Friday, August 31, 2012

I'd say he made OUR day...

Clint Eastwood's speech during the Republican National Convention last night has been one of the most popular topics in the media since then. Some have called the speech inspirational, some called it a rambling mess, and some wondered just what on Earth Eastwood was thinking. (I'm not asking for a political opinion here.)

One photo that's been making the rounds on the interwebs today seems all too prescient. (As someone put it, "Leave it to the Simpsons to predict the future.")

Immediately after Eastwood's speech, the Twitter handle @invisibleobama began picking up followers left and right. And the handle @Eastwoods_Chair already has more than 2000 followers.

But as funny as that is, the latest craze sweeping Twitter is "Eastwooding." Forget "Tebowing," pictures of empty chairs and benches, as well as pictures of people lecturing an empty chair can be found all over the web. Here are some fun ones:

And my personal favorite, Clint "Eastwooding" Blue's Clues

Whoever said social media isn't productive hasn't gotten swept up in a craze like this.

Goodbye, England's rose...

Unbelievably, it was 15 years ago today—August 31, 1997—that Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed were tragically killed in a car crash in Paris. While Diana's legacy lives on, both through the amazing charitable work and social crusades she was involved in, and of course, through her children, Prince William and Prince Harry, her loss is still felt across the world.

Diana's death is one of those moments you can remember vividly. Friends of mine from summer camp, Scott Fisher and Jon Gosset, were visiting another old friend, Robert Honigman, and we had all gotten together for dinner. When we returned to Robert's house, the news was reporting that Diana had been in a car crash but that she had only broken her arm.

By the time I arrived back at my house, the news had changed drastically, and the world was notified of her untimely, tragic death. It seemed so unreal to believe that someone so full of life and passion, so committed to making the world a better place, so devoted to her children, and so determined to rise above the tragedy and tumult in her life in order to make her mark.

Despite her leaving this world far, far too soon, I think there's little doubt she left an indelible mark on our world. We all were fortunate that she was willing to share herself, her passions, and her zeal with the world.

We truly were the lucky ones.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


Okay, I don't normally use this blog to ogle, but sometimes there are pictures just too good not to share...

Apparently this is from an upcoming episode of White Collar. Matthew Bomer really is a living Ken doll. This picture certainly knocks me out!!

Book Review: "Every Day" by David Levithan

In 2010, John Green and David Levithan wrote one of my favorite books of the year, Will Grayson, Will Grayson, an incredible story about relationships, being yourself, and taking a chance to break out of your shell. Now it appears that John Green and David Levithan have written two of my most favorite books of 2012—Green's amazing, heartbreaking, hopeful The Fault in Our Stars, and now, Levithan's new book, Every Day.

Reading Every Day requires you to suspend your disbelief, but it will be well worth it. It is the story of A. Every day A wakes up in the body of another teenager. There is no rhyme or reason to whose body A wakes up in on a given day—male, female, straight, gay, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, fat, thin, well-adjusted, or mentally ill. For one day, A becomes that person, accesses their memories, speaks in their voice, follows their daily routine, and interacts with their friends. And at the end of 24 hours, A leaves that person with some memories of what happened the previous day, but because A does very little to disrupt the lives of those A inhabits, they're generally none the worse for wear. It's a lonely life—A can't build relationships with anyone because the next day A is someone completely different.

But one day A meets Rhiannon, the girlfriend of the boy whose body A inhabits that day. And although this has only happened a few times before (and with both boys and girls, as A doesn't identify with a particular gender), A falls for Rhiannon—hard. And suddenly, all A wants to do is be with Rhiannon, no matter whose body A inhabits that day. Which leads to some interesting, intriguing, and troublesome consequences. A longs to have a "normal" life with Rhiannon, but how can it work when A is someone different every single day? Is it possible to love someone for who they are inside, and disregard their exterior completely?

While the premise of this book may sound hard to grasp, Levithan is an amazing storyteller and he quickly draws you into A's story. Getting a glimpse into a different person's life every day is a fascinating concept, one that forces you to empathize and identify with their struggles and victories. This is definitely not a book that passes judgment on anyone's life, and I love the diversity of teenagers whose lives A inhabits. But no matter how unusual A's story is, the emotions A feels, the desire to love, be loved, build a life with one person, and, ultimately, be remembered, are universal. This is a beautiful, unusual, moving, and tremendously affecting book.

David Levithan and, as I mentioned earlier, John Green (along with many other authors), once again prove that the genre of so-called "young adult" fiction is full of talent and worthy of exploration by adults of all ages. It's not all dystopia, mean girls, and magic. This is not our generation's "young adult" fiction, that's for sure.

SYTYCD Recap: I'm Shaking and I Need a Cocktail...

Hot Cat returned last night. Seriously, the hair, the dress, everything was spot on. And the show continued to plod its predictable path, with some fabulousness thrown in along the way.

Two weeks until the finale. Why do I feel so ambivalent? Is it because any show that Nigel Lythgoe gets his hands on ultimately frustrates me with his manipulation? (Yeah, maybe.)

The show opened with an awesome group number to Run Boy Run by Woodkid. Each of the male dancers stepped out into a spotlight, and the female dancers held fans. There was a lot of acrobatic movement going on here (although not much dancing from Cyrus, as usual) and it was good to see a group routine that was so cohesive. Will, Cole, and Chehon looked spectacular. The women all looked terrific, too, I just couldn't tell them apart. And it turns out this was choreographed by a newbie, Peter Chu! Well done, sir...

Modern Family's Jesse Tyler Ferguson returned to the judges panel, after being part of some of the auditions. He's such a fan of the show and speaks of it so reverently, but sometimes I feel like he has shtick to do, you know? It's kind of like Ellen DeGeneres as a judge—comment, joke, joke, comment, more joke, now what do you think about me? It's funny but cloying.

