Because you come here for the hard hitting issues

Thanksgiving brought a binge of USA Networks "White Collar" in which I discovered an actor even my dad described as "almost too good looking." As if such a thing exists.

Anyway, here's the man, Matt Bomer, who plays Neal Caffrey, former(?) art forger/conman/other high class criminal acts guy:

Perfection, down to the slightly mussed wavy hair.

So this is where the hard hitting issues come in: is Matt Bomer prettier than the love of my summer television viewing life "Heroes" star Sendhil Ramamurthy? I mean, look at him:

Also in a suit so as to eliminate variables associated with clothing preference.

Since my brain cannot objectively evaluate their handsomeness, I leave this epic question to you, dear readers.


Based on three Swedish films about kids...

...I wouldn't recommend raising children there. I mean, it seems like when it's good, it's good. But when it's bad, it's traumatizing and bizarre.

1. Fanny and Alexander (1982)

You may have a fancy Christmas party with your large family:

But your step-dad is a puritanical creeper:

2. My Life as a Dog (1985)

You may get to spend your free time with a buxom lady who forgives you for peaking at her nakedness through a glass ceiling in the roof when you fall through it:

But your mom is suffering a long and painful death:

2. Let the Right One in (2008)

And while you may find a kindred spirit while wearing cozy sweaters:

That kindred spirit may also be a vampire who has this done for h(er?)im so (s?)he can eat:

New Moon (2009), quickly

Because I feel obligated to report what I thought to somebody, even if it's just the internet.

We'll get the negative over with first.

Biggest problem: Bella needs treatment for her depression. Bad.Therapy and meds, please!

Second biggest problem: Too many ideas in one story. Werewolves and the Volturi? Choose one. Also, they're both more interesting than Bella or Edward. Also, this movie shouldn't be over 2 hours long.

Third biggest problem: Jasper wasn't playing baseball. (One of the better things about the first movie.)

Pictured: Jasper not playing baseball :(

Now for the positive, because it's at least an entertaining movie if not exactly well done.

1. Billy Burke is still the best part of the series as Charlie, Bella's dad. Somehow he makes a likable and fleshed-out character in the few minutes of screen time he's given.

Charlie consoling his mentally unbalanced daughter.
Personal fun fact: Billy Burke is one of my favorite guest stars on both
My Boys and Gilmore Girls.

2. Taylor Lautner brings sincere teenage boy's awkwardness to the screen. He's like the kid who sings some cheesy acoustic pop song at a choir concert/talent show and who's decent/confident enough to pull it off, but not good enough to make you not feel awkward about it. I can't think of another movie that does this so well.

Awkward teenage earnestness--in action!

3. The Italy scenes are lovely. Beautiful colors, beautiful scenery, competent actors.

These people only show up at the very end. It's jarring because they act like vampires should: deliciously creepy.

4. The chase scenes were mostly in slow motion, and I can watch things in slow motion all day (see: Raging Bull). Plus, it means no silly fast motion sprinting (see: Twilight).

5. Edward got to beat people up. Which means less crap coming out of his mouth and less staring at Bella intensely.

Also, more slow motion.



A couple things HIMYM makes me grateful for

The fact that there was another Slapsgiving episode of How I Met Your Mother, with this as the episode topper:

And the fact that this never stops being funny:

Cannonball Read #3: Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights. Where to begin? The classic romance penned by Emily Bronte is often alluded to, but no one ever tells you the main plot line sucks. The main story takes place between Catherine Earnshaw and an orphaned young boy taken in by her father who is given one name: Heathcliff. He's rough and poor, with a vengeful temperment, and a healthy dose of mysterious birth. This apparently means he's got some gypsy blood because it's the 19th century and gypsy prejudice is a golden literary opportunity. Anyway, the father dies, leaving the two friends to face the snobbish cruelty of Catherine's older brother. As the two grow up, they are obviously head over heels for each other, but Catherine is lured by the civility of the household at the Grange, home of the Lintons. Heathcliff disappears for a few years and Cathy ends up marrying the affable, but far less passionate Mr. Linton. A few years later, Heathcliff shows up to ruin their marriage like the devil he is. Drama drama drama.

