Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A little Hunger Games humor...

Brilliance. This made me laugh out loud—and immediately consider trying this. Courtesy of George Takei...

Book Review: "The Absolutist" by John Boyne

Tristan Sadler, newly 21, travels to Norwich from his London home to take care of an errand he is dreading. He has promised to deliver a sheaf of letters his friend Will Bancroft received while they fought together during World War I to Will's sister. And while this errand dredges up memories of the fighting and the deaths that Tristan would rather not remember, it also forces him to confront his feelings, his actions, and the direction the rest of his life is going to take.

Spending the day with Will's outspoken sister, Marian, as she deals with the frustration and sadness talking about her brother even three years after his death, serves as both a catharsis and a source of great pain and anxiety for Tristan. But in the end, he has the opportunity to unburden his soul of things he has kept hidden for the three years since Will's death, although doing so may not provide the relief he desperately needs.

To say that this book devastated me is an understatement. It is easily one of the most beautifully written, emotionally gripping books I've read this year, and perhaps in some time. John Boyne's storytelling in this book reminds me a little of E.M. Forster—Maurice in particular—and as the book moved toward a conclusion I feared, I couldn't tear myself away yet I didn't want the story to unfold and, ultimately, end. This is a book about relationships, betrayal, courage, and standing up for yourself and your beliefs. This is an almost poetic novel I won't soon forget, although definitely one that doesn't necessarily fill you with happiness and hope. Truly one of the best books I've read all year.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Book Review: "Shine Shine Shine" by Lydia Netzer

Sunny and Maxon's lives have been intertwined since they met when Maxon was seven and Sunny was six. Both were different, and their relationship always allowed them to be different together. But 20 years later, the two are married and living in Norfolk, Virginia—Maxon is a Nobel Prize-winning scientist working on programming robots to colonize the moon, while Sunny has the perfect housewife role down pat. They've always been able to deal with any troubles that have come their way, although their relationship has been strained of late by the stresses of raising an autistic son, Bubber; the terminal illness of Sunny's mother; Maxon's preparing to travel to the moon to start his robots on their work; and the rapidly arriving delivery of their second child.

But on the same day that Maxon leaves for the moon, things start to go awry, and the perfectly placed world Sunny has always had control over starts shifting. A random car accident reveals Sunny's baldness, which she has hidden from her friends since moving to Virginia, and causes her to re-examine many of the decisions she has made with her life, including keeping Bubber medicated to try and help control his autism. Without even knowing what is happening with the other, both Sunny and Maxon are reflecting on their tumultuous, passionate, and interconnected lives together in an effort to decide what to do next.

In the end, it's amazing how much can change in just one split second. This is a beautifully written book about a dynamic, slightly dysfunctional relationship that grows into a life, and a life that is more chaotic and moves in directions different than one would like. I thought Lydia Netzer did a terrific job in telling Sunny and Maxon's story, and she created some absolutely fantastic, dynamic characters that I'm still thinking about. The narrative structure tends to shift back and forth in time and perspective, which can be a little confusing, but I found myself tremendously invested in this book very quickly. Don't be misled by the description of this book found on most sites, because it makes the book seem much more abstract and weird than it is. Definitely a story worth getting into.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Be the glass...

We all could stand to be a little full of ourselves from time to time...

You've Got to See This: "The Impostors" (1998)

Last week I started a new feature called "You've Got to See This," which will talk about movies I really enjoyed that you may not have seen (or in some cases, even heard of). This was inspired by a recent Entertainment Weekly feature called The 50 Best Movies You've Never Seen.

This week: 1998's The Impostors, a slapstick comedy directed by Stanley Tucci.

In 1996, Tucci and Oliver Platt directed and starred in Big Night, which told the story of two brothers whose Italian restaurant is failing, so they plan one special night to try and turn it around. In The Impostors, Tucci hoped to capture some similar magic, and brought a number of the actors from Big Night back.

Out-of-work actors Arthur (Tucci) and Maurice (Oliver Platt) are dejected about their failure to land work. When their heckling of famed thespian Sir Jeremy Burtom (Alfred Molina) leads Burtom to threaten the pair's lives, they stow away on a cruise ship. And wouldn't you know it, Burtom and his entourage end up on the ship as well, so Arthur and Maurice turn to disguises, hiding places, and general mischief in order to avoid the certainly inevitable chaos which is sure to ensure should Burtom find them.

The ship is populated by a number of interesting characters, including Campbell Scott as staff director Meistrich, who rules the ship with an iron fist and a monocle, and fancies head stewardess Lily (Lili Taylor), who is in love with ship detective Marco (Matt McGrath). Meanwhile, first mate Voltri (Tony Shalhoub) has plans to blow up the ship on behalf of his unnamed country, the morose Emily Essendine (Hope Davis) has taken a shine to suicidal lounge singer Happy Franks (Steve Buscemi), and a couple (Alison Janney and Richard Jenkins) have a major heist planned. Needless to say, major hijinks ensue.

The Impostors is definitely an homage to the slapstick comedies of yesterday. There is a great deal of broad physical comedy and farce in the movie, so if you're not a fan, this is probably not a movie for you. It's one of those movies to watch when you're in a carefree, humorous mood, and not looking for a movie that's intellectually stimulating. You can certainly tell that the actors had a lot of fun while making the film, and I can only imagine how many takes some of the scenes took, because many of the actors look like they're just on the verge of bursting into laughter more than a few times.

Is it a perfect film? Absolutely not. But it's zany, wacky, and a little stupid, and sometimes that's all I need to crack me up.

Watch the trailer.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Book Review: "Where Things Come Back" by John Corey Whaley

The summer before his senior year of high school throws Cullen Witter for a number of loops—his cousin dies of an overdose, his small town in Arkansas becomes obsessed with the alleged reappearance of a woodpecker that had been extinct for more than 60 years, and his beloved brother, 15-year-old Gabriel, inexplicably disappears. Cullen is unsure how to handle this loss, and is only able to cope with the support of his best friend, Lucas, and channeling his rage into the media frenzy that has gripped his hometown.

Meanwhile, Benton Sage travels to Ethiopia as a missionary, helping to bring Christianity to people in small towns. But he has a crisis of faith and conscience and returns home, only to be shunned by his family, so he enrolls at the University of Atlanta.

The intersection of these two seemingly separate stories are the backbone of John Corey Whaley's fantastic debut novel, Where Things Come Back. This is an emotionally gripping, humorous, and compelling book about hope, faith, friendship, and love, and it also explores a number of religious themes, including the angel Gabriel and the apocryphal Book of Enoch. As I read this book, I kept hoping that the plot wouldn't twist in certain directions, and Whaley's storytelling definitely kept me guessing. I absolutely want to know what happens to these characters next. Once again, I am blown away at the quality of books being written for the young adult audience, as there is nothing in this book that made it any different than an "adult" novel. I definitely look forward to see what Whaley comes up with next.

Book Review: "Swimming across the Hudson" by Joshua Henkin

Ben and Jonathan Suskind are brothers born to different birth mothers, who were adopted by Orthodox Jewish parents and raised in a childhood punctuated by religion and scholarship. Separated by only a few months, they were nearly inseparable as children, attending the same schools, playing on the same sports teams, even going on double dates together. Both went to Yale, but as Jonathan pursued a career in medicine and came out of the closet, Ben felt fairly rudderless. He followed Jonathan to San Francisco, and Jonathan became a geriatric physician and had a solid long-term relationship with his boyfriend, Sandy, while Ben was unsure about many things, including his career prospects, his religiousness (he stopped being observant of Jewish customs after high school), and his relationship with his girlfriend, Jenny, and her preteen daughter, Tara.

When one day Ben receives a letter from his birth mother, asking if he'd be willing to meet her, it completely throws him for a loop. He encourages Jonathan to search for his birth parents as well so they can share the anxiety of this experience, but Jonathan refuses. As Ben begins a relationship with his natural mother, it leads to fractures in his relationship with Jenny, an unsettling disclosure from his parents, and a general uncertainty about his future. And it causes Ben to take actions he immediately regrets.

Joshua Henkin is a terrific storyteller, and having read both his newest book, the magnificent The World Without You, and his earlier book, the equally superlative Matrimony, it was interesting to read this, his first novel. While I found Ben to be a frustrating and unsympathetic character from time to time, Henkin helps you understand the motivations behind his actions. This is a book about family, identity, religion, relationships, and coping with life's uncertainty. Once again, Joshua Henkin has made me a fan.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

SYTYCD Recap: Man, You're On My Man

Last night I realized that as much as I'm enjoying this season, I absolutely loathe this new format without a results show. To have contestants dance and then find out who was in the bottom three last week (despite this week's performance) doesn't make sense to me and, as was the case this week, will result in delayed eliminations, so the contestant who deserved to be eliminated one week will be eliminated the following week. (I believe both Amber and Brandon should have been eliminated along with Janaya and Nick last week as both were lackluster the previous week; instead, neither made the bottom three.) I wish they'd name the bottom three first, eliminate two people, then do the dancing. But what do I know? (Probably as much as Zooey Deschanel. Ouch.)