Last night, in an effort to fill two hours now that National Dance Day has passed to demonstrate all of the dancers' skills a little better, each of the top 8 performed a routine with an all-star and then a solo. Tiffany's solo, performed to the Glee cast's rendition of Beyonce's I Was Here was pretty fantastic. Some of her best dancing this season. Plus, we saw footage of cute little Tiffany dancing as a young girl. (It was cute until I saw the footage was dated from 1996.)

The first pairing of the evening was Witney and tWitch, dancing a hiphop routine choreographed by newcomer Luther Brown, who seriously is P. Diddy's (or whatever his name is now) doppelganger. (New to this show, but he's a regular choreographer on SYTYCD Canada.) There wasn't any story to this routine, mercifully, but the number, to My Homies Still by Lil Wayne with Big Sean, was fun and challenging and Witney more than held her own against tWitch. (Her own what?) Seriously, for a ballroom dancer, she looked quite good, had some great moves and lots of sexy vamping, and, to use a Christina Applegate-ism, was soupy. (There was a lot of talk about "ratcheting," but seeing as I'm a Jewish kid from Jersey and not one of the Beastie Boys, I don't know from this.) I wasn't able to separate Witney's dancing from her shaking her moneymaker, but it is what it is.

All three judges (especially Nigel) brandished hiphop-appropriate hand gestures, to which Cat said, "You're not trying to be street, are you? It's like a drunk uncle at a wedding." (God bless our Cat.) Nigel asked Witney, "Do all 18-year-old Mormon girls from Utah dance like this?" He called the routine and her performance "excellent" and said he was glad the judges have been able to save her so far, so they could see performances like this. Mary said, "If I had a hat, I'd take it off for you," and praised the musicality of the routine, which allowed Witney to "live in it." (She also made sure to tell Witney she was "buck.") Jesse (whose bow tie threatened to swallow his face) praised Witney's beauty and amazing sensuality, but was more amazed that "you did what you did while wearing diaper pants." (The costumes for this routine included MC Hammer pants. You know, from this video.)

In Will's intro to his solo, he talked about how he had a tough time in school as a child and that dance really helped him break out of his shell. In the first of the emotional moments of the evening, his mother choked up as she explained Will once told her, "Dance saved my life." His solo, to James Morrison's Better Man, wasn't particularly strong, but he's so darned likeable and has really surprised me with his talent. And his family wears "Will Power" tshirts. How awesome? Even Cat wants one.

Cole, paired with Season 2's Allison, took on a contemporary routine choreographed by Sonya to Possibly Maybe by Bjork. The routine was about a soulless, sadistic man (Cole) and the desperate woman vying for his heart. It truly was vintage Sonya, herky-jerky movements (some which reminded me of her fantastic routine with Ellenore and Jakob from Season 6), incredible lifts (including one in which Cole held Allison upside down), more demonic acting from Cole, and a fantastic performance from Allison. I thought it deserved a standing ovation, but I guess it was not part of the script too early in the night. Sonya appeared knocked out by their performances. And Cat said to Cole, "Thank goodness I know you're really such a nice guy, because you'll be in my nightmares."

Jesse told Sonya, "You're sporting a softer look, with a side braid, but you aren't fooling me. You're insane!" He called Allison "one of the greatest actresses" the show has seen and referred to the routine as "an American Horror Story promo." (Does Ryan Murphy pay them to hype all of his shows? What next, references to The New Normal?) The number was so unsettling, he said, "I'm shaking and I need a cocktail." Mary said that Allison gave her best performance ever on the show, and then said to Cole, "The song you danced to was called Possibly Maybe. Possibly you'll be in the finale. Maybe you'll be in the finale. But if you keep dancing like this, probably you'll be in the finale." (Not quite the ringing endorsement he deserved, but...) Nigel said that the number was quirky and scary, and Cole brought his uniqueness to the routine. He said, "There's no reason you won't make the finale." He explained that he thought it would be difficult to watch anyone but Allison in the routine, but in talking with Sonya earlier in the day, she said that of all of the dancers that could partner Allison, Cole was the strongest. I just wish their feedback was a little stronger about Cole's actual dancing, because isn't this a dance competition? Oh, wait.

Lindsay's solo, to Señorita by Bond, was hot. Seriously. Legs for days.

Taking on "the dreaded quickstep" were Eliana and Season 6's Ryan (a seriously underrated dancer). The routine, choreographed by DWTS' Jonathan Roberts (no Anna TreBUHNskaya?), was about a bored housewife who wants her husband's attention when he comes home after a long day. I happen to love the quickstep (check out Sabrina Bryan and Mark Ballas' quickstep from DWTS) but think people just don't get how hard it is. Danced to Caro Emerald's That Man, I thought the performance was fantastic. Eliana and Ryan paired really well together, and there was some fantastic choreography, full of lifts and twists and turns, and I worried that Carrie-Ann or Len would get mad about the lifts. (Oh, wait. Wrong show.) There was this amazing sequence (which Mary later referred to as a waterfall to a back layover) that was breathtaking. Eliana is really fantastic; it's amazing how she's blossomed once she got away from her partnership with Cyrus.

Mary called the performance spectacular and said that Eliana's "frame was good for the most part," but cautioned her about locking her frame. She said that there's nothing Eliana can't do. Exclaiming "Holy Smokies! Lord have Murphy!", Jesse explained that he saw Eliana in her audition, and he is amazed by her transformation from gawky pole dancer to elegant performer. He praised her range of emotion, which most dancers and actors don't have, and said that she had "a very innate accessibility," which makes him feel like he knows her. "Although I don't know you. I know that's weird, but I'm not a stalker." Nigel was shocked by the technicality of the number and called Eliana's top line "the best of any non-ballroom girl." (That's what she said.) He told her that this show was created for her, because she keeps turning in amazing performances no matter what is thrown at her.