The saving grace of the book is the framing device of a stranger renting out the Grange, the closest neighbor to Wuthering Heights. Mr. Lockwood meets the strange household of Wuthering Heights, and subsequently gets the whole story out of his housekeeper, Ellen Dean. And luckily, Nelly has the whole story, having served in both houses at particularly opportune times. And Mr. Lockwood luckily has a sense of humor. He's amused by the whole ordeal, and obviously loves a good story, but has no intention of sticking around these crazy people. Emily Bronte was a genius to include a skeptical perspective because, as much as I love a good tragic romance, the initial one is just lame.

However, the second part of the book is far more engaging. It's kind of like Wuthering Heights: The Next Generation. Here we see Heathcliff wreak havoc on the lives of Catherine and Linton's daughter, his and Linton's sister's baby (Heathcliff marries Catherine's husband's sister, out of spite of course), and the cruel older brother Earnshaw's son. It's slightly confusing and incestuous in a first cousin sort of way, but deliciously so. Heathcliff has gone completely mad, and it's hilarious to read. All my new favorite insults come from him: "You infernal calf," "whey-faced whining wretch," "insolent slut." My new life goal is to use these in real life.

From the reputation of the book, I would have thought the romance was the best part of the book, but Heathcliff is no romantic lead, just some sort of heartless heathen. I wasn't expecting that, basing my knowledge of the book on the 1939 classic Laurence Olivier film adaptation (and when is Laurence Olivier ever short of sympathetic and charming?). And the other half of the romance, Catherine (the elder), is absolutely insufferable.

But in the end, my enjoyment in Wuthering Heights was mostly for the gossipy tone of the framing device. After all, what's more fun than telling stories of the ridiculous people in your life? I got to read the juiciest of all juicy stories with some great moments of drama and superstition wrapped into the prudish visage of 19th century societal norms. That's a pretty good read.


Push (2009)

Push is a surprisingly decent movie. Much like last year's Jumper, it's a film about extraordinary individuals who are being hunted down by a menacing organization. Except Push manages to get competent and laid back performances out of the actors with a minimum of exposition.

The beginning has a brief summary of psychic abilities and how Nazis were trying to experiment on people with them (always the Nazis). But the experiments continue, and even the American government is in on it. The film takes place in Tokyo, where telekinetic--mover--Nick (Chris Evans) fails to move dice in a game of craps (or whatever you play with 3 dice), escaping angry gamblers who happen to have some bleeders (they yell and alive things start to bleed). And of course the secret organization US gov organization, Division, tracks him down after years on the run by a decade-old toothbrush that a sniffer used to find him. They're looking for an escaped girl that Nick doesn't know about. It works better than it sounds, I swear. Also, I love vague entity names.

Chris Evans and Dakota Fanning are so chill in this movie for all their characters' parental issues. Also, nice beard, Chris.

Anyways, a 13-year-old watcher (prescient) named Cassie (Dakota Fanning) comes in after the Division men leave to tell Nick that they could find something worth $6 million. She draws adorable pictures of the future on black paper and what appear to be thick Gelly Roll pens. Following her pictures they end up eventually running into the escaped girl that turns out to be Nick's ex-girlfriend Kira (Camilla Belle), who is only an ex- because she was snatched by the Division. Or is she?

So, from here on out, they're trying to keep Kira safe, find the money, and prevent everyone's death. Also, other psychic people show up to help out, more adorable drawings are drawn. Also, the bleeder/gamblers are part of a Chinese version of Division or something, and are also trying to track down the case worth 6mil. It's slightly confusing and pretty involved. Also, Djimon Hounsou shows up as the pusher villain (he can puts thoughts into other people's heads) with some sort of wonky accent I think was supposed to be American..

Gelly Roll pens, right? Also, a future filled with adorable death.

I'd probably need to see this movie again to really make sense of it. Not that it's especially brilliant, it's just caught between letting the story be told without extraneous monologuing and trying to fool the audience with lack of information. I appreciate not being told every 2 seconds what the mythology is (take note FlashForward or Heroes), so I'm not sure if being kind of confused is a legit complaint since being taken for a ride is the point.

But whatever, it was an amusing way to spend an hour and half. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Chris Evans and Dakota Fanning are surprisingly endearing in a low-key sort of way. The on location scenery is gorgeous, with fun Hong Kong city lights and drab fish markets.

And the fight scenes, even with special powers, had a realistic lag to them rarely seen in choreographed movie fights. In fact, Camilla Belle was in my favorite fight which incorporated her power of pushing an idea into a Division agent's head with enough spunk to fight for her life. Part of it can be seen here:

Girls who kick ass are always good in my book.

