Archive for October 2010

Casting News of Extreme Joy!: Arnold Vosloo

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Arnold Vosloo has been cast on Bones as "Evil Booth!" He'll play a rogue sniper in a 3 episode arc next Spring, according to Ausiello. Everyone who knows me knows I love both the Mummy movies (non Rachel Weisz movies don't count!), and one of the crowning joys is "Imhotep! Imhotep! Imhotep!". etc.

Things That Make Me Happy: My New Hero

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"No man treats a motor car as foolishly as he treats another human being. When the car will not go, he does not attribute its annoying behavior to sin, he does not say, 'You are a wicked motorcar, and I shall not give you any more petrol until you go.'" - Bertrand Russell

 First, watch this video:

Second, read the accompanying article and comments:
Good Men Project

Third, thank God, Buddha, and the Spaghetti Monster that there are still people with the courage of their convictions in the United States. To the politicians and pro-life activists that have sold out women on reproductive rights, you are not just hurting those supposedly real women who have monthly abortions before their mimosa brunches. You are hurting families who have already agonized over their decision.

You go, Aaron.

Halloween Round-Up

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Ah, October . . . 

When there's a chill in the air and a pumpkin on every doorstep and Halloween is just around the corner. And what better way to celebrate that last fact than by reading something . . . spirited? Spooky? Spine-tingling? 


But if you're like me, you're probably sick and tired of reading the same ol' same ol' each and every/.,km year. "If I have to re-read Dracula one more time," you say. Or, "What? Another Edgar Allen Poe story? Again?!"

And that's where I come in, dear reader. Because I am here to help you find something new and sufficiently spook--or, at the very least, help you avoid anything outright lame. What follows is my list of picks and pans for creative Halloween-themed reading. Enjoy them . . . if you dare! Buwahahahaha!

* * * * *

Grimm's Complete Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm.

I know, I know. "Fairy tales?" you say. "I'm asking for scary stories and you're recommending fairy tales?!" Well . . . yes. But not just any fairy tales! The Brothers Grimm's fairy tales. And that makes all the difference. Because these are not the sugary-sweet stories you knew and loved as a child.


My childhood Cinderella was a kind, sweet, forgiving girl, a girl who most definitely did not have her stepsisters' eyeballs plucked out by birds at her story's end. 

"Soon, my pretties. Soon."
And my childhood Snow White? Most definitely did not make her stepmother dance to death in red-hot iron shoes, not matter how wicked she may have been.

"Wait. What kind of shoes did you say are in here?
And you want me to do what with them?"
And that is just the tip of the iceberg, my friends. Because these 200-plus stories contain enough violence, death, and all-around depravity to make the witch from "Hansel and Gretel" look sweet by comparison--and she wanted to eat everybody!

You don't even want to know what is happening
in this illustration. Seriously. 
All of which makes these tales of magic and mayhem, witches and wolves, ghosts and goblins, perfect for reading on Halloween. Just make sure to leave the lights on when you do!

My rating: pick!
* * * * *
The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories by H. P. Lovecraft:

A collection of short stories from one of the horror genre's most celebrated authors. And why is Lovecraft so celebrated? Because he was the first to discard gothic constructs--ghosts and witches and whatnot--and instead envision mankind as a tiny outpost of sanity in an otherwise chaotic and malevolent universe. More specifically, he envisioned his protagonists losing said sanity upon encountering a race of ancient and alien fish-people. That's right--fish-people. Dum dum dum!

"I will destroy everything you know and love!"

Although, to be fair, they're more like octopus/dragon/human hybrids, as demonstrated by the oh-so-lovely Cthulhu below:

"You like?"
Yes, it seems Cthulhu and the rest of his sexy brethren are lying in wait deep beneath the sea, dreaming of the day when they will once again rise to lay waste to the world above--and humanity with it.

Honestly? I know a lot of famous author--Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, and Neil Gaiman included--looooooove Lovecraft, but I just don’t get his stuff. It doesn’t seem scary to me. Just . . . weird. Really weird. Really he-obviously-should-have-sought-counseling-for-how-much-he-clearly-feared-seafood weird. But that's just me. 

My rating: pan!
* * * * *
Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill:

A horror novel written by Stephen King's son. I know, sounds like nepotism run amok, doesn't it? But Hill totally brings it in this page-turner of a ghost story centered on one Judas Coyne, former heavy metal rocker and current retiree/collection enthusiast.

I don't have a picture for this entry. So look! A ghostie!
So what's Coyne collecing? Some pretty icky stuff: a cookbook for cannibals; a used hangman's noose; a snuff film; and, most recently, a ghost he found for sale on the Internet, gift-wrapped and delivered to his door in a shiny heart-shaped box. 

Big mistake.

Because this ghost is real. Very real. And it's out for revenge . . .

Not the best description, but trust me, it's a great Halloween read. Fun, frightening--and addictive, too! Exactly the sort of thing you want to stay up late into the night reading. 

But, again, be sure to leave those lights on when you do . . .

My rating: pick!
* * * * * 

From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury:

Looking for something more chilling than thrilling? Then look no further than this creepy collection of short stories about "the Family," a close-knit clan of vampires, ghosts, ghouls, and other stranger things still: A Thousand Times Great Grandmere, a walking mummy who roamed the Nile's shores over 4,000 years ago; Uncle Einar, who flies through the night sky on giant bat wings; strange Cecy, whose mind can go anywhere and see anything without her body ever stirring; and young Timothy, a foundling child raised by the Family though he is not--and can never be--one of them. Because he and he alone among them is mortal, so he and he alone must age and wither and die . . .