Chehon explained that he left home at age 14 to dance with a ballet company in Europe, so he doesn't see his parents that often. Dancing to On the Nature of Daylight by Max Richter, his solo was sheer brilliance. As good as he was in his solo last week, he leaped higher, spun faster, and put all of his emotion into the number. And Mary and Jesse (and a late-standing Nigel) gave him a standing ovation. When the cameras cut to his mother in the audience (one of the most adorable moms since Elliott Yamin's mom on American Idol), Chehon started to cry, and Cat cautioned, "If you go, then I'll go."

Pairing with Alex Freaking Wong, Lindsay took on a Sonya-choreographed jazz routine to the ubiquitous Somebody That I Used to Know by Gotye (with Kimbra). The routine didn't have a real story, although it was about the tension between two people, mostly sexual tension. I'll admit I wondered how much sexual tension would be generated by an 18-year-old Mormon girl and a gay man, but I was open to see what would happen. While there was some great dancing, there wasn't any real excitement to the number. I really didn't feel any connection between the two of them, but I thought they performed well.

The lack of sexual tension between the two was the first thing Nigel commented on. He praised their brilliant technique, but suggested that Lindsay look at Allison's performance earlier in the night. He told her she had the ability to reach that level, but hadn't yet. Mary called it "a no in the chemistry department" but said there was some really great dancing. She praised Lindsay's "clarity of movement" but said the routine needed that extra element, the connection between her and Alex. Jesse called Lindsay "ding dong 'dorable," and commented that there must be no one in Utah between Lindsay and Witney's families. He said the routine had "70 percent chemistry and 100 percent technique" but agreed it lacked emotional connection.

Will and Season 3's Lauren paired up for a Christopher Scott hiphop number in which Will played a man with a lot of problems who dances his pain away, and Lauren played the little piece of his mind that helped him through. Danced to Dance My Pain Away by Wye Oak, it was great to see Will's ability to rein in his personality and make us concentrate solely on the dancing. It was a really good routine, and because Lauren was a piece of Will's mind, the two never actually danced together, they never actually touched, although at times their movements mirrored one another.

Mary loved the feel of the routine, calling it articulate, precise, perfect, and really tight. She told Will (stealing the phrase from his family's tshirts) that he "has the power to stay in this competition, you just need to believe in yourself." Jesse called Will "ridiculously adorable, like a gigantic puppy covered in puppy stickers that say 'I'm an Adorable Puppy.'" He said it was good to see Will serious and stripped down (no, that's not what he meant, dirty minds) and, of Will's comment that dance saved his life, Jesse said, "You're an example of why arts in school programs works." Nigel acknowledged that it was tough to dance technically without a partner, but Will did a great job, and thought his more serious performance really worked. Ever the creepy lech, however, Nigel mentioned that it must be good that Lauren comes out when Will is feeling down, and he said, "Lauren, I'm going to feel down tonight." (Gross.)

Witney danced a strong solo to Where Have You Been by Rihanna. Then Cole danced his solo, to Arise by E.S. Posthumus. It was an amazing combination of raw power with his martial arts/dance moves and quiet passion.

Cyrus teamed up with last season's champion, Melanie, for a Mandy Moore-choreographed jazz routine to Badder Badder Schwing by Freddy Fresh with Fatboy Slim. The routine was about two cool people strutting their way through town, and Cyrus had on some seriously loud checkered pants. I thought the routine was awful. There were some cutesy moves, but Cyrus was so weak he made Melanie look bad. (This is what happens when you have a weak partner.) There was no real dancing, just a lot of mugging. To be this weak this far in the season is really a tragedy, and I honestly hoped the judges would call Cyrus on it.

Yeah, right. Jesse said that Cyrus' charisma and spirit made Jesse watch him, and that "even though you might not win the competition, you'll still be synonymous with the show," like tWitch, Legacy, Neil, and Mark. Nigel mentioned that Cyrus hasn't been in the bottom three yet because "America must love you," and said that he's not going to be the best dancer, but the show is about finding the judges'America's favorite dancer, and "you're right there." Mary mentioned that every week Cyrus dances outside his own style (doesn't nearly everyone?) and that no one can do what he does in animation. While "nothing was perfect," his spirit and energy are so memorable, she said.

I can understand if the best dancer doesn't win. Shouldn't a good dancer win? Cyrus is not a good dancer. He is a good animator. That is it. He has gotten by because the judges give him a pass week after week and the choreographers don't push him, which also isn't fair to his partners. (Obviously it doesn't matter to the all-stars, but it wasn't fair to Eliana.) And why is it that they tear every other dancer to shreds for technique and chemistry when Cyrus has neither? If he wins, I don't think I'm going to watch anymore unless they change the format of the show.

Quick question after seeing a commercial for Sam Raimi's upcoming movie, The Possession. Does the world really need another exorcism film?

Eliana's solo to Max Richter's Infra 8 (Max Richter the choice of ballerinas and ballerinos everywhere, as Chehon chose his music for his solo as well) was amazing. She really is a dance goddess.

Chehon and hot tamale Anya paired up for an Argentine tango, choreographed by Miriam Larici and Leonardo Barrionuevo, to Jesse Cook's Breathing Below Surface. I wanted it to be faster (even if it wasn't supposed to be) but I thought their performance was excellent and the pair had terrific chemistry.