Anyway, if you happen upon this movie sometime on TV or something, watch it. It's not spectacular or particularly competent, but it's surprisingly low key and watchable for such a high concept movie.


The Audacity of Rock: Part 34


While I do have a propensity for the pyrotechnic, fire doesn't always make for good lyrics. Or maybe they really are the best lyrics...

"Love is Alive" by Gary Wright (1975)

This may be my favorite thing I've found all year on the YouTubes. Multiple keytars, a satin-only band dress code, and so much love given to the greatest of all percussion instruments: the cowbell. I had no idea Gary Wright has much more to offer than "Dream Weaver." So what was I talking about? Oh, fire. His heart is on fire. That doesn't sound healthy. You might want to see a cardiologist. Or House. A burning chest could mean anything.

"Sex on Fire" by Kings of Leon (2008)

So it kind of sounds like they're singing about a scorching case of herpes, but is this not the most fun song to sing loudly in your car? I think the answer is no. Because it is fun. To sing "Sex on Fire." In the car. Loudly.


1. What's the weirdest thing you've melted/set on fire?
2. What's your favorite fire-themed song?

My real life put on screen: Glee

I totally sang "Endless Love" my senior year of high school as a duet with my friend Jordan for a choir concert.

Because friends listen to "Endless Love" in the dark.




Cannonball Read #2: Sweet Valley Senior Year #12: Bad Girl

My brain is mush from midterms, so I turned to a classic series from my middle school days, Sweet Valley Senior Year. A spin-off of sorts of the Sweet Valley High series, the series picks up after an earthquake hits Sweet Valley and the surrounding fictional California towns. The Wakefield twins, popular Jessica and studious Elizabeth, have their lives shaken up by the event. Jessica is no longer popular and Elizabeth has gotten into an on-again-off-again with brooding musician Conner who's house she lived in after the earthquake (sans parents!). Obviously, there's more drama and characters to go around, but what's really essential to know is that all Sweet Valley Senior Year books are like reading "The OC," but less clever.

Book 12, Bad Girl, is the epitome of teen angst. I forgot what a joy teen series are. They're quick and easy reads with comfortable characters you already know, and really like you're reading a TV show: different author writes each book (although it's still under the name of creator Francine Pascal), the scenes are short and sweet, and many characters make up many story lines. Also, they only take a couple hours to read.

Anyway, Bad Girl sees Elizabeth dealing with her perhaps borderline obsession with how Conner is treating her. At the moment, Conner is ignoring her, and she's not handling it well. At least the book acknowledges that this isn't healthy, unlike the creepy Twilight series. Anyway, it's pretty hilarious to read her reactions to his behavior: "After all, it was all Elizabeth's fault. She sighed, sneaking a glance in Conner's direction. She was the one who got herself trapped in this role of the good girl." Self-loathing is never more hilarious.

Elizabeth ends up having to talk to the school counselor, who then tips off her parents that she's struggling with aftermath the earthquake. Overly strict parenting and subsequent rebellion ensue. All of this is to say, it's hilariously cliche and the perfect read for someone who can't think about anything of substance anymore.

But the real highlight of the Senior Year series is the "handwritten" diary pages and various emails in the chapter interims. You get some angsty and often times legitimately funny interior dialogue and perspective from the characters. If you think about it, it's like how The Office and various other sitcoms have used the documentary talking head interviews to make a situation funnier. In this case, it's absolutely funnier with a character's perspective front and center.

But that inner dialogue is no competition for hilarious narration. I mean, when you read a chapter that ends with this:

"Conner sighed. Finding Megan was all that mattered. The Elizabeth factor shouldn't affect anything.

Conner walked over and roughly pulled open the diriver's-side door.

He could pretend all he wanted to. But he knew the Elizabeth factor always affected everything."

You know you've got great teen lit in your hands.


The Audacity of Rock: Part 33

Weird chord progressions and crazy lyrics.

Sometimes I don't know whether I hate or love a band because they're just so weird. Maybe I should just settle for unique affection?

"Don't Take Me Alive" by Steely Dan (1976)

Truthfully, I don't know too much of Steely Dan's music, but the jazz-rock underground classic band is instantly recognizable. They use funky chord progressions and eccentric lyrics to create...I don't even know. "Don't Take Me Alive" might be about the old West if it weren't for the megaphone reference (*mu chord*). Also, what's with the pronunciation of "Oregon?" Yes, that is what they're saying.

