I’m surprised, too, that certain frontrunners weren’t nominated—Gillian Flynn being ignored for Gone Girl‘s screenplay is most confounding—but there were also some wonderful surprise nominations, which I’d rather discuss.

american_sniperThough Bradley Cooper had been ignored by virtually all awards organizations, I was telling Mr. PCN last night I’d look for his name among best-actor nominees for his work in American Sniper. I think because his performance is subtle instead of showy, its award-worthiness wasn’t obvious, but his underplaying of Chris Kyle’s PTSD is what makes it so affecting and memorable.

I’m thrilled to see Marion Cotillard nominated for Two Days, One Night. Her performance as Sandra, a woman suffering from depression who has to go door to door begging her coworkers for their support so that she can get her job back, is painful to watch. The radiant actress completely disappears in the vanity-free role of a woman on the verge of giving up who slowly finds her strength again.

Laura Dern as "Bobbi" in WILD.I whooped when I saw Laura Dern’s name in the supporting actress category. She was the best thing in Wild and I couldn’t understand why she’d been ignored by everyone else. So happy she made the Academy’s list. Voters must’ve read my reviews for Sniper and Wild :). (Her mom, Diane Ladd, taking out full-page ads in the trades to implore voters to see and vote for Dern probably helped, too.)

In the documentary feature category, I was very heartened to see Rory Kennedy’s Last Days in Vietnam. I am still talking about this movie with family and friends, and it’ll be even more timely come April.

Probably my favorite song from any movie I saw last year was “Lost Stars” from Begin Again. I could not stop humming and singing that song for at least a week afterward. I guess it became an earworm for Academy voters, too, because it got a nomination for best song. Since both Adam Levine and Keira Knightley performed it in the movie, I hope they’ll do a duet for the Oscars broadcast. Check out the video of Knightley singing it below. I thought her version was sweeter.

Which nominations were you most excited about? See the complete list here.


Book Review: THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins

Several months ago I read You by Caroline Kepnes, which was engrossing, but all the characters were horrible people and I couldn’t give a whit what happened to them. When they encountered very bad things, all I could do was shrug.


Thoughts on the Golden Globes 2015

tina & amy gg 2015Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, in their third and final outing as hosts, were my main reason for watching, and they landed some good jokes, though the show seemed less funny this year than it had been in the past. The biggest laughs for me came when they played “Would you rather…”—asking each other which movie star they’d rather sleep with.

One choice was between Richard Linklater, the director of Boyhood, and Alejandro González Iñárritu, who directed Birdman. Poehler picked Iñárritu: “One take, two hours straight, no stopping.” (This was how Birdman was shot.) Fey said, “Linklater—five minutes, once a year.” (Boyhood was filmed only a few days every year for twelve years.)

When asked to pick between Colin Farrell or Colin Firth, Poehler said, “Farrell, all day!” while Fey said, “Firth, for a polite amount of time.”

Regarding the awards, I predicted/agreed with most of the winners, especially Eddie Redmayne for best dramatic movie actor in The Theory of Everything, Julianne Moore for best dramatic movie actress in Still Alice, and J.K. Simmons for best supporting actor in Whiplash. I don’t think you can see their performances in their respective movies and not be impressed.

I was underwhelmed by the batch of nominated best pictures this year—most are perfectly good ones but none made me say, “Wow!” Out of the choices, I’m OK with Boyhood winning best dramatic movie. Was surprised The Grand Budapest Hotel won for best comedy movie but I’m OK with that, too, since none of the other nominees rocked my boat, either.

You can see a full list of winners here.

Now, let’s move on to the fashion, which is more fun to discuss, right?

As usual, Mr. PCN is my co-commentator for the night. Below are our thoughts.

Allison Williams

Allison Williams

Mr. PCN: Her dress is made of Elmo.

naomi-watts gg2015

Naomi Watts

PCN: This is like butter—smooth and delicious. One of my two favorites of the evening.

Julianne Moore

Julianne Moore

PCN: She’s going to be in the Birdman sequel—Birdwoman.

Lana del Rey

Lana Del Rey

Mr. PCN: Fresh from The Little Mermaid spring collection.

Lupita Nyong'o

Lupita Nyong’o

PCN: Lupita! That is all.

Jennifer Lopez

Jennifer Lopez

PCN: The cape makes her look like Superstripper.

NBC's "72nd Annual Golden Globe Awards" - Arrivals

Keira Knightley

PCN: She said it took 30 people to make this dress. Why? And were they school children doing an entomology project?

Rosamund Pike

Rosamund Pike

PCN: This dress needs to be gone from her closet.

Dakota Johnson

Dakota Johnson

PCN: Very sparkly and sleek, and it makes me think she’s about to transform into the T-1000.

Claire Danes

Claire Danes

PCN: What the heck is this??
Mr. PCN: Exactly!

Conchita Wurst

Conchita Wurst

Mr. PCN: Come on, ladyman, pick a team!

Amy Adams

Amy Adams

PCN: My other favorite look of the evening, besides Naomi Watts’s. If the train didn’t have wet spots from the rained-on carpet, this would’ve been flawless.

Matt Bomer

Matt Bomer

PCN: Sharpest-dressed man. Damn, that is one fine…tux.

Benedict Cumberbatch & fiancée Sophie Hunter

Benedict Cumberbatch & fiancée Sophie Hunter

PCN: Cutest couple.

Did you watch the show? What were the highlights for you? Whose looks did you like?

Photos: Williams, Nyong’o, Lopez, Moore, Danes, Bomer, Cumberbatch & Hunter/AP; Del Rey, Pike, Knightley, Wurst, Johnson/Getty Images


Favorite Books and Movies of 2014

Happy Friday! How was your first full week of 2015?

I returned from vacation a few days ago and really enjoyed being off grid. Now I have to find my cell phone and remember my social-media passwords.

I might be a little late but wanted to post my list of favorite books and movies from 2014 before I start discussing new releases. Click on the links to read my full reviews.

Favorite movies

The first two are for pure entertainment value because I enjoyed the heck out of them, and the last two are gut-wrenching films—coincidentally both about war and its effects—that haunt me still.


Edge of Tomorrow

Last Days in Vietnam

American Sniper


Favorite Books

big little liesBig Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Closed Doors by Lisa O’Donnell

The Intern’s Handbook by Shane Kuhn

Love Story, with Murders by Harry Bingham

North of Boston by Elisabeth Elo

Malice by Keigo Higashino

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta

Watching You by Michael Robotham

Which movies and books did you enjoy from last year? Which are you looking forward to in the next few weeks and months?