The judges gave the routine a standing ovation. Mary called it her favorite routine of the night and put Chehon on the hot tamale train. (He looked a little dazed, and I wondered if he understood what she was doing.) Jesse started getting wacky at this point, referring to the legwork known as "ganchos" as "nachos," and put Chehon on his "hot jalapeño bus." Nigel praised the routine and said that Chehon was in his element, as the tango required the port de bras (or arm movements) Chehon uses in ballet. He praised the pair's amazing connection, that they just looked in each other's eyes and smiled at one point, and that it was incredible for Chehon to give such a performance in front of his mother.

Cat introduced Cyrus' solo by saying, "Before he reminds us how great he is in his own style..." Et tu, Cat? Honestly, I thought his solo, to Existence by Excision and Downlink, was good, but not as strong as some of his other animation performances previously.

The final routine of the night paired Tiffany with Season 5's Ade for a Mandy Moore routine to Celine Dion's Power of Love. (Also sung by Jennifer Rush, Laura Branigan, and Air Supply, but I'm a treasure trove of useless knowledge.) Lord have Murphy, this routine was awesome! Incredible lifts and throws, great dancing, and the bombast of the music really worked for the performance.

The judges rightly gave the routine a standing ovation. Mary said it was Tiffany's best performance of the season and called her extraordinary. Nigel called it fantastic and said that Tiffany is "a beautiful technician and a beautiful performer." Quoting One Direction (seconds after Cat said the exact same thing), he told Tiffany, "you don't know you're beautiful" and called her "a credit to this program."

And then it was results time. Cat revealed that the bottom two girls were Lindsay and Witney and the bottom two guys were Will and Cole. Boy, did that make me grumpy.

Unsurprisingly, the judges chose to save Witney and Cole, sending Lindsay and Will home. While I wasn't too upset about Lindsay, I'm irritated that Will is going home over Cyrus. Will is certainly stronger than him, and in my mind, even has a better personality and energy in everything he does than Cyrus. Sigh.

This was apparently the last week the judges will decide who stays and who goes. I'm really hoping that people wise up and vote Cyrus off next week. If you consider that the remaining male dancers are Cole, Chehon, and Cyrus, there really isn't a contest.

Will Larry have something new to rage about? I guess we'll see. Ah, television. So entertaining, so infuriating.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Do they just not make 'em like they used to?

One of my favorite blogs, kenneth in the (212), posts a regular feature called "Song of the Day." The blog's author, Kenneth Walsh, is a huge music fan, and his tastes are somewhat eclectic (Blondie to Bananarama, Roseanne Cash to Roxy Music), but he generally likes music from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s more than today's music.

Yesterday's song of the day was River Deep, Mountain High by Ike and Tina Turner. There's no denying it's a pretty great song.

That got me thinking. Are older songs better than ones being released now?

I'm a huge music fan and I listen to a wide range of music. There are a lot of great up and coming bands and singers out there that I listen to quite a bit. (BTW, new bands I'm loving include Youngblood Hawke, The Neighbourhood, Django Django, and First Aid Kit.)

But will we be talking in 10, 20, 30 years about songs we're listening to now?

Or are we just more nostalgic about the songs that we remember from key moments of our life, songs we grew up with, or songs for which we know the lyrics by heart and have sung them over and over and over again? (I refuse it's just because I'm getting older.)

What do you think? Were the songs better "back then" or is it just the comfort and randomness of memory?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Some people are difficult to impress...

You've probably seen at least a few of these on the web already, but for some reason, I just haven't yet tired of seeing McKayla Maroney's unhappy face in scenes throughout history.

Here are just a few of my favorites. God bless poor sportsmanship! (Not really, but...)

Book Review: "What Happened to Sophie Wilder" by Christopher Beha

Christopher Beha's What Happened to Sophie Wilder is a well-written and intriguing, if not entirely enjoyable, meditation on creativity, faith, relationships, and coming to terms with one's demons. It tells the story of Charlie Blakeman, a young writer living in New York City, who is struggling to write his second novel, one he hopes will be more successful—and altogether better—than his first.

While a creative writing student in college, he met a fellow writer named Sophie Wilder. More talented and more driven than Charlie, Sophie recommended books for him to read, and she provided a great deal of creative inspiration for him. They spent much of their college days together, reading, writing, walking, and creating threads of stories that each would try to make something of. The two became romantically involved, although Sophie's attentions would wane from time to time, but she'd inevitably return to Charlie. But when a situation causes them to have a more permanent falling out, they go their separate ways, and although Charlie would see Sophie from time to time, they never really spoke for the rest of college.

Nearly a decade later, Sophie returns to Charlie's life, her marriage ended, and armed with a story of how she spent time caring for a dying man with his own secrets. During their time apart, Sophie converted to Catholicism and began attending mass on a daily basis; she looked to the church to provide her guidance and strength. But despite Charlie's wishes, Sophie isn't willing to pick up where they left off, and when she disappears again, Charlie goes looking for her, in an effort to better understand the woman he has always loved.

This book wasn't quite what I expected; at the start it seemed like it would be more of a story about the desire to write, the need for notoriety and literary renown. It became more of a book about a writer who lacks true motivation and inspiration to write, pursuing the one troubled woman who got away. And while this would be a fine story in principle, Sophie's character doesn't show very much emotion, even to Charlie, so it's difficult to understand why so many people fell under her spell. I was interested in knowing how the story would resolve, but found myself wishing it would move faster. I also felt that the book ended rather abruptly.

Christopher Beha is a very talented writer and he addresses the themes of creativity, unrequited love, and faith quite adeptly. I just wish the characters he created had a little more depth, and were a little more likeable.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Movie Review: "Hope Springs"

Tommy Lee Jones is an actor who wears his life on his face. His expressions seem almost etched in stone, projecting a weary cynicism and a taciturnity that belie deeper passions and emotions held within. His face and his gravelly voice, co-opted so marvelously by Josh Brolin in Men in Black 3 earlier this year, are keys to a depth some actors can only dream of.