"Ready, Able" by Grizzly Bear (2009)

While Grizzly Bear is probably more psychedelic/Radiohead than jazzy, their music is still jarring. The song never goes where you expect in terms of chord progressions, vocals, harmonies, or use of instruments. I also have no idea what they're singing about in "Ready, Able," but it sure is pretty, and the music video will give you nightmares.

1. What's with Seattle and Steely Dan? Every time I turn it on classic rock, there they are.
2. What's your favorite crazy/odd but good band?


Cartoon Network > Andy Samberg

Today, after losing a game of Monopoly to the kid I nanny, he turned on the TV to watch some Teen Titans*. The following was one of Cartoon Network's random in between shows things:

And it occurred to me that it was way funnier than 3/4 of Andy Samberg's digital shorts.

There's beauty in brevity, Andy, and you usually overstay your welcome. Case in point:

I want to like you, but you're just not that funny on your own for more than a minute. Sometimes, bad is just bad and not funny. I'm sorry you just got owned by some kid with sunglasses who probably didn't even write that ridiculous number about walking a squirrel.

Thrift store flannel. Ha!

*A surprisingly watchable show.


I forgot how much I love this song

Being born in 1987, I was the perfect audience for Disney's animation renaissance in the last decade of the 20th Century. As much as I watched and listened to the music of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King as a kid, I'll deny absolutely loving those movies now*.

And then I hear one of the songs from them and I get goose bumps and realize I know every lyric.

Take "Part of Your World" from 1989's The Little Mermaid for example:

The voice of Ariel, Jodi Benson, also voiced an old (non-Disney) favorite: Thumbelina (1994).

Watching The Little Mermaid now, it's fairly apparently film that it has an anti-feminist message about a shapely teenager in a seashell bra who finds out she can still get a man just based on looks. And there's the hidden penises all over the place, and a frighteningly buxom villain; the film is kind of a mess.

But just listening to this song, it's clear there is some brilliance in this, and it helps me get over the fact that I watch this movie 234987 times a week when I was 5.

Alan Menken, you're a musical genius.

*How many versions of "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" did you have to sit through in various talent shows?


Medley of the Day: Key Change edition

Nothing makes me giggle in delight more than a song that decides to take it up or down a notch with a key change at the last minute.

I know I already assaulted you with "I'd Love to Lay You Down" by Conway Twitty in the most ridiculous edition of The Audacity of Rock, but it bears repeating:

Speaking of country key changes, "I Walk the Line" by Johnny Cash. What is there, like 5? Good work, young Mr. Cash.

Although, a key change is the perfect way to end a prolonged musical experience as well. Take the show closing "Danse Mon Esmeralda" from Notre Dame de Paris. I kind of hate this song for making me think it's over, but instead just changing keys for another depressing reprise of the chorus, but it's too glorious to really hate.

Speaking of theatrical key changes, "Keep Yourself Alive" by Queen. I love everything about this song and this music video.

And no worries, the art of a great key change isn't lost. Here's MGMT's very recent "The Youth."


Cannonball Read #1: The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance

This is part of Pajiba's 2009-2010 Cannonball Read. The goal is to read and write reviews for 52 books in one year. Let's see if I can do it.

My new favorite Mormon Elna Baker's memoir The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance was exactly what I was hoping for: an honest look at life for those who love being Mormon, but also love being normal. Just recently moving back to Seattle after a 4-year stint in the LDS Mecca of Provo, Utah, I could use a little refresher of what it's like in the real world.

The book chronicles Baker's life mostly from the time she moved out and went to NYU to be an actor to present day. She talks about everything from her love life to losing 80 pounds to not fitting in at church to working with creepy realistic babies at FAO Shwarz. Some of the stories she shares I've heard before (she's been a contributor to This American Life and some of her stage acts are on YouTube), but in written form, she seems more honest. She's not just aiming for a punchline (although they are in there), but for revealing her perspective and thought process.

What I appreciated most about TNYRMSHD though, is that it's funny without being insulting. Baker pokes fun at a weird culture and weird beliefs while giving sincere reasons why she stays around. She's walking a fine line between wanting to belong to the regular world, but also wanting to feel the peace she finds in religion. It's hard to express why you believe in God without getting cheesy and overly sacrosanct, but Baker manages to do it. Probably because it's sandwiched between moments of trying to lose her virginity and finding out she unknowingly used amphetamines to lose weight, but it works for me. My experience is that you find God in the weirdest of places, and it was nice to read that someone else finds that, too.