Sound familiar? Sound like The Addams Family redux? Trust me, it's not. Because this Family is more dark and dangerous than the comedic Addams could ever be. They are the things that go bump in the night, and they do mean you harm.

Not the Family. 
Still, Bradbury manages to make them sympathetic--almost likable--without ever being too malicious. Their trials and tribulations are oddly affecting, and their place in the world, in Bradbury’s skilled hands, oddly thought-provoking. The result? A collection that’s at once eerie and understated--the perfect thing to curl up with on All Hallows’ Eve. 

My rating: pick!

* * * * *

Button, Button: Uncanny Stories by Richard Matheson:

A collection of short stories from the author of I Am Legend. Not horrors stories, per se, so much as tales that examine the darker side of human nature. In the title story, for example, a couple is given a push-button unit and told that if they hit it they will receive 50,000 dollars. Also, someone, somewhere, will die. To hit the button or not? That is the question. 

Ever see the movie version of "Button, Button," aka The Box?
No? Lucky you. 

Most of the other stories pose similar ethical quandaries, almost always ending with an all-too-predictable "twist." My opinion of Matheson? Interesting, but overrated.   

My rating: pan!

And last but certainly not least . . .

* * * * *

Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman:

Is there a more versatile fantasy writer alive today than Neil Gaiman? If so, I certainly haven’t come across him or her. Because Gaiman can slip from fantasy to horror to comedy and back again as easily as the rest of us can pick up our pens. 

"I'm a genius!"

Luckily for us, he uses that talent to full effect in this short story collection that both frightens and amuses. Heck, he even pays homage to some of the other authors on this list with his Lovecraftian “Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar” and Bradbury-esque “Don’t Ask Jack.” And he honors the Grimms with not one but two fairy tale retellings (see? told you fairytales are scary!) in “Troll Bridge,” an updated version of “The Three Billy Goats Gruff*,” and “Snow, Glass, Apples,” an extremely excellent retelling of “Snow White” with a vampiric twist.

Turns out the Queen was right:
Snow White's just a bitch.

My own personal favorite, however, has got to be "The Price," which is about a black cat, the devil, and the unfortunate family caught in between. Spooooooooky stuff!

My rating: pick!

*And, yes, I know the Grimms didn't actually include "The Billy Goats Gruff" in their infamous collection. But a fairy tale is a fairy tale. Get over it, picky. 

I Know Something You Don't: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

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Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was always my favorite Indy movie, for quite a few reasons:

-Julian Glover as villain!
-Inherently over-the-top conclusion!
-Stunning special effects for the time!
-Weird Nazi book-burning subplot!
-John Rhys-Davies!

But most importantly, it was very very funny (and intentionally funny, unlike Temple of Doom).

And now I know why. According to this terrific bit of information,  Tom Stoppard rewrote almost every line of dialogue in the whole movie! (Tom Stoppard is most famous for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (brilliant and hilarious) and for writing the screenplay for Shakespeare In Love (another candidate for criminally overrated, mind you).

He also was invited, along with M. Night Shyamalan, to draft a script for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but lost out to David Koepp (screenwriter of Jurassic Park!).



What is this movie, and where can I see it? AND HOW DID I NOT KNOW ABOUT IT?!?


Things That Make Me Happy: TV Couple Of The Day (Year?)

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Something that gives me great joy every time I think about it is the fact that Amy Poehler and Will Arnett are married! (And have already produced 2 future comedy geniuses?)

Has there ever been another married couple who so frequently show up on each other's shows??

The photo that inspired this post:

Back when I was first introduced to the fact they were married (I tried to find the photo where she was  committed Abu Ghraib on Gob, but screw you internet. And yes I am too lazy to screencap my DVD.):

As incestuous brother and sister on Blades of Glory:

When he creepily tried to MRI her on Parks and Recreation:

And just for funsies:

Epic Fail: New Version of The Crow!

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It's bad enough that they're making a new version of The Crow at all, but I received a tiny bit of news today that disgusted me.

Thankfully he has yet to accept (and if there is a God, he won't), but the initial offer of the role has gone to....MARK WAHLBERG!

Horrible. The Crow is one of the only comic book adaptations that Hollywood got right with the first try. It perfectly balanced that fine line between camp and classic.

Dear Hollywood, please leave Sandman on the shelf is this is your idea of an effective adaptation.

Oscarbait 2010: Winter's Bone


Two million dollars was all it took for Debra Granik to make the best film of the year, with superb performances from its young leads, and no sacrifice of atmosphere. Jennifer Lawrence stars in this tale of survival in the land of Ozark hillbillies, where the family trade is crystal meth and livestock are the only currency.

Like Precious and Fish Tank, the story revolves around the desperation of one young girl facing a life of extreme poverty and deprivation. But Ree is a different animal; she's tough and she's hopeful, even faced with the knowledge that she might lose her only home thanks to her father's jumping bail. And so she is forced on her own Odyssean quest, facing temptations and threats at every pitstop on the way to the truth.

Winter's Bone has moments of unspeakable violence, proving that sometimes the most dangerous people around you are your own blood. And no one lets Ree down more than her kin, from her bail-jumper dad to her mentally unstable mother. But they're not half as terrifying as Ree's motley crew of 'cousins,' who we meet one-by-one, each with their own brand of domestic abuse, silent recriminations, or open threats.

Without such a compelling heroine, the film might have become unrelentingly bleak, but thankfully we have Ree Dolly to root for. Jennifer Lawrence has already been snapped up by Hollywood, with a lead roles coming up in the new X-Men film. Hopefully, Winter's Bone is just at the beginning of its award run, with the Sundance prize already in the bag.