Cat was all Veronica Lake (or Kim Basinger in LA Confidential) with her super-glam tresses and crimson lips. She really is a joy to watch and clearly loves the contestants and her job.

The show opened with a Charlie Chaplin-meets-Travelers Insurance group number to Jun Miyake's The Here and After. Everyone was dressed like Chaplin, complete with little mustaches, canes, and bowlers, and they seemed to be passing around a red umbrella. I enjoyed the routine but with everyone dressed alike (and in such masquerade) it was difficult to tell anyone apart, which I don't like. But Amelia was fairly recognizable, perhaps because her mustache contrasted with her super-pale skin. (More on that later.) Lately with the group numbers whenever I play "Guess the Choreographer," I'm always wrong, and on this one I was wrong, too, because I would never have thought Keith-Tyce would have choreographed this number. But good on him.

Christina Applegate returned to the judges panel for another season. She's a great complement to Nigel and Mary, because she's knowledgeable without being a know-it-all, and she's not afraid to have an opinion different from theirs, but she seemed a little hesitant to criticize the dancers a few times, backpedaling with things like, "But you're a great couple." Leave the niceness to American Idol, Samantha Who.

Prior to each routine, the contestants shared something we might not know about their partners. Some things were stupid, some were gross, and some were endearing. Apparently George peed his pants the first time he heard the starter's pistol at a track meet, and Tiffany had a 5.22 gradepoint average in high school. (Now she's a student at UCF. Go, Knights!) The two performed a Nappy/Tabs routine to Out of My Mind by B.O.B. (featuring Nicki Minaj), which was about two babysitters who go crazy when their charge won't stop crying. It featured cartoon furniture straight out of SpongeBob, and it was definitely fun in pieces, but I expected more, although Tiffany was much harder hitting than George, who still threw in some great footwork.

Nigel asked that the hiphop routines start to get "grungier," but told Tiffany, "You got down there, girl!" He also accused "track star George" of getting tired and said he seemed out of breath. Not one to shy away from hyperbole, Mary said, "I'm out of my mind over this couple," and said they were fabulous together and lucky to have one another. Christina also praised Tiffany's "balance between sweetness and dirty," but said she wished the slower movements were "soupier."

New couple Brandon and Amber were up next. You may not know that Amber is a hairstylist, which explains why her hair never looks the same twice, and Brandon is in the main crew of Step Up: Revolution (which they didn't mention last week). Plus, Brandon has an awesome smile. (Umm, that was my note, not Amber's.) Ray Leeper was back and choreographed a jazz routine to Aretha's Dr. Feelgood, about a couple in the South that works hard every day but can't keep their hands off each other. It was a hot routine (although not as hot as Sasha and tWitch's routine to Misty Blue last season, which Cat compared this to) and I thought in particular, Amber was really fantastic. I didn't feel as if Brandon had a lot to do other than move Amber around, but he did that well, and with a strong gentleness.

After taking the Lord's name in vain (at least that's what I'm guessing she did, since she was bleeped for a bit), Christina said that she almost felt no one should have been in the room for that routine, it was so private. She said that Amber was the best she has been this season, calling her "passionate, sexy, and beautiful," and told Brandon she forgot in that routine that he was a stepper. Mary babbled something about cereal (maybe she was hungry), called Amber "sultry and soulful," and praised Brandon's "fabulous, unforced masculinity." (I'm not going to mention that she made yet another plug for the movie-that-was-promoted-ad-infinitum last week.) Creepy Nigel called it "baby making choreography," and took it one step further down Creepy Road by mentioning that Ray might have choreographed Napoleon and Tabitha. (And one word: gross.) He said that this was the first time Amber let it all out, and said that Brandon was so strong (and also grossly sweaty) but gentle and careful how he placed her. He did caution Brandon to lower his shoulders when he danced, which apparently is why his suspenders kept falling down. Learn something new every day.

Don't forget National Dance Day this Saturday, kids. And while SYTYCD's lighting crew got an Emmy nod this year, clearly the camera crew didn't, because Nigel kept mentioning people in the audience who the camera never showed. There's a celebrity gala that you can't afford to go to. And also: Shirley MacLaine.

Hottie Pasha returned to choreograph a cha cha for Dareian and Janelle. Janelle is apparently a wannabe rapper who shouldn't quit her day job, and Dareian likes to skateboard. Whoa. Pasha (who was entirely too clothed, even for choreographing) inexplicably chose the ubiquitous Call Me Maybe for their cha cha. Umm, wha? I still thought it was sexy despite the really wrong music, but I expected more from both of them.

Mary was unimpressed, although she said they had a few phenomenal couple tricks. She said their dancing was in and out, the transitions were rough, both had sickled feet (we know all about how bad Dareian's feet are), and while she called them an adorable couple, she said they had no chemistry. (That's the one thing I completely disagree with.) Christina said that Janelle sparkled, although she called out Dareian for doing strange things with his hands, which Nigel picked up on as well. (Apparently the arm that isn't doing work just sits there.) He also didn't like their feet, but more importantly, Nigel didn't think Janelle was sexy. Bam.

Next up were Lindsay and Cole, with a Mandy Moore contemporary number to Wild Horses by Charlotte Martin. BTW, did you know Lindsay has a foot fetish, err, phobia? Anyway, this routine is about the relationship between love and hate. Cole represents all of the hate in the world, and Lindsay is a bright light that Cole is trying to bring down. This routine was exquisite—the lighting was such that the dancers' shadows played out the entire routine on the wall behind them, I once again marveled at Cole's power, speed, and fluidity, and at one point, Lindsay's hair came over her face and it didn't stop her from dancing a beat. I thought this deserved a standing ovation—definitely more so than a number that got one (cough, Cyrus and Eliana, cough).

Nigel praised Mandy's choreography, told Lindsay that her spirit was in the right place but warned her that she had to point her toes better and straighten her legs. He also said that he marveled at how meticulously neat and tidy Cole is with every movement, and mentioned that this could become boring...but Cole could never be boring because he is "an absolute genius." Mary talked endlessly about how she had been forced by producers to fake Lindsay out during the green mile and make her believe there was room for only one ballroom dancer (Witney), but she loved Lindsay, thought she was mesmerizing and has "all the magic in the world." She praised Cole's versatility, asking him, "What can't you do?" She also called it a privilege to watch him each week. Christina called Cole an enigma, that he was a martial artist doing grand jetés, and said he was beautiful to watch. She also noticed how Lindsay's hair masked her face, but realized that she spoke volumes through her body. Cole's face when he is receiving positive feedback makes him look like a little boy.

According to Amelia, Will wishes he was in a boy band and sings all the time. (Wait, doesn't everybody?) And the secret to Amelia's pale skin, says Will, is the tube of "SPF 100" she carries with her everywhere. She also apparently wears a robe and a hat outside. Mandy Moore was back (already!) with a jazz routine about how opposites attract. (Did you totally think they'd do a routine with MC Skat Cat to Paula Abdul's song? I did.) During rehearsal, Mandy became seriously enamored with the big hunk of man Will is, and kept pushing Amelia to the side so she could dance with him instead. (She joked she might bump Amelia off.) Amelia play-acted jealously (at least I think so), saying, "Mandy, man, you're on my man." They danced to You! by The Creatures, clad in clashing black and white outfits. Amelia looked like Lisa Stansfield or the lead singer of 80s band Swing Out Sister. (Break out...) I thought the number was playful and well-danced, with some cool somersaults and intertwined footwork.

Christina called the couple "the dream team," saying their chemistry was palpable, and that they've embraced each of the different styles of their routines so well. Nigel felt quite the contrary, saying he didn't like the costumes, felt the routine didn't connect and that the pair had no chemistry (I don't know what show he was watching last night). He did say Will has the best personality of anyone on the show and he loves where Amelia "comes from" and where her head is at. Mary decided to sit on the fence, saying it wasn't the pair's strongest routine but it was still very good. She praised Will's partnering, saying he's the best partner in the competition and all the girls would clamor for him because of his strength and lifting ability. She also called Amelia "phenomenal to watch." Will adorably was rubbing Amelia's back when the pair received negative feedback. So cute, these two.