That depth is on great display in Hope Springs, a poignantly amusing movie about a couple frozen in place, in routine, but who stand at the juncture between love and hate. Jones plays Arnold Soames, an Omaha accountant who has been (in his opinion) happily married to Kay (Meryl Streep, sporting no accent for the first time in a while) for 31 years. Every morning Kay makes Arnold breakfast (one egg and one strip of bacon) and lets him know what to expect for dinner before he heads off to work. Each night after dinner Arnold falls asleep in front of the television, to the soothing sounds of The Golf Channel, before the couple heads off to sleep—in separate bedrooms.

But Kay wants more from her marriage than routine and gifts for the house on their anniversary. She wants to be loved, she wants passion, and she wants—gasp—sex. She books the couple (with her own money) on a week-long intensive couples counseling session in Maine, and must cajole and threaten Arnold to join her.

As you might imagine, Arnold doesn't feel comfortable talking about his marriage, his feelings, especially his sex life, with Dr. Bernard Feld (Steve Carell, earnestly kind and empathetic). He bristles at the notion that his and Kay's relationship has any problems at all. So what if they sleep in separate bedrooms? So what if there is no more sex, no more passion? After 31 years, shouldn't you just be satisfied with what you had?

Streep and Jones give fantastic performances in this movie with a light yet serious heart. Jones proves that beneath Arnold's shell of routine and gruff silences lies anger, hurt, and, yes, passion. Without accents or drastic makeovers, Streep lays her soul and psyche bare, and you can see Kay wrestling with hurt, helplessness, and hope. As the couple deals with Dr. Feld's interrogation and his homework, as well as the ramifications of what they say and do, the movie is both funny and poignant. You may know where the movie will end, but you're not exactly sure how it will get there.

It's great to see a movie like this—one without explosions, chase scenes, or gunfire—released at all, let alone during the special-effects laden summer. While not a flawless movie, it is one with a great deal of charm for your heart, and your head.

Book Review: "One Last Thing Before I Go" by Jonathan Tropper

I don't know Jonathan Tropper, or what his life has been like, but he sure does have the ability to provide pitch-perfect perspective into young (and not-so-young) men struggling with what they've made of their lives. His This is Where I Leave You was my favorite book of 2009, and I've enjoyed a number of his earlier books as well, because I love how he gives poignantly funny voice to these somewhat dysfunctional men as they try to get a handle on their past, present, and future.

In his newest book, One Last Thing Before I Go, Drew Silver is a 40-something musician who briefly had a taste of fame as the drummer of a one-hit-wonder band years before. What he has become good at is making a shambles of things—his ex-wife is getting remarried, and his college-bound daughter, with whom he shares a sporadic relationship, has just revealed she's pregnant. To top it off, he drinks too much, has gained weight, and lives in the Versailles, an apartment building mostly populated with divorced men like him. He finds it's easier to do nothing than risk disappointing others, or himself.

When he discovers he needs a life-saving operation to repair a tear in his aorta, he decides that rather than spend more time in the sad state his life has become, he'll refuse to have the operation. That decision, of course, doesn't sit well with his family or friends, and neither does his newly found habit of actually speaking his thoughts out loud, which leads to numerous awkward, painful, and emotional situations. What Silver wants more than anything is to be a better man, be a better father, and to fall in love, but whether he can accomplish any of those before dying—or being abandoned by those he loves—is anyone's guess.

One of Jonathan Tropper's strengths as a writer is his skill in creating characters that you don't necessarily admire but can't help but like. His voice is also tremendous—he's definitely comfortable throwing in humor to temper the pathos and emotional situations, but it never feels forced or false. And if this book isn't as funny as some of his earlier ones, that's more than fine. Silver's journey of self-discovery (and some self-loathing) takes you on an enjoyable and engrossing ride, one that makes you laugh, makes you smile, and maybe even tears you up just a little.

Tropper is definitely one of those authors you should get to know, unless the whole man-in-early-midlife-crisis mode thing doesn't work for you. And even then, don't be deterred.

Friday, August 24, 2012

There goes my hero...

Although not completely surprising, I was devastated to learn that Lance Armstrong decided not to fight the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's (USADA's) ruling that he be banned for life and stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, as a result of unproven allegations that he used performance-enhancing drugs and blood transfusions. While the International Cycling Union (ICU), which has been fighting with the USADA over jurisdiction in this matter, will make the final determination about whether Armstrong should be stripped of his titles, the weary Armstrong's decision is still a blow.

While I have not always agreed with the way Armstrong has conducted his personal life, he remains a tremendous inspiration to me, as well as millions of other people who are living with or have survived cancer. His determination, his never-say-die attitude in the face of tremendous adversity, and his passion to help others fighting cancer to adopt that same attitude is, in a word, heroic.

I don't have many heroes, but I can honestly say that Lance Armstrong has always been one of mine.

Some people view Armstrong's decision not to fight the allegations as an admission of guilt, but I disagree. To fight a battle that is being waged without merit, one that accomplishes nothing but cast a pall over the entire cycling world, seems like a tremendous waste of strength and passion that could be used to make a difference elsewhere.