Me And My Books

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Hey guys, I realize I've been quite un-generous with personal detail (ah, the world wide stalk-o-sphere), so I'm doing this so that you can get to know a little bit about me and my reading taste (and probably make fun of me, but oh well).

1. What author do you own the most books by?
For reasons having to do with frequent out-of-town tennis tournaments when I was younger, it's probably Robin Cook.

2. What book do you own the most copies of?
For some reason, I have three copies each of The Fountainhead and of Mrs. Dalloway. The Fountainhead because I love it, and have been frequently seized with a necessity to read it while living in different countries. Mrs. Dalloway, on the other hand, I keep picking up in charity shops because I forget I already have a copy (it took me years to finish this book, cause I kept picking it up and then forgetting about it!)

3. Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?
Should it worry me that I didn't notice or care?

4. What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
In my extreme youth I was in love with Frank Hardy (Hardy Boys), then when older, I was in love with Marius (Les Miserables), until I graduated to my true love, Bran, the man with the facial tattoo from Juliet Marillier's Son of the Shadows, Book II of the Sevenwaters Trilogy (I don't really read much fantasy, but I LOVED that series).

5. What book have you read the most times in your life (excluding picture books read to children)?
Hmmm…lots of children's books certainly. I have read Goblet of Fire many times, but probably not as much as particular Nancy Drew books, or Les Miserables. I particularly reread the one where Nancy hooks up with Frank Hardy a million times.

6. What was your favourite book when you were ten years old?
That would definitely be The Secret Garden.

7. What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year?
I hate to admit it, but it might be 2666, by Robert Bolano. I love his short stories, but this one was boring and pretentious (and I didn't finish it, though I might still try)

8. What is the best book you’ve read in the past year?
Easy. We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver.

9. If you could force everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be?
We Need to Talk About Kevin, it's just so disturbing and wonderful, and goes places you'd never expect.

10. Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for Literature?

11. What book would you most like to see made into a movie?
I want to see a proper, big budget adaptation of Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain. I LOVED them when I was young, and the Disney version of The Black Cauldron was dire (so dire, in fact, that Michael Eisner almost shut down their animation division afterwards).

12. What book would you least like to see made into a movie?
Oh, there are so many options here. I am very worried about the We Need To Talk About Kevin movie, but they've cast Tilda Swinton so there's still hope.

13. What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read?
The Golden Notebook, by Doris Lessing. Extremely difficult bits to get through, but I'm so glad I did.

14. Roth or Updike?
As David Foster Wallace describes them, 'The Great White American Narcissists.' (I'm surprised how often I've been able to use that quote of late). I vote for Richard Yates. Go read Easter Parade if you haven't.

David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?
Eggers wins this one by default, I've never read Sedaris (nor do I have any particular desire to!)

Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?

Austen or Eliot?
Again, this is Austen by default. I really should read Middlemarch at some point. But I somehow doubt that Eliot can transplant Austen in my heart.

Criminally Overrated: Fight Club


In one sentence: misogynistic twaddle.

Now let me say straight up, I am not one who puritanically hates violence in entertainment; a hallmark of a great film is violence used effectively in the service of character, comedy or horror. I DO have a problem with 'men can only take back their masculinity from evil modern women's equality by BEATING THE CRAP OUT OF EACH OTHER.' It feeds into this whole bullshit theory (that feminists are equally guilty of defending) that men have an innate NEED for violence, that their manhood is inherently tied up with brutality.

That said, I have a general disdain for any story that has a main theme of 'men being emasculated.' Again, the whole concept means there is a clearly defined version of what being a male means, and a feeling of emasculation usually reflects some form of misogny. This misogyny is further reflected by the fact that while the movie tells of the man-destroying feminization of the world, there is only one female character, and that female character is a balls-out male fantasy, ill equipped to challenge the movie's main point (though at least she doesn't confirm it).

This sort of surface deep analysis of social issues is rampant in the film. Now that we've got wussification of men out of the way, lets attack consumerism! In the stupidest, most idiotic, 'I wanna be a Red Army Faction Black Shirt but without any political ideology' kind of way. Back-fat soap is the instrument of horror, but like everything else in this movie, it's cheap and shallow.

Fight Club also commits the ultimate crime in fiction of any form; the illegitimate twist ending. An ending that completely removes the validity of the entire world the audience has been subjected to, an ending that exists only because the writer cannot be bothered to come up with something better.

I thought I was alone in hating this movie, but here are some of my more legitimate (employed!) brethren on the film:

Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times): "Fight Club" is the most frankly and cheerfully fascist big-star movie since "Death Wish," a celebration of violence in which the heroes write themselves a license to drink, smoke, screw and beat one another up."

Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian): "But, by the end, it has unravelled catastrophically into a strident, shallow, pretentious bore with a "twist" ending that doesn't work. And it is a film which smugly flirts, oh-so-very-controversially, with some of the intellectual and cultural paraphernalia of fascism - but does not have anything like the nerve, still less the cerebral equipment, to back this pose up."

And my personal favorite, by Lisa Schwarzbaum (Entertainment Weekly): "The giant international furnishings chain IKEA is responsible for many consumer-based phenomena, among them our docile acceptance of cheap, hinged desk lamps that droop like spent lilies. But I hadn't realized that overexposure to IKEA results in limp penises, too, until I saw Fight Club. David Fincher's dumb and brutal shock show of a movie floats the winky, idiotic premise that a modern-day onslaught of girly pop-cultural destinations (including but not limited to IKEA, support groups, and the whole Starbucks-Gap-khakis brand-name axis) has resulted in a generation of spongy young men unable to express themselves as fully erect males. And that the swiftest remedy for the malaise lies in freely and mutually beating the crap out of each other -- bleeding, oozing, cracking, and groaning until pulped bodies crumple to the floor in a poetically lit heap."