Audrey and Matt took on a Liz Lira-choreographed salsa next. Apparently Audrey wears glasses and a retainer to bed and sleeps with stuffed animals, while Matt only started dancing when he was 16, as before that he was Ryan Goslinga golfer. Rehearsals for the salsa didn't go well, and the actual performance, to Cinco Salsa by Sverre Indris Joner with HSC and Kork, didn't fare much better. It was really slow, and Audrey felt that just because she was wearing an outfit with fringe, shaking it equaled salsa. And while Matt is adorable, he's kinda bland. Like Ken doll bland.

Mary said that the two are one of her favorite couples, but the routine "was not on fire," as the chemistry and the connections were off. Christina found the music distracting and said the pair "looked lost." Nigel said he expects the salsa to be "a cocktail mix of dance, sex, and energy," but their routine was "a margarita mix on quarter speed." (Ouch.) He pointed out that one move, the pot stirrer, is usually low to the ground and very fast, but theirs was higher up and really slow. Points to the audience, however, for the "We Love Matt Gosling" sign.

Whitney Houston in Sparkle. Break, heart.

Next up, Chehon and Witney. Chehon is apparently an excellent violinist but puts orange juice in his cereal instead of milk. And Witney speaks a little German, but not enough so she and Chehon can talk about the other dancers secretly. They danced to a Stacey Tookey contemporary number about an impossible love story, where two people want to be together but can't. Chehon confided that he totally understood the mood of the number because he had been in a similar situation. (Was it wrong of me to wonder if it was with a girl or a guy?) They danced to, ironically, Whitney Houston's I Will Always Love You (and Witney mentioned she was named for the late singer, apparently by parents who couldn't spell), and it was absolutely mesmerizing and emotional. The couple danced in blue light the entire routine, which gave it a more poignant quality, and Stacey's choreography played both to Chehon's balletic abilities and his strong partnering. There were some incredible lifts and catches in this number, and the pair acted so believably. Just wow.

The judges gave the routine a standing ovation. Christina said she was out of breath because the routine left her on the verge of tears, and told the pair, "You were not just muses, you were painters." She called Chehon "stunning," said that Witney was a "concert dancer," and called the routine "one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen." Mary also was in tears because of Whitney Houston's untimely death, and said the couple brought her music to life. She said that the exquisite catch jump was one of the most memorable moments she had ever seen, called Witney "Lindsay" (although she praised her), and said the routine was Chehon's "defining moment." Nigel also tripped up, saying this number showed why Stacey received "an Oscar nomination." (He also congratulated Cat on her Emmy nomination, and you could see her shyly trying to hide her excitement.) He told the couple he was proud the judges could save them last week because they were flawless and so beautiful. No freaking kidding.

Eliana and Cyrus got the pimp spot, and if you thought it would be for a hiphop routine, you are correct, sir! (Eliana probably will run afoul of PETA after Cyrus revealed that she once slept with a bird she raised in her bed and killed it.) So the pair danced to a Nappy/Tabs routine to a District 78 cover of Britney Spears' Toxic, and it portrayed Cyrus as—get this—A ROBOT, and he apparently changed Eliana's ballerina-on-a-jewelry-box into a robot, too. I wasn't nearly as impressed with the routine as I should have been given it played to Cyrus' strengths, although Eliana did quite well with the hiphop.

The judges undeservedly gave the pair a standing ovation (although Christina was reluctant to stand). Nigel said that it was great to see Cyrus finally get his own genre, but said Eliana was stronger than he was, and asked "Where do ballerinas get swag?" Christina was not as impressed with Cyrus, and said he was lucky he hadn't drawn contemporary yet. Bravo, Kelly Bundy, I'm on your side. I'm all for dancers getting their own genre, but to make him play a frigging robot? Seriously? If Cyrus does not improve in gigantic leaps and bounds really soon, he needs to go home, because if he impinges upon the territory of some of my favorites, my head could explode.

And now it was time to reveal last week's bottom three. The bottom three girls were Amber (okay), Lindsay (expected), and Eliana. No Janelle? Really? The bottom three guys were George (WHAT??), Brandon (I figured), and Dareian. (So no Janelle, but Eliana in the bottom three, and George instead of CYRUS? Are you kidding me?) Nigel announced that the judges wanted to see Amber, Eliana, Brandon, and Dareian dance for their lives, but not Lindsay or George, which I guess meant they would be saved.

Amber's solo to Lana Del Rey's This is What Makes Us Girls was as lackluster as her personality. Stepper Brandon danced to I Want it All Back by Tye Tribbett and GA, and he forgot he needed to step. Eliana's solo was exquisite, danced to Olafur Arnalds' Near Light, and Dareian threw in every trick and move in the book—pirouettes galore and a death defying horizontal leap—as he danced to John Legend's Ordinary People. But before the results, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dazzled with a routine called "The Hunt," danced to Jungle Jazz by Les Tambours du Bronx.

And it was judgment time. Nigel once again reminded everyone there were no adverse votes, just fewer votes in support of someone. He told Lindsay the judges thought she had more room to grow and the potential to do it, which is why they were saving her, and then announced they would be sending Amber home, despite a stellar routine and finally showing her potential. (Again, no personality at all.) He told George he had no idea why he was in the bottom three (perhaps because they don't stop pimping Cyrus) after his fantastic foxtrot last week, so he was safe. He said that Dareian danced the most incredible routine to save his life, and mentioned that they decided to expand the show from a top 16 to a top 20 to include Brandon in order to show the variety of dance styles out there, but it was time to send Brandon home. (Watching his journey made me sad he received no camera time during auditions and made me wish he at least did more stepping during his solo, but I'm glad Dareian was saved.)

Although there's no guessing what the voters will do now, here's what I think:

Should be bottom three guys: Dareian, Matthew, and George
Will be bottom three guys: Dareian, George, and Will (or Matthew)
Should be bottom three girls: Janelle, Tiffany, and Audrey
Will be bottom three girls: Janelle, Tiffany, and Audrey (or perhaps Eliana)

Personally, I think Cyrus and Janelle should go home (although I thought Cyrus was stronger this week), but I think Dareian and Janelle dodged a bullet this week but will lose out next time. The show will take a two-week break so as not to compete with the Olympics.

I feel we're due for Lil C or Debbie Allen on the judges' panel some time soon, and maybe Neil Patrick Harris. Or bring back Christina again. Just no more Shankman, k?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

They're not laughing at you, they're, well...

I can attest to the value of Twitter as a place to share thoughts, inspiration, blog posts, and amusing things with my followers (and read the same from those I follow).

Twitter is also a really awesome place to rant about everything that bothers me, which can often be a pretty large list. Whether it's people who polish their nails or talk on their cell phones during a movie, cut me off in traffic, talk on their cell phone in a public restroom, or that annoying colleague who forgets to fill the ice cube trays, Twitter is always there for me.

As you might imagine, celebrities are often the target of a great deal of abuse on Twitter, too. And as Jimmy Kimmel demonstrated on his show the other night, some of the things people say can be both funny and insulting.

He asked several celebrities to read some of the tweets written about them. You don't realize how mean some of the things are until you see the actual person about whom the tweet was written read it aloud. (Granted, some of them are still funny, but...)

Caution: this video contains language not suitable if you're watching at work, with small children, or if you're easily offended.

A need for remembrance amidst all of the pomp and circumstance...

In just a few days, the world will be swept up in Olympic fever as the 2012 games begin in London. But amidst all of the excitement and all of the celebration comes a startling realization—the 2012 Olympics mark the 40th anniversary of the murder of 11 Israeli athletes as part of a hostage crisis during the 1972 Olympics in Munich.

The world watched in horror as the events in Munich unfolded, and ABC sportscaster Jim McKay delivered the awful news with his famous words, "They're all gone." Yet claiming they do not wish to "politicize" the Olympics, and mentioning that "the opening ceremony is an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident," the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has denied repeated requests—including one made by Israeli officials—for a moment of silence during the opening ceremony to mark this solemn anniversary. (Apparently, families of the victims have requested a simple moment of silence on many occasions before.)

Let us not forget how often the Olympics have been used as an instrument of politics before, including the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow, and the Soviet Union's boycott of the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles.

The Olympics mark one occasion when nearly the whole world stands together, shoulder to shoulder, to experience the glory of achievement, the beauty of teamwork, the sheer power of self-belief and determination. What better time to salute 11 athletes who had the same dream as all of those who gather in London but were killed in pursuit of that dream? Such a moment would not "politicize" the Olympics, it would bring a necessary degree of heart and soul and gravitas to the games before the focus turns to who wins, who loses, who exceeds expectations and who falls short of their dreams.