In his statement today, Armstrong said:
There comes a point in every man's life when he has to say, "Enough is enough." For me, that time is now. I have been dealing with claims that I cheated and had an unfair advantage in winning my seven Tours since 1999. Over the past three years, I have been subjected to a two-year federal criminal investigation followed by (USADA CEO) Travis Tygart's unconstitutional witch hunt. The toll this has taken on my family, and my work for our foundation and on me leads me to where I am today – finished with this nonsense.
He continued:
If I thought for one moment that by participating in USADA’s process, I could confront these allegations in a fair setting and – once and for all – put these charges to rest, I would jump at the chance. But I refuse to participate in a process that is so one-sided and unfair. Regardless of what Travis Tygart says, there is zero physical evidence to support his outlandish and heinous claims. The only physical evidence here is the hundreds of controls I have passed with flying colors. I made myself available around the clock and around the world. In-competition. Out of competition. Blood. Urine. Whatever they asked for I provided. What is the point of all this testing if, in the end, USADA will not stand by it?
In his conclusion, he proved that he is the better man:
Today I turn the page. I will no longer address this issue, regardless of the circumstances. I will commit myself to the work I began before ever winning a single Tour de France title: serving people and families affected by cancer, especially those in under-served communities. This October, my Foundation will celebrate 15 years of service to cancer survivors and the milestone of raising nearly $500 million. We have a lot of work to do and I'm looking forward to an end to this pointless distraction. I have a responsibility to all those who have stepped forward to devote their time and energy to the cancer cause. I will not stop fighting for that mission. Going forward, I am going to devote myself to raising my five beautiful (and energetic) kids, fighting cancer, and attempting to be the fittest 40-year old on the planet.
I am still hopeful the ICU will not see fit to strip Armstrong of his titles, but regardless, his fans and those inspired by him know the truth. And once again, his determination to choose the path that will make a difference in the largest number of lives, and help those in need find the strength and positive attitude so crucial, I am still proud to call him my hero.

From the bottom of my heart, Lance, I thank you.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

SYTYCD Recap: Hey Now, You're An All-Star...

Where has this season gone? I realize that next Saturday marks the first of September, but I feel like the season really just got started, and Cat (sporting slightly messy hair and a silvery sack mini-dress) mentioned last night we're only three weeks until the performance finahle. Obviously we took a break for July 4 and a two-week break for the Olympics, which necessitated the brutal cuts of eight dancers in two shows, but all this does is further undercut how much I've disliked this season's format. Like we couldn't have a 30-minute results show? Like American Idol needs an hour-long results crapfest, but SYTYCD can't?

Quelle dommage, Fox. Quelle dommage, indeed.

The show opened with an old-time Hollywood tribute group number to Cool World Stomp by Mark Isham. Eliana was the star of the number, glammed up like a starlet and treated like royalty. Cyrus lumbered around the stage as he is wont to do (and I don't seem to remember the golden age of Hollywood seeing a lot of animation dancing, save those creations of Walt Disney) and, as I mentioned last week, it gets harder and harder to watch group numbers when so much is going on at once.

I was confused when I didn't recognize one of the guys dancing in the number. I wondered if something had happened and someone had to be replaced by Dareian, but then I realized—why, golly gee—it was Keith-Tyce! Dancing in his own routine! (It turns out K-T was filling in for a "slightly injured" Cole, although the interwebs are swarming with the theory that Keith-Tyce wanted time in the spotlight after the Mia fest last week.) The number, as we've learned, was a tribute to Gene Kelly's 100th birthday (which is today). His widow, Patricia (who must have been about eight when he died), was there. Lovely lady. She's probably like my age. Sigh.

Mini-solos! Witney looked super-hot with her wavy throwback hair. Chehon once again sported his "Che Force" tshirt. Lindsay wore the yellow version of the pink gown she danced her solo in last week. (Why do I notice these things?)

Joining Nigel and Mary on the judges panel this week, the very dapper (and sangfroid) Benjamin Millipied, ballet dancer, choreographer, and Mr. Natalie Portman. The man certainly knows what he's talking about, but I wonder if he was at all rattled by Mary's brand of cray-cray.

Of course, this week marked the return of the All-Stars. First up, Tiffany was paired with Season 5's Brandon (I. Love. This. Man.) on a Doriana Sanchez disco routine to, strangely, a remix of Cobra Starship's You Make Me Feel (la la la la la). The thing with Doriana's routines is they're either spot-on fast, furious and fabulous, or just gimmicky. This routine—with 11 eye-popping lifts—was definitely the former. Brandon, adorable and muscle-bound as always, was a frigging dynamo, tossing Tiffany every which way but loose, above his head, over his shoulder, on the floor, and the two like literally spun a few times. Tiffany really tore into this routine in a way I didn't see her dance while partnered with George.

Nigel was thrilled to have Doriana back and said that Tiffany was sensational and fantastic, although "it is difficult to talk about your dancing, because your feet never were on the floor!" Mary said she set the dance floor on fire, and praised Brandon's strength and finesse through all the lifts, although she said Tiffany more than held up her end of the bargain. "It was a party!," she exclaimed. ("With connection," Nigel interjected.) Benjamin calmly said that Tiffany had the chance to be totally fearless in this routine, and also praised her "very expressive face, which reads well on camera."

Witney was paired up with Season 1 winner Nick for a Travis Wall jazz routine, set to Moloko's Sing It Back. (Hey, now we have half the cast of Travis' show All the Right Moves. Bonus!) This routine takes place in an abandoned lounge, and the dancers play two ghosts who don't want the show to end. Travis' goal was for Witney to be as sexy as possible, since she hasn't had that opportunity on the show. (Plus she's 18, but why let that stop us?) Again, I thought Witney was hot and the pair had super chemistry, but I felt like this number had more wow moments for Nick than her.

Monsieur Portman thought Witney was excellent, and said the routine was difficult because of the transitions between release and tension. (Don't know what that meant but it was far more impressive said with a French accent.) Nigel blathered on about how when the all-stars come back you have to dance and live up to great dancers as well as great choreographers, but Witney was "totally committed." He said "you're sexy when you breathe, darling" and told her she's a star who could go all the way. "Lord have Murphy," said our ballroom diva. She called Witney "smoking" and agreed with Nigel's calling her a star. When Nick left the stage he said to Witney, "You're brilliant." Nice touch.