Gif of Glee: River Song

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Here we have River Song in all her glory:

Too Crazy To Be True: Ginny Thomas Prank Call!

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This week's edition goes a little bit beyond crazy and into stratospheric levels of looney-land. Extra crazy points for dredging up aftereffects of a 20 year old controversy.


You may remember Anita Hill from the legendary Clarence Thomas supreme court confirmation hearings. Hill had worked for Thomas for ten years prior to his nomination, and testified during the hearings that he had sexually harassed her on a number of occasions.

As the allegations could not be proved conclusively, Thomas was ultimately confirmed by the narrowest of majorities, and the case became a bulwark in new sexual harassment rules and legislation throughout the country. However, conservative hitman David Brock has since admitted that he used questionable methods to silence another witness, Kaye Savage, who would have corroborated Hill's testimony (his article is not online, but is in the June 1997 issue of Esquire magazine).

All in all, it was not one of the finest moments in American politics.

Anita Hill walked into her Brandeis University office this morning to a lovely message:

“Good morning, Anita Hill, it’s Ginny Thomas,” she said, according to ABC News. “I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband. So give it some thought and certainly pray about this and come to understand why you did what you did. Okay have a good day.”

Hill assumed that this was a dirty prank call, and called the cops. The story gained more and more traction until Ginny Thomas finally admitted that she did in fact make the call.

Ginny Thomas is already a considerable source of horror, as a leading conservative fundraiser who is active while married to a sitting judge on the Supreme Court. Conflict, anyone? But the real question here, is, why would she do this, and why now? The public record shows that Thomas believed that Hill did what she did because she was in love with dear Clarence (Ginny told this to any press that would interview her). The fact that she's nursed this belief for 18 years, after Hill pretty much had her career destroyed after having her character assassinated from multiple angles, is a sign of delusion at best.

Naturally, Hill is standing by her original statement. Clarence Thomas is still a douchebag (his Supreme Court record is a matter for another post entirely). The end.

Before They Were Stars: Oscar Nominated Actors Who Were In the Buffyverse

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Hello all, today's special feature is about Buffyverse actors who have gone on (against all odds in some cases) to be recognized by the Academy for their professional excellence (which was resolutely NOT on display back in ye early days.)

First on our menu is Amy Adams, who had the misfortune of being related to Tara, my least favorite character to ever hit Buffy (though there is much competition). You can see that Amy Adams perkiness on display already.
Then, of course, we have Ben Affleck, in another of his many pointless roles as a bullying high school jock in the original Buffy movie. He DEFINITELY goes on to bigger things (including, but not limited to, J.Lo).

See the third one from the left? There's a multi-Oscar winner on the table! Back in the day, Hilary Swank played the Cordelia equivalent in the Buffy movie.

Finally, recognize that guy? He was trapped in a bad Irish accent contest with David Boreanaz in an early episode of Angel. That's Jeremy Renner, star of the Hurt Locker, playing a vampire that Angelus mentored in the ways of evil. The episode is one of the better season one episodes, actually contributing to the overall mythology, and ending with a lovely scene between Angel and Cordelia.

I need a better name for this series than Before They Were Stars. Ideas appreciated.

Mad Men, Inked: Tomorrowland

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Well, this week's episode set off a bunch of bombs, but nobody died (contrary to spoilers floating around the web).

We open with Emo-Don, lying in bed and whining to Faye about his life, his job, his clothes and probably his haircut. Faye tells him to man up, and knowing this show, that means we, the audience, are obliged to say only one thing: "Nice to know you, Faye!"

Moving on.

"Did you get cancer?" Roger shouts after Don's presentation to the American Cancer Society, offering the only reasonable explanation for Don's actions this episode. Don did not get cancer, but we finally got our first glimpse of the inner life of Ken Cosgrove. And just as Pete always sensed, we love Cosgrove more than him. More now.

Meanwhile, in Ossining's soon to be former-house-of-pain, Cruella-de-Betty piles cruelty upon cruelty on Glenn and poor Carla, after Glenn has the AUDACITY to say goodbye to Sally and promise to visit her when he's a horny teenager with a car.

48% capital gains!!! Enough said.

Owing to the recent firing of Carla, Don is suddenly faced with the prospect of taking care of his 3 kids on his own, and faster than he can say "Betty is a psycho-bitch," he employs Madame Secretaire to babysit his children and his penis (spoiler!) on their trip to Disneyland.

Meanwhile, Henry shouts at Betty, Betty shouts back, Henry slams the door, and Betty demonstrates, yet again, that she just wants to be Sally. Now physically, not just mentally.

Back in LA, Megan learns that a milkshake really can bring the boys to her yard, in one of the best scenes of the episode. The fact that she didn't yell at Sally was, in fact, all it took for Don to ask her to marry him (with an engagement ring from the REAL Don Draper). In response, we are treated to a new expression on Megan's face, roughly translated as "uh-oh this was way too easy and can't possibly end well." And then she accepts.

Back at the offices of S-DP, we see Peggy being awesome, as usual, while Harry Crane has become a smarmy lech that would not be out of place on I Love Lucy. Peggy wins the first new business since the Lucky Strike disaster, and is appropriately miffed that Don's engagement seems to take precedence as 'hot news.'