NBC's Olympics anchor, Bob Costas, has criticized the IOC's decision, and has decided to take a stand. He will have his own minute of silence as the Israeli athletes enter the Olympic Stadium in London. Costas told The Hollywood Reporter what his plans were for the broadcast:
"I intend to note that the IOC denied the request. Many people find that denial more than puzzling but insensitive. Here's a minute of silence right now."
I salute Bob Costas for taking a stand. I salute the memory of the 11 athletes whose lives were taken simply because of their religion and their desire to proudly represent their country on the world stage. And I will join Bob Costas in my own moment of silence to mark this occasion.

To do anything else seems to run counter to the Olympic spirit.

Book Review: "Creole Belle" by James Lee Burke

In 1990, I read my first James Lee Burke book, one of the early novels in his Dave Robicheaux series, Black Cherry Blues. He hooked me immediately, and I quickly read the other books in the series he had written to date.

Twenty-two years later, I've read 27 of Burke's books—the entirety of three series (Robicheaux, Billy Bob Holland, and Hackberry Holland)—as well as several of his older stand-alone novels. I just devoured his 19th Dave Robicheaux novel, Creole Belle, and I can honestly say that it not only was one of Burke's best, but it was an absolutely phenomenal book, poetic, dark, elegiacal, and full of evocative imagery and complex, well-drawn characters.

As the book begins, New Iberia Deputy Sheriff Dave Robicheaux is in the hospital recovering from a near-fatal gunshot wound, and his growing dependence on morphine to ease his pain is threatening to shatter his years of troubled sobriety. One night in the hospital he is visited by Creole singer Tee Jolie Melton, who talks to him about her problems, and leaves him an iPod with some Cajun and Creole songs he likes. The problem is, only Dave can hear the songs, and Tee Jolie allegedly disappeared several weeks before, so no one (including Dave) can believe she actually came to the hospital.

When Tee Jolie's younger sister, Blue, washes up dead floating in a block of ice, Dave and his best friend, ex-policeman Clete Purcel, try to find some answers. Along the way they encounter many people who are not what they seem, and discover evil that lurks far deeper than they ever imagined. And Clete comes face to face with his illegitimate daughter, Gretchen, who may or may not be a contract killer. Dave and Clete, "the Bobbsey Twins from homicide," must outwit and outfight some of James Lee Burke's most twisted villains while battling their own mortality, regret, and inner demons, and protecting those closest to them.

If you've never read anything by James Lee Burke, I'd encourage you to do so. Burke's heroes are so flawed, and carry the weight of the world on their shoulders, but have a true (if not sometimes skewed) sense of right and wrong. His ability to paint a scene in his beloved Louisiana can bring that picture to your mind and make you think about it long after. Burke has been one of my favorite authors for nearly 20 years, and having met him once at a book signing, he's an incredibly nice, self-effacing man. And at 76, he is at the top of his form with Creole Belle, and I only hope he continues sharing his talent for years to come.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Batman is a real super man...

A lot has been said in the past about Christian Bale—he's intense, he's moody, he takes his film roles a little too seriously, he even reacted tepidly to the success of the Broadway adaptation of his 1990s film Newsies. And of course, there was his infamous rant at a director of photography on the set of Terminator: Salvation.

But all of that has faded away with Bale's trip earlier today to visit those wounded in Friday's shooting rampage during the premiere of his latest movie, The Dark Knight Rises. Bale visited seven patients at the Medical Center of Aurora. "The patients were really happy to meet Bale," Bill Voloch, the hospital's interim president, said. "There are obviously big fans of his movies. They wanted to see Batman and were really pleased to see Bale."

Bale was deeply affected by the tragedy in Aurora, which claimed the lives of 12 people and wounded 58 more. Following the shooting, he released a statement which said, "Words cannot express the horror that I feel. I cannot begin to truly understand the pain and grief of the victims and their loved ones, but my heart goes out to them."

Entertainers often take a great deal of flak for missteps, misstatements, and misdeeds, so it is tremendously admirable that Bale chose to make this visit. He demonstrated true class, and hopefully was a bright spot for people whose lives were altered so drastically just a few days ago.

He truly is a super hero.

There's at least one in every crowd...

Nothing like a speaker that knows the drill. From the New Yorker:

Long live the Muppets!!

Not to beat a dead, well, chicken, I want to give kudos to the Jim Henson Company for taking a stand against Chick-Fil-A. While I agree that it should be any company's prerogative to support whatever causes they choose, it is also any other company's prerogative to choose to end working with a company because it supports discrimination.

Thanks to Lisa Henson, CEO, and the entire company for being such strong proponents of equality, and realizing the Muppets stand for love—no matter who (or what) it is you love.

And speaking of which, George Takei posted this picture on his Facebook page earlier today. Says it all, doesn't it?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Why can't all mayors be like this one?

Sometimes politicians do reprehensible things, and sometimes they do things you can admire. Put Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino in the latter category.

After Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy publicly announced his company's anti-equality stance earlier this week, saying same-sex marriage "invites God's judgment on our nation," Mayor Menino vowed to keep Chick-fil-A out of Boston, even possibly from a popular tourist spot just steps from the Freedom Trail.

Said Menino to the Boston Herald yesterday, "Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston. You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against a population. We’re an open city, we’re a city that’s at the forefront of inclusion.

"That’s the Freedom Trail. That’s where it all started right here. And we’re not going to have a company, Chick-fil-A or whatever the hell the name is, on our Freedom Trail."

You've got to love a political leader who is willing to put equality and what is right over what might make the most business sense. I'd love to see more leaders follow Menino's example.

And just to beat the Chick-fil-A horse a tiny bit more, in case you didn't see it, the company issued an interesting non-apology apology after Dan Cathy's statements caught the ire of many and led to customers across the country promising to boycott. (Rumor has it a number of franchisees were irritated that Cathy made the company's stance public because it would hurt their business.)

The company said:
"The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect—regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender. We will continue this tradition in the over 1,600 Restaurants run by independent Owner/Operators. Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.

"Chick-fil-A is a family-owned and family-led company serving the communities in which it operates. From the day Truett Cathy started the company, he began applying biblically-based principles to managing his business. For example, we believe that closing on Sundays, operating debt-free and devoting a percentage of our profits back to our communities are what make us a stronger company and Chick-fil-A family.

"Our mission is simple: to serve great food, provide genuine hospitality and have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A."
In other words, you know how we stand, but we're not going to remind you anymore.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Great moments in music history...

If you've ever wondered just what Manfred Mann was saying in Blinded by the Light other than, well, "blinded by the light," perhaps this is what Bruce Springsteen was thinking when he wrote the song.

Or perhaps not.

But there's got to be something behind, "...And Go-Cart Mozart was checking out the weather charts..."

How can we stop the madness?

I was watching the local news early this morning when Matt Lauer broke in with the devastating special report about a mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, during the midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. As of current reports, 14 people are dead and 36 are wounded; reportedly the youngest person taken to the hospital as a result of the incident was six years old.

To hear of such a tragedy, particularly in a state still rocked by memories of the Columbine massacre, is completely unsettling. For me, the movie theater has always been such a haven, a place to get away and completely immerse myself in whatever world the filmmakers have created, so a massacre in a theater seems incomprehensible.

Now is not the time to debate gun control. It is time, however, to try and understand why people devalue human life so much that they feel justified in killing innocent people.

Who made you God, that you should have the power to take and alter the course of human lives?

My thoughts and prayers go out to all of those affected by this violence. I only hope the death toll doesn't continue to rise. And I hope that the trauma of this experience doesn't cause long-lasting effects for those who were involved.

I just wish life made more sense.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Book Review: "Office Girl" by Joe Meno

"What do you do with the rest of your life when you realize you don't like anything?" This is one of the questions raised by Odile, one of the main characters of Joe Meno's newest book, Office Girl. Odile is a 20-something art school dropout working in a series of boring office jobs and dreaming of creating something special, of making people take notice. She finds herself falling into inappropriate relationship after inappropriate relationship, all because she's afraid of not being liked. When she meets Jack, an amateur sound artist whose marriage has ended and who doesn't know what to do with his life, the two forge an immediate connection while trying not to fall into their regular behavior patterns.

Odile and Jack start an art revolution, which combines performance art (spontaneously breaking into a scene from a movie while on the subway), graffiti, and creating an imaginary persona, Alphonse F., to whom they attribute their "art." All the while, the two find themselves falling in love, experiencing all of the joy, comfort, insecurity, and doubts that young love brings, with the hopes and fears that come with opening yourself up to another person. And with love often comes self-discovery and the ability to make changes in your life, even if they may not be the right ones.