Our ballroom bombshell Anya (newly blonde) returned to dance the cha-cha with Cole, choreographed by Dmitry Chaplin to The Wanted's Glad You Came. (No mention of Cole's "slight injury." Hmm.) Cole mentioned he was hoping to be the first of the top 10 on the hot tamale train. I thought the cha cha was pretty sexy, and thought the pair had good chemistry, but thought Cole made dance-y faces like Kent used to all the time. (I guess the cha-cha brings out that Dancing with the Stars-esque cheesiness.)

The judges didn't much agree with me. Although Mary called the number "amazing" and reminded everyone that Anya was the original hot tamale, she said that she thought Cole's performance was a little sloppy, uncharacteristically. She cautioned him about applying more pressure to the balls of his feet. She also said the chemistry wasn't hot enough and that the routine wasn't believable (umm, no), and that, while Cole's bags were packed and he was standing on the platform, but he was not yet ready to board the hot tamale train. (It's ok, Cole. The train breaks down a lot. Oh, wait, that's the DC Metro.) Benjamin said Cole partnered well but needed to think about contrast in his movements. Creepy Uncle Nigel told Anya, "I'm glad you came" (gross), but told Cole he was disappointed in his lack of contact with Anya. He said the routine had no rise and fall, and said (accurately) that Cole "was performing to us [the audience], not Anya." All in all though, he called the performance "good, not bad for your first cha-cha." Cole didn't seem particularly amused. (So wait, was he injured? I kept waiting for the judges to temper their criticism with a "but I know you were hurt this week, so..." but it never came. This boy better not go home.)

Much to my immense pleasure, Season 6's Jakob returned (albeit an oranger, more, umm, gay version of himself) to dance with Lindsay. The pair would be performing a Spencer Liff Broadway routine to Dancin' Dan (Me and My Shadow) from Fosse. Now, I don't know about you, but I'm not routinely impressed with Spencer Liff's routines, despite how adorable he is, and they usually spell doom for the dancers. This routine, however, which played with light and imagination and shadow, was fantastic. Lindsay danced in front of a screen with Jakob as her shadow, and the two had to perfectly mirror each other's movements, both with and without the screen. (Jakob scarily had a more feminine-looking line than Lindsay, but I don't judge.) I thought Lindsay was fantastic and Jakob really is an incredible dancer, and Spencer gave them both a lot to do.

Nigel told Lindsay she was "magnificent yet again," but she still "had a lot to learn," and it was amazing that she "almost went home two weeks ago." (Almost? Really? You didn't even ask her to do a solo that week.) Rubbing salt in Cole's wounds, Mary put Lindsay on the hot tamale train, saying, "you keep hitting us every single week!" Benjamin called the two a "fantastic pair," and said the number was incredibly well-executed and musical, and praised its "great crescendo." (BalletBoyz, hope you see what a real judge says.)

Will paired up with Season 6's Kathryn (and, of course, the star of Step Up: Revolution) for a Nakul-choreographed Bollywood number about a snake charmer who is charming a sexy woman that turns out to be a snake. The routine, to Ooh La La (The Dirty Picture Soundtrack), was everything a Bollywood routine should be, fast and joyful and playful and sexy and fun. Kathryn continues to amaze me with how her dancing gets better and better (not so much the scintillating personality, but what can you do), and this was the perfect number for Will's goofiness, plus he and Kathryn had great chemistry.

Mary said Will is one of the most likeable contestants on the show, and called him an Energizer Bunny, but also praised his amazing control in his forward ronde. (I love talking dance.) Benjamin called the number charming and engaging, and said that Will "took advantage of every moment." After praising Kathryn's movie stardom (and all but congratulating himself for discovering her), Nigel said to Will, "There are times when I want to tell you to calm down and take things a little more seriously, but then I say, 'Shut up, Nigel.'" (Believe me, I do, too.)

Cyrus finally drew the contemporary straw, pairing with Season 3's Jaimie on a Travis Wall routine about life after destruction, to M83's Outro. It was very dramatic, and Cyrus even did sort of a leap, and his partnering was good, but he's just not a strong enough dancer. I'm starting to really worry about whether he's going to win this competition this season.

I was waiting for Benjamin to criticize Cyrus, but he praised his "raw energy," which he called compelling and exciting. (Oh yeah, Benjamin? Well, your wife didn't deserve the Oscar. So there.) Nigel said that he got a lot of letters at the start of the season from people angry that they put Cyrus on the show because he wasn't a strong dancer (I call BS, because no one writes letters to television shows anymore), but it was that "people just don't understand dance." He quoted George Balanchine, who said, "Don't give me dancers who want to dance, give me dancers who have to dance." He said that Cyrus doesn't point his toes or do other moves cleanly, but "you're still brilliant." Seriously. Mary praised the connections and transitions between lifts, calling them "amazing" (umm, okay) and said that Cyrus' feet and legs "were not the best" but his passion touched everyone. What's the point of the show if he gets a pass every week for not being a strong dancer. I realize that sometimes the entertainment factor has an edge over technicality, but really? Not a good dancer, but brilliant anyway?

In the second "should be interesting" number of the evening, Chehon paired up with Lauren Gottlieb from Season 3 on a Dave Scott hiphop routine to Maxwell's Pretty Wings. The routine was about a pair of best friends who always lean on each other. I found the number much more of a lyrical hiphop than an actual hiphop routine, but Chehon did do some terrific moves.