Everyone's reaction to the news:

Lane: "I don't know what's going on here, and I don't care, but congratulations."
Roger: "I'm so proud of you!"
Pete: "May flowers rain upon your golden years."
Peggy: (Head cocked, Arrested Development style) "Her?"
Ken: "I just work here. This isn't my life. My life is my future wife. Shit, Don, your future wife works here. Follow my reasoning?"
Joan: "What a cliche."
Faye: "What a waste of time and character development."
Betty: "Maybe now that you're marrying someone else, I can be your mistress?"

Final note: How come both Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men had the same odd, dumb line this week: when someone was not reachable for a while, the response is "I was starting to think you were ill or something." Quoi? Is that the first thing ANYONE thinks when someone goes incommunicado?

Tried and Failed: La Dolce Vita

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Welcome to Tried and Failed, about those movies you've tried to watch on multiple occasions but never made it all the way through. Our inaugural post is the movie that inspired the whole series: La Dolce Vita, considered one of the all-time greats, and a Fellini masterpiece.

I confess, I still have yet to see a Fellini film, and that's probably because this one bores me so thoroughly everytime I try to watch it. I know it's meant to be one of the most beautiful films ever created, I know it invented the word paparazzo, I know I am an utter, utter failure as a film buff, but I've given it five tries, and have never made it past the first 30 minutes.

Marcello Mastroianni plays a skirt-chasing man about town, leaping from woman to woman without the joie de vivre that can make womanizing compelling to watch on screen (See Don Draper). One of his more famous pickup lines: "You are the first woman on the first day of creation. You are mother, sister, lover, friend, angel, devil, earth, home."


Marcello is pretentious and transparent, and thinks very highly of himself while we are given no indication why. Maybe this changes later in the movie, but I don't really care. La Dolce Vita is forever landed on the reject pile.

Modern Family: "Strangers On A Treadmill"

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How are these two so wussy with a dad like Jay?

Ah, an episode of almost pure gold (this time we had two superlative stories, and one that was completely unnecessary, but thankfully brief).

I'll start with the one that didn't work, which sadly was the Jay-Gloria subplot, where Gloria gets him to attend the quinceanera of his employee's daughter. There was something about this that made me think about Arrested Development (probably the culture clash), cause I know how they would have set up the storyline and made it work. For one thing, Hurwitz et al would have started the story much later, probably when they're walking into the hall, rather than back in the house. We would have reached the awkward finale of the story much more quickly, and then we'd spend some time with Jay/Gloria trying to correct his faux-pas (and failing). Instead, we got too much exposition, in exchange for not enough payoff. It was just Michael Scott-level AWKWARD.

On the other end of the neighborhood, Claire and Mitchell team up to "Strangers On The Train" Phil and Cam, because they are both extreme cowards (though in the end, Mitchell even more so). Cameron has developed a charming new habit of wearing bicycle shorts in public (love the way the camera put censor pixels on the ENTIRE PAIR OF SHORTS everytime they were on screen. When Claire tells him to lose the shorts (after very transparently trying to butter him up), Cam runs to the bedroom and cries like a baby. Later, when he finds out Mitch was in on it, the end up in a detente that Mitch very cleverly wins.

Jay, on the other hand, is preparing a speech full of lame zingers for the annual real estate convention. Claire, with the best intentions, tries to scupper the whole thing, but Mitchell chickens out at the first sign of Jay's heartbreak. So Claire hides the speech and then Phil manages to kill anyway. Which led to a 'heartfelt' scene that actually felt earned, and didn't make me roll my eyes.

Now the writers have suddenly picked up on the fact that Alex and Haley are awesome, so now we get a FOURTH plot (but seams are already showing with the multiple stories, I hope they recalibrate soon). Once again, the girls give us one of the funniest scenes of the episodes, when Alex manages to out-popular Haley, until the whole thing explodes and they both start screaming.

And I was rolling on the floor laughing.

Why Glee and I Have Broken Up Permanently


Glee has gone from sharp and entertaining, to swinging wildly and occasionally striking, to actively horrifying me. There were a number of points last week when I was ready to break up, but then something great would happen and I would give it another chance. But the breaking point has come. Last week's Grilled Cheezus episode was the first that I turned off in the middle and had no desire to turn back on.

Glee has now been relegated to the reading of recaps on TWOP.

So what happened? What changed?

The first half of season one was brilliant. The show could have ended with the December episode, and it would be remembered for being a brilliant, entertaining and endearingly honest show about youth and fitting in. The songs weren't all mainstream shill, and they weren't used at the expense of plot.

That's the first thing that changed, when producers realized they could make millions from those damn tie-in soundtracks (I'll never forget one club that actually played the GLEE version of Don't Stop Believin' instead of the original). Suddenly our stars were leaping into song at every possible moment, and Sue Sylvester became a one woman joke factory for Will's lesbian hair (her words, not mine). And while the plot greatly suffered, the writers still had a fairly good grasp of their characters, of their desires, of the roots of their insecurities. (Except Will, who got more and more ridiculous).

The first episode that ACTIVELY PISSED ME OFF was when Finn temporarily moved in with Kurt. Kurt had been scheming and almost sexually harassing Finn for a number of episodes at that point, and yet when Finn finally loses it, Kurt is apparently the one with the moral high ground.

And that is the real turning point: when the show shifted from a tone of high camp, which made a lot of the character stupidity forgiveable, to a sort of self-seriousness that does not work at all when every one of your characters is a broad character. The show started to substitute random character traits for actual personality and depth (Sue has a mentally disabled sister, which explains...everything apparently?).