Joe Meno is at his best when he's capturing the angst, insecurity, and eccentricities of 20-somethings or even high school students, as he did in his terrific Hairstyles of the Damned. The book honestly feels like an aggregation of every quirky independent movie about a couple ever made. You can totally see this book as a movie, and in fact, I think these characters might even be more vivid on the screen than they were on the page. This was a tremendously quick read, light and enjoyable, with a hazy ending you may or may not like.

SYTYCD Recap: Stepping Up

Wow, last night's show was jam-packed! Ten routines, a group routine from the Adam Shankman-produced Step Up: Revolution, endless plugs for said movie, and, sadly, the elimination of four(!) dancers. And while I didn't care much about three of the four jettisoned from the competition, I realized that I like so many dancers this season, the eliminations are going to start irritating me more than they usually do. Oh well, if I didn't have something to be irritated about, people would start to worry.

The show opened with a wild routine to Marilyn Manson's Beautiful People, inspired, it seemed to me, by Snow White and the Huntsman, complete with Cyrus as the Phantom of the Opera meets Magic Mirror, dancers in masks and feathers, and lots of frenetic, jerky movements that clearly spelled a Sonya Tayeh routine, didn't it? But no, it was Nappy/Tabs. Go figure. Look at what pregnancy is bringing to this couple—this routine was dynamite.

Intro mini-solos done as couples. Not sure I like that. But here are your girls...and here are your guys!

Cat (sporting bad post-pool hair) promised a "spectacular night of dancing and drama," so it seemed only natural that the king of drama himself, Adam "Step Up" Shankman, was tonight's guest judge. He told Cat she looked like "a big, sexy tomato," so she invited him to "take a bite." So cheeky, our Cat.

National Dance Day plug blah blah blah. Although the choreographer stamps featuring Katherine Dunham, Bob Fosse, Isadora Duncan, and Jose Limon are pretty cool. It's July 28, BTW.

Super-hot paso doble pair Lindsay and Cole opened the evening with a Christopher Scott-choreographed hiphop routine, about a nerdy patient (Cole) who visits a sexy dentist (Lindsay), set to (go figure) Lady GaGa's Teeth. Cole had the nerdy persona down pat, complete with suspenders, high-waisted pants, and black-framed glasses. Lindsay tried vamping it up. It was cute, and I marveled at Cole's fluidity as he moved through the dance, but all in all, I wasn't wowed by the routine. Amazingly, Cole (who was given a lollipop by the sexy dentist) stayed in character during the entire time the judges gave their feedback.

Nigel told Lindsay she should go the UK, because "we need more help with our teeth, and more people would definitely go to the dentist if you were there." He called Lindsay's performance "a little immature," and said she needed to play more to Cole than to the audience. Mary also knocked Lindsay's performance a bit, but called Cole, "A lean, mean dancing machine" and "the nerd of all nerds," although she said, "I find the fact that you're still in character a little unnerving." (Didn't make him shake it, though.) Adam suggested that the American Dental Association adopt the routine to get more people to go to the dentist. He didn't like that people were paying more attention to Cole than him, so he said, "Cole, you're stressing me out here. Dude, let it go!" (He didn't.) He told Lindsay she needed to have a deeper investment in her character. And then Cat took Cole's lollipop and put it in her mouth. "It matched my outfit," she said.

Hot cats Will and Amelia took on a Sonya contemporary routine, to 3326 by Olafur Arnalds. (Anyone catch how many times Will kissed the top of Amelia's head or her forehead in the lead-in to their performance, or during the judges' feedback? Discuss.) Will and Amelia played two souls carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders, looking for the light at the end of the tunnel. I thought this was a brilliant routine; both dancers had amazing extensions, and I particularly loved the part when Will was hanging on to Amelia's leg and she kept dragging him. Amelia looked particularly lovely tonight, I thought, although she's so pale she makes porcelain look dirty.

Mary gave the performance her trademark scream, saying Will and Amelia brought the routine to life and had "gone up another floor" in her eyes. Adam—who called the routine—"sickness" (in a good way)—gave the performance a standing ovation. He said Amelia was brilliant, and praised her ability to get lost in the piece. He also said Will "stepped it up" (shameless plug, and one of many), and that their performances were so good that he wasn't aware of the difference in their sizes. Nigel praised Sonya's choreography, saying it went "from strength to strength," and singled out Amelia's full immersion in her character. He then called the pair "lucky": lucky they're both contemporary dancers, lucky to have great choreography, lucky to have each other, and lucky they're "both brilliant dancers." Easily one of my favorite routines of the night.

Amber and Nick drew ballroom again, this time dancing a tango choreographed by Miriam Larici and Leonardo Barrionuevo, to Sexteto Mayor's Tanguera. In the brief snippet before the performance, Amber mentioned that she and Nick got along as well as "bubblegum and oil." (Sounds like a Selena Gomez song, don't you think?) It was a good tango, not a great tango (like Ellenore and Ryan's from Season 6, or Janette and Brandon's from Season 5), although Amber looked really good. It's amazing how in two dances in his genre Nick hasn't blown me away. I did think they had really good leg movements, though.

Adam called it "hot" and praised Amber's lines, and said that Nick was such a brilliant partner that all Adam could look at was Amber. (He giveth and he taketh away, that Adam.) Nigel disagreed that Nick made Amber look good, saying "Amber made herself look good." He said Nick was very, very strong, although he was quick to point out Nick was in his element. Mary explained that the routine was extremely difficult and demanding, but they made it look effortless. She said Amber was "on fire out there," while she praised Nick for doing so many reverse pivots on his hip, although she, too, pointed out he was in his genre.

Sonya was back again, this time choreographing a contemporary routine for Audrey and guyliner-wearing Matthew (who was also shirtless; thank you, costumers). The routine depicted a robotic power struggle between a man and a woman, and it was danced to Steed Lord's Hear Me Now. (Sonya loves Steed Lord; this is the second song of theirs she's used this season, and she's used at least a few before.) It was a very acrobatic performance—Audrey did an amazing split while being lifted above Matthew's head, and the whole routine was vintage Sonya playing to her strengths. (Oh, and Matthew looks hot in guyliner. I'm just saying.)

Nigel praised the darker style of the routine and called both dancers incredible, saying "you're definitely one of America's favorite couples." Mary also called them one of her favorite couples, saying that they "maximized everything—projection, acceleration, intensity." Adam admitted that until the Green Mile, he had doubts about Audrey, but with her "freaking brilliant" performance, she wiped away all of his doubts. He also told Matt that "if you keep it up like that, it's yours to lose."

Janelle and Dareian took on a Christopher Scott-choreopgraphed lyrical hiphop number to My Girl by The Temptations. (I love when hiphop routines are set to non-traditional songs.) In this routine, Dareian takes Janelle on an elaborate date, and at the end of the date, he plans to propose. (During the mini-intro to the routine, Janelle said, "Marry Dareian? He's like Donald Duck!" Cue Donald Duck imitation...) While I absolutely love Dareian, and think he had some strong moments in the routine, overall, this fell flat. It seemed a little, well, Disney theme park-y, and there wasn't much dancing. But the routine ended with a fairly hot kiss between the two. No quacking then...

Adam said that Dareian was more invested in his character than Janelle was, and explained that this was as important a component of a strong performance as was "dancing a grand jeté." He also said the performance suited Dareian perfectly. Nigel sharpened his claws on Christopher Scott, saying that the routine "felt uninspiring, with the music" and that he had let the dancers down, because "both were capable of more than they were given." Mary said she felt nervous, because the last time two dancers kissed during a routine, Nigel kissed her, so of course, Adam didn't want anyone to upstage him, so he "kissed" Nigel. (You know, when you pretend to kiss someone by putting a hand over their mouth and then kissing the hand. Like you did when you were five.) Time to kill this gag, folks. It actually isn't funny. Mary then called the routine "light and airy" and said the dancers "did it okay." (Again, this underscores one of my problems with this show. The dancers pick a routine and a choreographer at random; it's not their fault if they get too easy or too complex a routine, so they really shouldn't be at risk because of that. If you suck in an easy routine, sure, you should be eliminated, but if you give it your all and the routine sucks, it just doesn't seem fair.)

