Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason

(2 stars - liked it)

Indridason's first Icelandic mystery, Jar City, is a gem. I eagerly awaited the follow-up, Silence of the Grave, but it took me over a month to actually finish the not-quite-300-page novel. It's a good book, but it's not a great book. The characters remain darkly real and conflicted with life and the case, but the mystery at the center of the book is not terribly riveting. I do look forward to the third book being translated from Icelandic to English.

Friday, June 8, 2007

the closer: a love affair

It is not a secret that I have become completely enamored with The Closer. It is one of the best written and best acted programs on television today. I am quickly making my way through the second season on dvd in preparation for the June 18th premiere of season three.

Blessedly, season two takes the strong characters carved out during the first season and takes them deeper. Frances Sternhagen as Brenda's mother is brilliant. Whoever cast her and wrote that two episode arc deserves a raise and an Emmy. The interplay of Sternhagen and the sublimely good Kyra Sedgwick (seriously, I didn't believe she had it in her until I started watching) managed to parallel their actions and words in a beautiful ode to the sometimes strained Southern mother and daughter relationship. I wasn't sure Sternhagen could outdo her rendition as Bunny on Sex and the City, but she is even better in this role. I hope she's back during season three.

If you haven't seen The Closer, get the dvds of the first two seasons. Start watching the reruns on TNT. There's a reason this little show on TNT wins Golden Globes. TNT chooses to only air it once a week, unlike most of the other cable channels who don't actually have to compete with scripted broadcast television when the utilize incessant reruns. It's good enough to go against any show on television. I am totally and completely in love with The Closer.

pirate master

I absolutely adore the concept of Pirate Master, and I'm thrilled for Christian Okoye to get another few moments in the spotlight, but after watching the first two episodes, I'm slightly bored. This program has all the right pieces of good reality television, but it falls flat. After two episodes, I still only know three of the pirates by name. I don't even know the name of the chesty blond who has her bathing suit top blurred out by the censors during most of the second episode.

The actual search for the pirate treasure is the weakest part of the program. From my limited understanding of the Survivor formula, it's quite similar. I find people traipsing around the wilderness quite dull, and it's most of the reason I've never managed to get into Survivor. Still, the power of captain and the possibility of mutiny should lead to intriguing strategy. Despite the weak attempts at mutiny so far (although the compass part was quite brilliant in the first episode), no one is really doing anything but playing it safe. I watch Big Brother religiously. That show has nothing going for it except constantly evolving strategy, which I find riveting. If the pirate wannabes could muster a little bit of strategy, the show could be saved. If everyone just keeps complaining and lying in wait, I won't be watching when the season concludes.

It was especially painful to see clips of Janelle in the Big Brother 8 ad during the program. Even just one Janelle, or Dr. Will or Danielle would get every pirate's mind churning and strategizing. When does Big Brother premiere?

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

tidbits of late

In the midst of my move, blogging fell by the wayside. I've had time to enjoy my fair share of television, movies, and I even read a few books. The brief recaps and ratings follow:

Knocked Up - (2 stars - liked it) - I made it to see Judd Apatow's eagerly awaited comedy on opening day. I was underwhelmed. There were countless funny parts of the movie, but as a film, it didn't work for me. It felt like the funny dialogue was many improv versions away from the script. Although the story flowed, the spirit of the story didn't flow for me. It was too often immature teen drug-focused comedy with a few sprinkles of mature, relationship melodrama. Katherine Heigl was superb, as was Paul Rudd. I'm normally a huge Seth Rogen fan, but I found his performance to be rather elementary. He and his friend pandered incessantly to trite drug humor. Are there any original or even funny marijuana jokes left? It's definitely worth seeing for the funny parts, and I even enjoyed the sappy last twenty minutes, but the film as a whole was disjointed and dragged at times. I'd prefer to watch it again with the 45 minutes or so that I laughed out loud pulled out.

Half-Nelson (3 stars - loved it) - I'm a huge Ryan Gosling fan, and his performance was fantastic. The movie was slow, deep and disturbingly realistic. It was refreshing to see an accurate depiction of a how a functioning drug addict exists. It was a beautiful film.

The Holiday (2 stars - liked it) - This film surprised me immensely. The first thirty minutes were quite dry as the stage was set for the two women to switch lives. We all saw the thirty second trailer and understood the premise. Still, as the film went on, it kept getting better. The characters were quite well developed, and all five of the major roles were stellar. It was a little hokey and over-the-top predictable, but it still had heart. I did groan aloud when Kate Winslet asked Jack Black if he composed the music in the scene they were in. Let the characters stay inside the film, please. It's worth seeing for a light-hearted film. I'm also a little bit of a sucker for most movies set around Christmas.

American Dreamz (1 star - eh) - I wanted to liked this movie; I love the idea of this movie, but it was not good. I spent the whole film wondering if it wasn't funny because it was too close to reality or too far from reality. I never figured it out, but I still want to believe in the concept of this film.