So then season two came along, and I was sucked in by all the summertime hype, enough to maybe give it a chance. But they did it. Three episodes, three writing decisions of absolute stupidity, and I was done.

1. Artie wants to be a football player. Finn helps him. Coach Beiste accepts. HOW MANY THINGS ARE WRONG HERE?!? First of all, what an awful, awful message to send to kids with any sort of developmental problems: you can literally do anything. You are born with a disadvantage, but that's ok, because CLEARLY EVERYONE WILL ALWAYS BEND OVER BACKWARD TO HELP YOU! Especially COMPETITIVE teams that want to WIN THINGS. And we had always been shown that Artie had quite well adapted to his disability, so now he wants to achieve the impossible? OFFENSIVE, SHOW!

2. The Britney episode. What an unqualified waste of time. There wasn't even the usual attempt to make the songs sort of relevant to the goings on in the teenager's lives, we were just treated to a bunch of SHOT-FOR-SHOT remakes of Britney music videos, which I tried so hard to avoid the first time around (as did so many). Why do these Broadway qualified singers need to be dumbing themselves down to sing the least musical songs in the world anyway? OFFENSIVE, SHOW!

3. The straw that broke the camel's back: singing 'religious songs' in a school sponsored activity. This is illegal, EVEN IN TEXAS. It's personally offensive to me both as a religious person, and as a defender of secular separation of church and state. The idea that someone found religion in a cheese sandwich is offensive and dumb (even for Finn), and that he would then force his new views on everyone else (and be allowed to do so in choir) is even more offensive. So well done on the double whammy, Glee, offending truly religious people and offending secularism and the legal principle of separation of church and state.

There are so many other things to carp on, but I've said my piece.

And just to be clear, Glee, it's not me. It's definitely you.

When Mad Men Meets Vocals


This is already going around the web, but I am happy to contribute to its spread.

A beautiful live mash-up of the Mad Men theme tune with Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy." It works perfectly, and is oddly affecting.

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Another week, another fantastic episode of The Good Wife. A little lighter on the heavy drama this time around, we got to see a softer side of Alicia, and a whole mess of hijinks with Eli Gold. In fact, both the family and work stories had a Looney Tunes vibe about them, especially Roadrunner and Coyote (thankfully no one was harmed. Except for the dead person. Christine Baranski said it, not I).

I'm pretty sure I would happily watch an hour of Eli doing spit takes at youtube videos trashing Peter. But in this episode, we the viewer are granted an embarrassment of hilarities, given Eli's tinpot schemes to get a wealthy political activist to favor Peter with his riches. At first he was worried that the donor was put off by Alicia's brother's offhand comment about Peter being uncomfortable around gays, but in truth the donor was worried that Peter was pro-Palestine.

Eli's solution? Have Yom Kippur at the Florrick house, with Alicia's brother taking the 'some of my best family are gay' seat. Peter's mother, as usual, treats us to a fine dessert of political incorrectness, while Grace nearly scuppers the whole thing by daring to bring up flotilla-gate. Every statement and misstep was perfectly timed, punctuated by Eli's ever-bugged out eyes at each new faux-pas. At one point I'm sure he sniffed in horror!

Over at the office, our resident game of spy vs. spy is heating up, as Kalinda and the new guy try to outdo each other at every turn! I have a feeling this competition is going to end very badly (or with really wild sex, and as it involves Kalinda, I'm predicting the latter).

Not too much Will or Diane this week, but I am really enjoying Alicia's new 'mentor.' He's much less showy than Will and Diane, and seems to be quietly awesome the way Alicia regularly is. Michael Ealy was one of the stronger links on Flashforward (god rest its soul, but really it didn't have too many strong links), and it's good to see him on a genuinely quality show.

I'm hoping to see a stronger continuous storyline in the office plots, like last year when they were facing the constant threat of bankruptcy. Peter's campaign, while providing fantastic individual scenes, hasn't really given me something to be emotionally invested in (unlessAlicia takes him back 100%, I'm not sure I really care about Peter's success). But I can't complain about the hijinks.

The Girl Who Played With Hornets

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Ah, Stieg Larsson, thank you for contributing to an 8 hour episode of Law and Order: SVU, where shocking revelations trump character but you can't wait for the villains to get their comeuppance.

I'm writing about the second two movies as one because they tell two sides of the same story: who is out to frame Lisbeth Salander, and why. And just like Law and Order, the first half (in this case The Girl Who Played With Fire) shows the gripping detective work, the ethically questionable shortcuts, the discovery of the facts. The second half (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest) is framed by Lisbeth's trial, and the race against time to get Millenium published and to find the necessary evidence to prove Lisbeth's innocence.

I really did enjoy the film, so while I had a LOT of issues, the whole fit together so well that some of the sillier elements didn't impact my overall enjoyment. But still.

First of all, my GOD was there a paper trail. There were an astonishing number of scenes with Blomkvist walking into a room and throwing a file on the table and proclaiming the finding of new evidence. Perhaps they were printouts of online finds, but entire scenes were devoted to masked motorcyclists stealing papers. If there were electronic originals, that's a bit silly and pointless right?

Secondly, when Blomkvist is hiding in Lisbeth's apartment, the evil masterminds apparently don't know where he's staying. And yet there are scenes where it's shown that they have him followed constantly. Quoi?

Third, Niedermann of the analgesia? I have one word for you: Jaws. He was such a typical James Bond proto-villain, with no real motivation or character of his own, built like a brick wall, murdering people completely at random (and often in really silly ways).

Which brings me to the fight scenes. Some of Niedermann's fight scenes were worse than the greatest excesses of Bollywood. The only thing that was missing was DISHOOM.