Watch out, Keith-Tyce, because Sean Cheesman choreographs Broadway numbers, too! This routine, for Janaya and Brandon, took place at a bus stop, where a woman was reading a racy novel and it makes her get a little aggressive with her fellow passenger. (Not as aggressive as it was during rehearsals, apparently, when Brandon took a hit to his "precious jewels.") The routine, to Bring on the Men by Linda Eder (from Jekyll and Hyde) was cute and fun, a little more challenging than Dareian and Janelle's non-hiphop hiphop number. Ironically (in terms of what happened later), Janaya showed lots of personality, and both appeared to have a lot of fun. (Points—not that they matter at this point—to Janaya, for dancing even after losing a shoe.)

Adam called it "super fun," saying that Brandon took a huge "step up" (ugh) and said, "Janaya, this was actually great for you." (Ouch.) Nigel, too, damned Janaya with faint praise, saying "you brought something this week." Mary called it one of the most entertaining numbers of the evening (inasmuch as you could say that Mary is your favorite female judge on the show), said that Brandon "stepped it up" (seriously, people, enough) and praised Janaya for her crazy somersault. Meh.

Can I mention how psyched I was to see Melanie Lapatin on the show? Love her, love her attitude, and can't forget how danced the foxtrot with Russell during Season 6 when his partner, Noelle, was injured.

Anyway, Melanie and Tony Meredith choreographed the jive for Cyrus and Eliana, set to I'm Shakin' by Jack White. If you thought the words "Cyrus" and "jive" might not mesh well, you're pretty much correct. I thought the routine was fun (and Eliana was hot) but Cyrus was just a mess technically, although he did bring a great deal of personality to the number. Some of the footwork was good, but is personality really enough? I feel like it just wasn't fair to some of the other dancers who got cut before the top 20 that Cyrus remains a work in progress. It certainly isn't fair to Eliana, who is an excellent dancer.

Mary pointed out some of Cyrus' weaknesses in the routine—his transitions were rough, his posture went in and out—but praised him for being there to support Eliana, and said, "It looked like you were having fun out there." She told Eliana her star was shining, and called her a phenomenal dancer. Adam said that Cyrus was a good partner, but called Eliana "the hardest working woman in show business," because she needed to make Cyrus look good while still concentrating on her performance. He also praised her tour en l'air, or turn in the air. (Look at me, I can't dance but I can Google dance vocabulary!!) Nigel asked Cyrus what other routines they had to choose from, and he mentioned that only the jive, foxtrot, tango, and Bollywood routines were left when it was their turn to choose. Nigel said that with Cyrus "sometimes it's like a brick wall" in terms of his performance, and that he needed to "connect the dots better" instead of just standing there and being a good partner. He also acknowledged the difficult job Eliana had compensating for Cyrus. (Gee, who thought this would happen? Anyone? Bueller?)

Alexa and Daniel (who was shirtless this week, so thanks to the costumers for heeding my plea in last week's recap) took on a contemporary routine choreographed by Dee Caspary, to So Long My Friend by Yanni(!). The routine was about a couple with a tremendously strong emotional connection, and they danced in and out of a bathtub, because the water in the bathtub drowned out the words. (As much as I love contemporary routines, I do love that the ballroom routines have little or no back story, it's all about dance.) Poor Alexa and Daniel, though, for a second successive dance with a controlling prop. (Ironic moment: dead-faced Alexa talking in the intro about the need to have a strong emotional connection with Daniel.) There were some beautiful moments, but there was just too much bathtub stuff for me, and not enough dancing. (Props to Cat for calling the routine "very Splash.")

Adam praised the absolute beauty of the routine and its difficulty, but called it "chilly," saying that there was no passion in the performance. Mary wondered if the routine would lead to the rise of a new dance genre, "dance bathing" and cautioned viewers "don't try this at home." She said that everything in the routine was executed to a "T," and praised the dancers' extraordinary ability, but said there was absolutely no chemistry between them. (As much as I'd like to blame this entirely on Alexa, it appears that other than a beautiful smile, Daniel doesn't give off a lot of warmth or personality either.) Daniel and Alexa seemed crestfallen, at least as much as you can be while showing no expression, and their lack of chemistry continued as they walked off stage.

Super-adorable couple Tiffany and George danced the foxtrot, choreographed by Tony and Melanie, to I Want to Be Loved by You by Sinead O'Connor. I loved every single minute of it. They have tremendous chemistry and phenomenal ability; some of George's spins looked like he was a figure skater.

Mary explained that the foxtrot is one of the most difficult dances, and it requires the dancers to glide and float. "Man, did these two do that or what?," she proclaimed. She praised George as a great partner and said Tiffany was just "living it up there." Adam said he was "mad about the routine," saying that it reminded him of the vintage MGM musicals, which got him interested in dance in the first place. He said that both dancers took a "step up" (I was about ready to put my fist through the television at this point) and called their performance "infreakingcredible." Nigel commented that "the plugs on this show are horrible," to which Adam replied, "Better than those in your hair." Nigel then got the show back to business by telling Tiffany and George that they gave a "lesson to the other couples about connecting" with one another, and said the routine made him happy and put a smile on his face.

After their questionable samba last week (at least on Chehon's part), Witney and Chehon (I'd like to take one of the "h's" from Chehon's name and give it to Witney) took on a Bollywood routine, choreographed by the amazing Nakul Dev Mahajan, to Aatish Kapadia's Tandav Music. Their costumes looked like I Dream of Jeannie meets Aladdin but the routine was joyful, well-executed, and it looked like Chehon was almost having fun. (It wasn't as good as Katee and Joshua's routine from Season 4, or Jason and Caitlin's from Season 5, but I liked it.)

Adam called the routine fantastic, said that Witney needed to dance with a longer neck, and commented that this was the first time he saw joy on Chehon's face. Mary said Chehon was so much better than last week, and that he was on fire, praising him for letting go and enjoying. She told her favorite hot tamale Witney that she, too, was "still on fire." Nigel praised Witney for doing knee turns, asking if she had ever done a plié or a demi-plié. He said he was delighted to see the pair of them do so well, after "not doing yourselves proud" last week. (Of course, Nigel praised Witney to high heaven last week, but who remembers such a thing other than me?)

The mood quickly shifted, as it was time to reveal the bottom three guys and the bottom three girls after last week's performances. The bottom three girls were Janaya (wow, what a shock), Alexa (no reaction), and Witney (wha?), and the bottom three guys were Nick (of course), Chehon (justified), and Daniel (really?). Nigel explained that they had spoken with the choreographers from last week and this week, and they didn't need anyone to dance again, as their minds were already made up.

But first, an extended plug for Step Up: Revolution, which stars Season 6's Kathryn, and also features tWitch, as well as Season 5's Phillip Chbeeb and Tony Bellissimo. (Mia and Christopher Scott are also in the movie, and Mia and Travis were choreographers.) I didn't pay much attention to the plot, but it's something about dance mobs making some sort of statement. Yeah, ok. Then they danced. (Funny thing, I remember not being wowed by Kathryn when she was first on the show, probably because of her lack of any outward personality, but she appears to have grown into herself.)

And then it was time to reveal the judges' decisions, which were none too surprising. Nigel explained how voting worked (in case after nine seasons you were confused), and then announced that they had decided to save Witney and Chehon, thereby sending home Janaya, Alexa, Daniel, and Nick. I'm a little grumpy about Daniel going (and not all because he looks good shirtless), because I think Brandon or, of course, Cyrus, should have been in the bottom three instead of him, and it would have been interesting to see if his lack of chemistry was Alexa's fault or his. But what can you do?

Next week will be tougher, because the bottom three will probably include people I really like, simply because there were some weaker routines this week.

Who should be in the bottom three (guys): Cyrus, Dareian, Brandon
Who will be in the bottom three (guys): Dareian, Cole, Brandon (if Cyrus is in the bottom three with Dareian and Cole and he doesn't go home, I may lose myself)
Who should be in the bottom three (girls): Janelle, Lindsay, Amber
Who will be in the bottom three (girls): Janelle, Lindsay, Eliana

Actually, I'm not so sure who will be in the bottom three because I don't know how people are voting quite yet. But I'm sure someone I like will get eliminated at the expense of someone who deserves to go (cough, Cyrus, cough), because it's a competition show, and that's what happens.

But still...thanks for stepping up (couldn't resist) and reading my recap! See y'all next week, dance fans!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Modern-day McCarthyism...

What year is it? Sometimes I think we've gone back in time to the 1950s, when panic over Communism and a general xenophobia held our country and members of Congress in its grasp, destroying the careers, and sometimes the lives, of those accused of being Communists, or anti-American.

Luckily then we had a crusader by the name of Edward R. Murrow who helped give the world a collective shake and bring everyone back to their senses.