Friends with Money (1 star - eh) - How can a film with Frances McDormand (I heart F McD), Catherine Keener, Joan Cusack and even Jennifer Aniston be dull? Not much happens in Friends with Money, but the action does increase as the film goes on. It has a few nice moments, and I thought the characters were finally being developed and it was getting interesting when the film abruptly ended. I'm still a little bewildered.

Bobby (4 stars - life-changing) -Bobby blew me away. The ensemble cast was fantastic, but the three best performances were: 3. Nick Cannon - I didn't even realize it was Nick Cannon until the closing credits. 2. - Demi Moore - I never had a strong opinion on Demi's acting abilities, but she was outstanding. 1. - Shia LaBeouf delivered an Oscar-worthy performance; he was unbelievably good. The last thirty minutes of the film are absolutely breath-taking. Estevez sets up the final scene, one in which everyone surely knows what happens, so poetically that one realizes he's been quietly preparing ever character and detail throughout the entire film. Admittedly, the first hour of the film was above average, but not incredible. I enjoyed some story lines more than others, but when I realized how all the parts perfectly fit into the whole film, I was mesmerized. I have not stopped thinking about this film since I watched it. The Screen Actors Guild got it right - this cast hands down gave the best ensemble performance of the year, and the film deserves far more accolades than it received.

The Da Vinci Code (0 stars - don't bother) - I enjoyed the book, although not nearly as much as Angels and Demons. I didn't find the book earth-shattering, but it was entertaining. It became clear to me in the first twenty minutes of the film that what was enjoyable about the book was that the reader participated in figuring out the clues; as a reader, I had time to think about what they meant. The movie moved so quickly it was dull; there was no mystery or intrigue.

The Guy Not Taken (stories) by Jennifer Weiner - (2 stars - liked it) - Weiner provides stories she's written from high school to the present, and it was a fascinating collection. I've read her other books, and two stories offered early insights into her beginning ideas for two of her novels. The collection was a fascinating look into the way a writers thinks and sees the world over time. Her themes are the same, but her angle shifts throughout her life as a writer. Some of the stories were better than others, but the only one I did not enjoy was the idiotic title story (Naturally, that story has been optioned for a film). It's a good collection, and it's worth reading.

Hidden Palms (the premiere episode) - Summer television is here, and the CW has brought me a teen soap opera from Kevin Williamson. I was underwhelmed by the premiere, but I enjoyed it enough to want to watch more episodes. I appreciate that the teenagers look shockingly young by television standards and are probably actually teenagers. I enjoy that the adults have as many juicy story line options as the teens; multi-generational soap operas are so much more entertaining. The jury is still out on this program, but in the heat of summer, I do love teen drama.

Sunset Tan - I cannot explain my fascination for this program, but it is divine. It's what reality television should be. At the heart of its likability is the realness of most of the characters: these are good people with actual life struggles trying to make the best choices for themselves. Despite the irritating presence of the Olly girls, the rest of the staff seems genuine, and there is certainly a lack of honesty in reality drama these days.

The Next Food Network Star - I love it! This season is the first one I've watched, but I commend the producers for a three-part opening challenge. The contestants are quite good as well. It's of the same vein as my beloved Top Chef, which premieres next week, and my one complaint is that these dueling networks schedule the seasons to air at the same time. I imagine more tv viewers would watch both if the seasons did not overlap. Still, TNFNS is a little more lowbrow: Bobby Flay sends the contestants squealing and makes them starstruck. I must be a food snob, but I couldn't stop giggling at their excitement.

So You Think You Can Dance - I'm slightly embarrassed to admit how much I am enjoying this program. I've never watched it before, but the premise is the same as American Idol. I am not by any means a dancer, but I appreciate the blending of styles and genres and the sheer ability of the dancers. I may tire of the dancing by the end of the season, but for now, it's a lovely summer indulgence.

So Notorious - On vacation, I watched the entire season of So Notorious in a single sitting. It is hysterically funny and smart. You won't believe it until you watch it to, but if you're a television fan at all, you will adore this satirical scripted reality show. The cast is exquisite, and the humor is non-stop. Even the skeptical nomadreaderboy fell in love with it within five minutes of viewing.




gossip girl

After the stress of packing and moving across the country, I was in the mood for a lighthearted read. I opted to finally get around to reading Cecily von Ziegesar's famous Gossip Girl series. I still enjoy children's and young adult literature, and I am already ridiculously excited about Josh Schwartz's upcoming television version of the series. As much as I love to read, I admit the trashy teen genre is best served on the screen.

I adored the first Gossip Girl novel. It's definitely on the Cruel Intentions level of risky teen behavior, and the puritan part of me wishes that the characters were not grounded in any one's actual high school behavior. Responsible adolescence aside, the book was endlessly entertaining, and the characters are well-developed. I reserved the next few books in the series already. I imagine with Josh Schwartz's able hands, he can use these fantastic characters to transcend the success of the books and produce a television series with more than a season and a half of good episodes.