Love that Lisbeth's idea of 'properly dressing up for court' is to wear a mohawk and chains. Though really I imagine that puts you into contempt in pretty much any court.

Ultimately though, despite any number of flaws, I am prepossessed to love any movie that shows the villainy of 'Men Who Hate Women' and then destroys them.

But I have to admit, while the movies were suspenseful and dramatic, there was a thought in the back of my head that, with the exception of Lisbeth herself, most of the characters were quite impotent in their game of cat-and-mouse. Most of the head honchos of the secret Section were physically disabled (which didn't make them any less scary), which basically meant you had a number of scenes of talking heads in their various lairs. Blomkvist couldn't do anything without the help of the government in the end, and their protection. He was demonstrated as unable to protect himself or his colleagues.

But this is why Lisbeth comes off as such a powerful character, and why we are constantly impressed by her, and are 100% rooting for her even when she does things we would never condone.

Mad Men, Inked: "Blowing Smoke"

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Don Draper stares into the abyss of addiction...

Here we go, the penultimate episode! This week, there was one key moment, the 'tentpole' of the episode, if you will, and everything else that happened built up to or receded from that moment (apart from the Sally Draper subplot, but we'll return to that - maybe - at the end.

The Jenga Blocks are all in place, there's only a few left to be pulled out, and every move will either defer the inevitable or send the whole thing tumbling down. Don't first wrong move: trying to delay the inevitable. The new client pitches reeked of desperation, and the pitch receivers could smell potential failure all over the SCDP executives.

As a death pall settles over the office, the creative staff fear for their jobs, and senior staff are forced to contribute to an emergency collateral fund (which leads to a hilarious scene where we are reminded who actually wears the pants in the Campbell house).

Peggy, ever the voice of reason, objects to the new 'monkeys, go on playing with your typewriters, until of course you're fired' work mandate, and compels Don to do something - have dinner with an old flame (Hey it's Midge! We like Midge! She's fun and carefree! Oh she's a heroin addict). Don pities her enough to buy one of her paintings, but she still plays it cool ("cash only darling, we don't accept checks in Casa de Hippie Syringe").

And so we cut to Don, staring into the eyes of the painting for what felt like ten minutes on screen.

This encounter with the dire desperation of addiction sends Don running for his livejournal, mainly to complain: "Dear Diary, all I want is to shout and drink, but who will I shout at and drink with if evil Lucky Strike and heroin take away all of my friends and servants?" That didn't actually happen, thank god (i was in great fear though, of more inane inner commentary from Don's AA journal).

Instead, we get a surprisingly well expressed (if altogether false) assertion that "Hey big tobacco, it's not me, it's you, and by the way here's a restraining order." What Don forgets to tell us is that this angry breakup letter will be released as a full page ad in the New York Times. Don also forgets to tell Sterling, Cooper, Pryce and Campbell, which has has the immediate effect of Bert collecting his shoes and quitting. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Don deals with individual hissyfits from all the men in the office (though really, what does Roger care anymore?). But they mostly come around when the American Cancer Society comes a-calling.

The women though? Surprisingly approving. Once again, we see Megan laying her honey trap, that she's 'the only one who really gets him', and also 'marry me!' Faye, disappointingly, does not freak out at him, which she would be entitled to given that SHE WAS FIRED FROM MULTIPLE ACCOUNTS AS A DIRECT RESULT OF DON'S AD. But she smells opportunity - date Don in the open - like she obviously smells a threat - the secretary with the googley eyes.

And of course Peggy approves, smiling at Don like it was all her idea in the first place (which it sort of was, but she was the catalyst, not the final architect of the power play).

As one might expect, Don gets tons of calls as a result of his bombastic essay. Here are two notables:

Caller #1: Emerson Foote - not just a throwaway comment. He was a creative director who once handled American Tobacco and Lucky Strike, until he became disgusted with his addiction to cigarettes, quit  McCann-Erickson, and started a new agency that would not represent tobacco.

Caller #2: "Bobby Kennedy" I'm sure that when Robert Kennedy called to speak with Don, I wasn't the only one to think "dear god, please don't let us hear him speak." But they ignored me, and we got that awful accent. Thankfully the whole thing was a gag by Ted Chow-ow-ow, which was pretty great given how well he fooled Don.

Back in the Ossining house of 'denial is not just a river in Egypt, it's a life philosophy,' we see Sally growing past Betty in the maturity race (which puts Betty at about 4 years old now? I'm not being unfair, Betty's the one who would rather see a child psychiatrist than a grown-up doctor). This story concludes with Betty proving, yet again, that solving her own 'problems' (really Betty? Moving to a new neighborhood to get away from a little boy?) is more important than her daughter's mental stability. I'm sure this won't come back to bite her AT ALL!

"I Promise to Fly Straight Down to Washington...nert nert...ON A PLANE"

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I could offer sophisticated and insightful political commentary about Christine O'Donnell, but why bother when you can watch Kristen Wiig instead?

Short Story Book Club: "A Tiny Feast"


Hello hello hello, welcome to the inaugural edition of Short Story Book Club!

This week's tall tale (short tale?) is of Titania and Oberon, caught in a moment of crisis. The New Yorker originally published it, which is surprising, but to be fair they have slowly moved into more and more 'genre' fiction. (I think about 10 stories last year were pure science fiction/fantasy).

But without further ado, the story is here:

Come back here and tell me your favorite lines, least favorite lines, what worked and what didn't, and then I'll publish a roundup post before next week's Short Story Club. Any recommendations for future stories are also welcome!