Today, Senator John McCain came to the rescue in a similar matter. You see, "anti-American" fear has raised its ugly head in Congress again, thanks to the delusional mind of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN). Bachmann, as it turns out, believes the Muslim brotherhood has infiltrated Congress.


Needless to say, fellow Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), a practicing Muslim, wasn't too enamored of Bachmann's fear-mongering. He sent Bachmann a letter warning her that there had better be "credible, substantial evidence" for her claims. Bachmann's 16 pages of loosely-sourced "evidence" names Huma Abedin, State Department employee and wife of sexting ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner, as a prime example of Muslim infiltration, and has called Abedin's security clearance into question.

Senator McCain would have none of it. "I understand how painful and injurious it is when a person's character, reputation, and patriotism are attacked without concern for fact or fairness," McCain said according to prepared remarks. "It is for that reason that I rise today to speak in defense of Huma Abedin."

He continued:
"Ultimately, what is at stake in this matter is larger even than the reputation of one person. This is about who we are as a nation, and who we still aspire to be. What makes America exceptional among the countries of the world is that we are bound together as citizens not by blood or class, not by sect or ethnicity, but by a set of enduring, universal, and equal rights that are the foundation of our constitution, our laws, our citizenry, and our identity. When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches specious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are and ignorance of what they stand for, it defames the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poorer because of it."
I don't always agree with Senator McCain's positions on issues, but I admire his heroic willingness to speak out—even against his own party—when he sees something wrong.

Being "foreign" shouldn't be an insult, or a cry to rally people to be afraid. I am disgusted that John Sununu said, "I wish this president [Obama] would learn how to be an American" yesterday. I cannot believe the media is still giving Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio coverage about his crusade to prove President Obama's birth certificate is fraudulent. And those who refer to the President as "Barack Hussein Obama" in an insulting tone, implying that his middle name denotes that he is un-American, is appalling.

We need to remember we are a country that is richer because of the contributions of people of all cultures, races, and religions. We have to stop living in fear, or trying to make people afraid, of those we deem "anti-American." Because that is not the American way.

Bad politics beats good chicken every time...

I've not given a dime to Chick-Fil-A since it became public knowledge that the company had been giving money to anti-equality organizations. (Even though I knew they were a conservative company, I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt until confronted with their actions.)

I'll admit, however, the prospect of one of their chicken sandwiches has tempted from time to time, although I've been able to resist. But now, a recent interview with Chick-Fil-A's president, Dan Cathy, has sealed the deal for me.

Responding to his company's "support of the traditional family," Cathy glibly responded, "Well, guilty as charged."

He went on to note, "We are very much supportive of the family—the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that...we know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles."

Cathy then reiterated his stance during an appearance on The Ken Coleman Show, saying, "I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say 'we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage' and I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about."

Cathy and his company are welcome to support whatever causes they believe in, and if their customers have no problem with their anti-equality stance, that is their choice. I would never have the, in Cathy's words, audacity to tell people where they should and should not eat, or what they should and should not believe in.

But as far as I'm concerned, the cows are in trouble, because I'm not going to be eating more chicken anytime soon...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

You've Got to See This: "The Age of Innocence"

Entertainment Weekly recently ran a feature called "50 Best Movies You've Never Seen," a collection of independent movies, foreign films, and documentaries that might not have been seen (or even heard of) by moviegoers, particularly in this era of mega-multiplexes playing the same movies on several screens. Being the huge movie fan that I am, I've seen about 20 movies on this list.

Other than serving as a catalyst to add more movies to my Netflix queue, this feature inspired my thinking about those movies that blew me away which others might have missed, or not even heard of. (Sometimes when I'm discussing movies I've seen with friends, colleagues, or family, someone will ask, "Where did you even hear of that? I didn't know that movie existed!")

So I've decided to start a regular feature of my own called "You've Got to See This." This list will include movies I really enjoyed which you might not have had the chance to see in the theaters, which might not have played in your area, or which you might never had heard of. All of these might not be for everyone (and I'm even taking a few from Entertainment Weekly's list), but hopefully you'll find a few you'll enjoy.

First up (in no particular order): Martin Scorsese's The Age of Innocence (1993).

Based on Edith Wharton's novel of the same name, there were a lot of expectations around this movie when it was released given its pedigree—Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Winona Ryder in a Joanne Woodward-narrated, Martin Scorsese-directed film. For reasons I don't quite understand, the movie didn't make the splash people thought it would, although it did receive five Oscar nominations, including a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Winona Ryder. (She won the Golden Globe Award that year for her performance.)

Newland Archer (Day-Lewis) is an affluent lawyer in 1870s New York, engaged to May Welland (Ryder), a beautiful socialite with very little desire to challenge the status quo or show any real passion for life. Newland begins to question the life he has planned for himself after the arrival of May’s cousin, the exotic, passionate, and sophisticated Countess Ellen Olenska (Pfeiffer). Ellen is seeking a divorce from her abusive husband, a Polish count, which has made her a social outcast and greatly displeases her family, who are afraid of scandal.

As Newland grows to love and care more and more deeply for Ellen, having convinced her not to press for a divorce, he becomes increasingly disillusioned with the society to which he belongs and the idea of entering into a passionless marriage with May. The question at this point, is whether he will follow society's expectations, or his heart. And he has some pointed assistance in making that decision.

I thought the performances of Pfeiffer, Day-Lewis, and Ryder were absolutely spot-on in this film. Pfeiffer's character burns with a fiery, unrequited desire, and a longing she is unable to make public. It is definitely one of her strongest performances and should have netted her another Oscar nomination. A scene with her and Day-Lewis in a carriage—with them fully dressed in period clothes—has more passion than movie scenes in which actors wear far less. Ryder gives the performance of her career (I think she should have won the Oscar that year), as a seemingly naive girl with far more intelligence than she lets on, and Day-Lewis brings an understated calmness you don't usually see in his performances.

Some found the movie's pacing a little slow, and expected more fire, more passion in the plot, but in my opinion, those that did failed to understand Wharton's book and/or the time in which it was set. Yes, this is a period piece, but the love story at its core is very real and believable. This is a very different film than you usually see from Martin Scorsese, with a gentleness I didn't really see again until Hugo last year.

Watch the trailer.

Book Review: "Heading Out to Wonderful" by Robert Goolrick

Robert Goolrick's new book, Heading Out to Wonderful is a terrific follow-up to his creepy, captivating A Reliable Wife. It's 1948, and 39-year-old veteran Charlie Beale arrives in idyllic Brownsburg, Virginia, with two suitcases—one stuffed with cash and the other containing a set of high-quality butcher knives. Brownsburg is a small town where everyone knows everyone, where white and black people don't interact much but treat each other with reasonable respect. After a few weeks of making people wonder just what his intentions are, Charlie gets a job working for local butcher Will Haislett, and quickly becomes a part of Will's family. No one is as enamored of Charlie as Will's five-year-old son, Sam, who worships him with an almost heroic devotion.

Charlie quickly becomes a beloved fixture in Brownsburg. And then he meets young Sylvan Glass, the wife of the town's richest man, Harrison "Boaty" Glass. Boaty literally purchased Sylvan and moved her from her small, hillbilly town to Brownsburg, where she has modeled herself after the women she sees in her beloved movies. When Sylvan and Charlie connect, their passion is both envied and condemned by their fellow townspeople—but it has consequences that threaten to destroy everyone. And the person most caught in the crossfire is young Sam.

This is lyrical, beautifully written book. While you may see much of the plot developments coming, Goolrick unwinds them in a suspenseful way, and you are completely drawn into the town and its citizens. The characters are complex, especially Sam, and you find yourself aching to protect him from all of what is happening around him. Periodically, Goolrick spends a little too much time describing a feeling or an incident, but that doesn't really detract from your desire to know how the story will unfold. The book is haunting, like the old country songs that Charlie listens to in the book, and you'll find yourself thinking about the story and the characters long after you've finished.

You've got big dreams...

When I was younger, I dreamed that when I grew up, I'd be a doctor, a lawyer, President of the U.S., a superhero, an actor, and a writer.

Little did I know where I could have focused my dreams...and while I may not be well-known, at least my recaps of American Idol and SYTYCD have gotten good feedback!!

Via The New Yorker, thanks to kenneth in the (212).

Monday, July 16, 2012

Time to change the channel...

In general, I don't watch a lot of television, but this is the time of year when I tend to change the channel or turn the television off more times than not. I know I'm not alone in this assertion: political advertising drives me absolutely crazy.

With this being a presidential election year, campaign commercials will hit their zenith, because we'll have ads for presidential, congressional, and senatorial candidates. And here in Virginia, our gubernatorial election is held on an off year, so we get campaign commercials three out of every four years. And that's far too many smarmy voiceovers, instances of feigned outrage, and unfounded accusations for me to handle.

Neither party is blameless. Only in America can you negatively attack your opponent for their negative attacks on you. The more money we allow supposed "special interest groups" and SuperPACs to spend, the more commercials we'll continue to be subjected to.

Is there anything to really be learned from political advertising in this day and age?

Sadly, there are people in our world who don't have the exposure to other forms of news, who lack the ability, or the resources from which to draw their own opinions about a candidate or an issue. And these are the people to whom political commercials are directed. These are the people who believe what they hear, and vote accordingly.

Doesn't that frighten you?

Aren't you angered in the slightest when you hear an advertisement that alleges utter falsehoods, or buries the tiniest shred of truth in the midst of lies?

Can't we do better? Can't we call on our politicians and those within our political system and demand that, if they won't respect each other, they'll at least respect us and our intelligence? The more divided our world becomes ideologically, the worse this will become.

That's what I hope for. And I won't change the channel if I see it.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Movie Review: "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World"

Admit it, it's an interesting premise: the pairing of Steve Carell and Keira Knightley in a movie about the end of the world. It certainly intrigued me enough to track the movie down to the one theater in our area where it was still playing. And I definitely am glad I did.

An asteroid is nearing Earth, and the end of days is only three weeks away. After his wife runs away in a panic after the announcement, Dodge (Steve Carell) is left questioning his life and wondering why he needs to worry about anything in the days that remain. Even though his friends advise him to find someone to spend the rest of his life with, the thought of starting over makes no sense. But he does think of the first one that got away, his high school girlfriend, Olivia.

Into Dodge's life comes his flaky neighbor, Penny (Keira Knightley), who is emotional after breaking up with her boyfriend and realizing she missed her last chance to fly home and be with her family. Penny also reveals some truths Dodge would have rather not known, but these discoveries, along with a riot overtaking their neighborhood, pushes Dodge into making a deal with her: he'll get her to a plane so she can fly home, and along the way, he'll attempt to reunite with his old flame.

The two embark on an interesting road trip, and they come into contact with a number of people all planning to spend the end of days in different ways. And while the end of the journey may not come as a surprise, for those who enjoy a little emotional manipulation along with sly comedy, it doesn't really matter.

While I can only take so much of the sad-sack persona Carell tends to adopt in many of his movies (Dan in Real Life; Crazy, Stupid Love), he employs it well here. And Knightley's icy imperiousness, coupled with a fun flightiness, definitely helps you understand why many characters in the movie are intrigued by her. The pair have an odd chemistry I wouldn't have believed if I hadn't seen the movie, and even as you're wondering if it will work, it does.

The movie isn't quite perfect; it's a little slow in places and at times it's not sure whether to be funny, wry, or sensitive. But the acting is solid and the story is one that definitely makes you think about how and with whom you'd want to spend your last days. This is an enjoyable, bittersweet, fun little movie.

Watch the trailer.

Movie Review: "Take This Waltz"

It's a running joke in show business that nearly every actor wants to be a director someday, and many have successfully made the transition, or still interchange acting and directing. While Sarah Polley might not have reached the level of fame as an actress of George Clooney, Robert Redford, Rob Reiner, or Sean Penn, her performances in movies such as The Sweet Hereafter, Go, and My Life Without Me demonstrated her ability to convey simultaneous vulnerability and inner strength.

Take This Waltz is the second movie Polley wrote and directed, after 2007's Away from Her, which featured a tremendously affecting (and Oscar-nominated) performance by Julie Christie as a woman with Alzheimer's struggling to make sense of her relationships. In Take This Waltz, Michelle Williams stars as Margo, an indecisive writer in a quirky marriage with Lou (Seth Rogen), who is writing a cookbook of chicken recipes. While on a work trip, Margo meets Daniel (Luke Kirby), who happens to be her neighbor. In just a few minutes of conversation on the airplane and in a taxi home, Margo finds herself telling Daniel things and expressing herself in ways she doesn't feel comfortable with her husband. When they arrive at her house, she says, "I'm married." He replies, "That's too bad."

Margo is a character afraid of making decisions. She's in love with being loved, by her husband and his family (including Lou's sister, reformed alcoholic Geraldine, played by a surprisingly subdued and nuanced Sarah Silverman), yet knows she longs for something more. And Daniel wants to be that something more, although he isn't content just to be a dalliance or a choice that Margo never makes.

While this movie doesn't necessarily break any new ground, Sarah Polley's script, the performances, and Polley's direction lift this movie far above the typical woman-in-love-with-two-men plot. Scenes of absolute simplicity and simple closeups of the actors' faces are tremendously moving and provide such insight into the complexities of the characters' relationships. A scene in a restaurant with racy dialogue is one of the simultaneously sexiest and most poignant scenes I've watched in quite some time.

Seth Rogen gives the best performance of his career, with emotional depth he barely scratched the surface of in last year's superlative 50/50. Luke Kirby gets to be sexy and smoldering quite a bit, yet he brings a complexity to his character, and some of his expressions say more than words could. And Michelle Williams brings her traditional fearlessness to a role which is not always likeable, not always sympathetic, but tremendously complicated. Polley makes you believe that Margo has a difficult decision on her hands, and both men give you reasons Margo should stay and go.

This movie has had a very limited release (and because it was released in Canada last year, it's already available for purchase on iTunes) but it is definitely worth seeing. You'll find yourself thinking about the movie and falling into the dreamlike state that pervades Margo quite a bit.

Watch the trailer.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Maybe I need to adjust my sense of humor...

Just when you think you've heard it all...

A Washington, D.C. police officer has been removed from his unit and placed on administrative duty after allegations that he threatened to shoot First Lady Michelle Obama. The officer, who worked as a motorcycle escort for White House officials, "allegedly said he would shoot the first lady and then used his phone to retrieve a picture of the firearm he said he would use," reported the Washington Post.

The comments were reportedly made Wednesday morning as several officers from the Special Operations Division discussed threats against the Obamas. Some officials have said it was a bad joke made by someone who should have known better.

According to msnbc.com, the Secret Service is not concerned that the remark made by the officer constitutes any kind of actual threat. "We're aware of it and taking the appropriate steps," an official for the Secret Service told msnbc.com.

Let's separate politics from this issue. I don't care if you support President Obama or think he is the worst president in the history of time, I'd like to believe you see that this is wrong. A threat like this, even made as a joke, should be taken seriously. I believe a person is innocent until proven guilty, which is why I'm glad the officer's name hasn't been released to or by the media. But if the officer really made these comments, he should be fired from his job.

Many of us have made inappropriate jokes, but when a person entrusted to protect the safety of others threatens the safety of another, that's not funny. I'm hoping this may turn out to be a misinterpretation of what the officer actually said, but saying he "should have known better" is an unacceptable defense.

Those of you who think this was a joke not to be taken seriously, I hope you can explain where the humor is.

Book Review: "The Skeleton Box" by Bryan Gruley

In his third novel featuring local newspaper editor Gus Carpenter, Bryan Gruley returns to Starvation Lake, Michigan. A number of homes have been burglarized while their residents were out playing bingo, but strangely, nothing was taken from any of the houses. And then one night, a break-in at the home of Gus' mother, Bea, results in the murder of her closest friend, Phyllis, who also happens to be the mother of Gus' ex-girlfriend, deputy sheriff Darlene. Bea, whose dementia has been getting worse and worse, appears to know something about what happened, but she is unwilling to share the truth.

With the help of his new reporter, Luke Whistler, who left the Detroit Free Press to head north in search of more old-fashioned reporting, Gus tries to figure out who killed Phyllis. He wonders what connection Breck, the mysterious stranger who has taken up residence in the makeshift religious camp that has suddenly sprouted up on Gus' friend Tatch's land, has to the burglaries and the murder. And when his mother gives him a lockbox she has kept hidden for years, what he finds leads to more questions, more shocking discoveries, and a lot of potential pain.

I've really come to enjoy Bryan Gruley's Starvation Lake mysteries. Much like Steve Hamilton's Alex McKnight series and others like it, I love the opportunity to get to know a town and its residents, as they factor in each book. The Skeleton Box is another well-written addition to the series, and it definitely kept me guessing. While it sounds as if Gruley planned this as a trilogy, and he certainly worked to tie up a few loose ends toward the end of the book, I really hope he reconsiders and takes us back to Starvation Lake again. Gus Carpenter is a terrific character and I'd hate not to read any more books featuring him again!