Salute Your Shorts! "Pumpkinhead" by Joyce Carol Oates

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The story can be read in its entirety here: "Pumpkinhead" by Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates is one of those authors, where you go in expecting something sick and/or twisted to happen, even if everything is puppies and flowers until the last page. Part of the joy of reading her short stories is hunting for every possible clue as to what the final horror might be.

But this time, strangeness struck on page one, when our widow answers a knock to find a man with a pumpkin in place of his head. Lonely after the death of her husband, she invites him in for a drink, and we find out that he is not a stranger; she knows him as one knows a foreigner, cataloguing his attributes in terms of misprononciations and failures to assimilate. You have to believe that he can sense her disdain; as open as she is to us, these thoughts can not be far from her every action.

In that sense, it functions as a metaphor for hegemonic power - and the dangerous lengths that the powerless might go to obtain some semblance of control.

There is one lingering mystery though - a throwaway line almost: "She was a widow who had caused her husband to be burnt to ashes and was unrepentant, unpunished." The story offers no explanation for this, but I welcome the interpretation of others.

Filling the Gaps: "Greed is good", Wall Street

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While it has one of the most recognizable quotes ("Greed is good.") and one of the most famous villains (Michael Douglas in an Academy Award-winning performance as Gordon Gekko), I was under the impression the movie itself wasn't that great. It seems like a lot of people who reviewed the movie back when it came out complained about the 'liberal moralizing,' but those same critics now hold Gekko's attitude and behavior as a harbinger of our Great Recession. And really, it tells of financial manipulation that only increased through the 1990s and today (see Soros's breaking of the Sterling, for instance).

Wall Street, in its broadest sense, tells the story of desperately bored Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen), longing to get ahead in his career and easily seduced into a less than reputable lifestyle by financial shark Gordon Gekko. Throughout his descent and subsequent redemption, he vacillates between the angels on his shoulder. His father (Martin Sheen), a hardworking union man, and Bud's boss try to keep Bud on a moral line, where there are no shortcuts to financial success. Gekko, however, sucks Bud in with a life of easy money, women and prestige, in exchange for what seemed like a minor trade-in of principle.

In the first few shots of the film, we meet Bud Fox getting onto a crowded elevator; he can already be seen as the slickest, oiliest looking person in the shot, hinting at his future corruption. Like Vito Corleone, he's not that "good" at the start, he just hasn't had the opportunity to sell his soul as yet. However, I had issues with Charlie Sheen's acting. Most of the time it was fine, but there were times when he seemed to predict Christian Bale's manic energy in American Psycho, which fit into the style of that movie, but definitely was jarring here. The best scenes were with his father, when he didn't seem to emit an air of complete disconnect with the world around him.

We hear about Gekko before we see him; he's an unapproachable pillar of the community that Bud had to call 59 days in a row before earning a 5 minute hearing. He certainly has a strong force of personality, but as I mentioned, Bud was never incorruptible, so Gekko doesn't have to drive too hard at him. But Gekko drives too hard anyway, and that's how he loses Bud. There were instances when I thought Gekko is really not the criminal mastermind that he fancies himself to be.

Side note: what is up with Daryl Hannah? She really does ruin everything she's in (except Bladerunner and Kill Bill). Seriously, no dramatic roles for her. And her RIDICULOUS outfits.

Side note: Am I the first person to notice that for whatever reason, it's a bunch of women leaving the auditorium when Gekko begins his iconic speech?

Wall Street provides strong insight into the mentality of a certain type of financial professional - the ones that pursue money, more money, at no cost. While a lot of the chicanery used in this film died when the internet came along, it's not difficult to imagine this sort of manipulation is still going on, just harder to trace.

The story was suspenseful and gripping, but I wonder how much of it is incomprehensible to those that don't follow or understand the stock market (judging by the media, lots)

I'll leave you with the most telling exchange in the film, between Bud and Darian during an intimate moment on the beach:

Bud: "Well, what do you want?"
Darian: "A genuine Turner. World peace. The best of everything."
Bud: "Why stop at that?"
Darian: "I don't."

Salute Your Shorts! "The Harvest," by Amy Hempel

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While Amy Hempel is considered a quintessential minimalist writer (she came out from the umbrella of Gordon Lish and Raymond Carver), this short story, probably her most famous, is more of a post-modern reflection on the nature of stories and story-telling. (Go ahead and read it here, then come back).

I can't remember how I came across her, but it seems a lot of people discover her thanks to Chuck Palahniuk, who wrote this loving essay in praise of Ms. Hempel. While I am not quite as inclined to gush as Mr. Palahniuk, I did enjoy the story. It's one of very few short stories that made me want to reread it immediately after the first run through.

"The year I began to say vahz instead of vase, a man I barely knew nearly accidentally killed me."

This is the first and last true statement in the story, as far as we can tell. It's a hell of an introductory sentence, conveying tons of descriptive detail about the narrator without stating it outright. What happens in the short story is that the narrator tells one story, full of embellishment, and then tells the second, 'real' story.

From the start, Hempel draws attention to the subterfuge that all storytellers use, not just writers:

"What happened to one of my legs required four hundred stitches, which, when I told it, became five hundred stitches, because nothing is ever quite as bad as it could be.

The five days they didn’t know if they could save my leg or not I stretched to ten."

I know that everything I've stated so far might give you the impression that it's quite a gimmicky little tale. But it isn't. Even though she's stated upfront that the story is not entirely true, the strength of detail draws you in anyway; we, the reader, are complicit in Hempel's deception. Every line is loaded with meaning and genuine depth of feeling. Even if the details are wrong, the emotions are real.
And that's what's important.

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