Nigel said, "Dave finally took the stick out of you." He said Chehon finally had a smile on his face (and cool hair), and seemed so much warmer than he has previously. He lectured Chehon a bit about technique versus passion, and praised him for "setting the hook out there and reeling us in." Mary said she wanted it to be funkier (because that's how she rolls, yo) and said it was in and out for her, but Benjamin praised Chehon's spontaneous-seeming performance, saying it looked like he had fun, although he told him to focus more on "looseness."

Keith-Tyce returned to choreograph a jazz routine for George and Season 2's Allison to Hazmat Modine's Bahamut. The routine took place in Paris, where George is a rich man waiting for a train but Allison distracts him, and the two spend a raunchy night together. Allison (with darker hair) is sexy as hell, and again this week, George was technically terrific but his performance lacked personality and passion, which was strange for a number that was supposed to be passionate and raunchy. (The boy wears bow ties and shorts. Raunch and George don't seem to mesh that well, do they?)

Mary said that Nigel would have missed his train, too (I love it when the other judges and Cat preempt Nigel's creepiness), and called the routine "fun to watch." Benjamin admitted he was a fan of George's, and called him "exceptional" and "an amazing mover" who "can do almost anything." Nigel called George's technique tremendous, but said he didn't believe the character he played, calling it "immature." He said that George was just dancing, and Allison wouldn't have thought he was raunchy at all.

I'm sure that Eliana breathed a sigh of relief when she learned it was finally time to dance with an all-star instead of Cyrus, and I'm sure she utterly freaked out when she found out she'd be paired up with Season 7's doomed Alex Freakin' Wong! The two took on a Stacey Tookey routine to Nancy Sinatra's Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down), about an on-again, off-again relationship. Lord have Murphy! Eliana was absolutely incredible—technically brilliant, sexy, and powerful, and Alex showed what a force he would have been had he been able to actually compete on the show. Best routine of the night, although it seemed much shorter than the others.

The judges gave them a standing ovation (although Benjamin hesitated in his very French way). Nigel proclaimed, "If anyone is unsure what it means to have maturity in movement, they need to watch this routine." He called Eliana his favorite girl this season, and praised her perfection in both technique and performance. He, too, said the number was too short. Mary called Eliana the star of the show, saying this routine was her favorite of the night. She said it was "perfectly layered, like the perfect tiramisu." (Yummy.) Benjamin said the routine was executed beautifully and driven by so much passion that everyone felt it.

The final routine of the evening paired Audrey with the always-amazing tWitch (aka "Titch") on a Dave Scott hiphop number to Sincerely Jane by Janelle Monae. The routine was about a 400-year-old couple who both love and hate each other and Dave said that "on a scale of 1-10, this routine is a 12." (Don't know what that meant, but it wasn't. In any way.) The couple started out in a coffin and all I kept thinking was, "Boy, Audrey is out of her league." (And besides, I haven't seen a zombie-themed routine I've enjoyed since Jason and Kayla danced to Izza Kizza's They're Everywhere in Season 5.) Audrey also looked like a little girl dancing with a man.

Benjamin said it was unfair that Audrey had to dance with tWitch, and he wanted more from her. Mary Mary Quite Contrary said that Audrey made her watch her, not tWitch (yeah, right) and called her "a little dance angel." Nigel said he would have liked to see a little more character, and said, in an utterly unconnected remark, that Audrey reminded him of Helena Bonham Carter. Wha? Because of her ability to do British costume dramas? Nigel also said how amazing tWitch is, and how proud he is of his success in Step Up: Revolution (I kept expecting Shankman to poke his head in every time the movie was mentioned). tWitch was surprisingly emotional about this praise.

Cat then rushed the top 10 into the dreaded results. (Like they couldn't have paused for a commercial? They had 30 minutes left. Has anyone ever watched American Idol and noticed how they draw...everything...out...and...time for a break!) She revealed that, unsurprisingly, Audrey was in the bottom two (should have gone home last week, grumble grumble) and that Witney joined her. Really? The bottom two guys were George (for the third week in a row—should have gone home last week, grumble grumble) and Chehon. No Cyrus. Again.

Given that there was a ton of time left, it was no surprise when Nigel said he wanted all four to dance their solos. Witney brought her hotness to Santigold's You'll Find a Way and did a terrific job; Audrey danced to the appropriate And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going by Jennifer Holliday, and was appropriately fierce and determined; Chehon was absolutely magnificent in his solo to Olafur Arnalds' Til Enda, bringing one of the highest leaps I've ever seen and a magnificent pirouette series; and George, also trotting out the Olafur Arnalds (he danced to Brotsjor), was tremendously strong as well. I had a feeling they'd let Audrey go but wasn't sure if they'd save George for the third time.

But before the death blows were loosed, Benjamin's LA Dance Project performed to Nico Muhly's Trio. And if Eliana and Alex's routine earlier was a tiramisu, this was a soufflé—lovely to look at but kind of boring.

In revealing the results, Nigel mentioned that the decision to save Witney wasn't unanimous. (Wha? Who didn't want to save Witney? Audrey was weak two weeks in a row. Is Witney a bitch to the choreographers or something?) Audrey was sad, but surprisingly the cameras didn't cut to Matthew Gosling in the audience, which they had earlier.

Of the guys, Nigel mentioned that both have had trouble connecting with the audience. He said George danced the best solo they'd ever seen him dance, and said that Chehon takes their breath away with his solos but they don't understand why he can't translate that into his performances. However, because he takes the judges' breath away, they decided to save Chehon. (I would have thrown a fit if George was saved again, considering that clearly he hasn't connected with the audience almost ever.) George's farewell montage reminded me he rocked the shorts and bow tie combination even when he made it into the top 20.

It's interesting. For a season I thought had such tremendous promise, I'm a little baffled about where it's going. Who is going to win? For me, Cole has been superior every week, although I enjoy watching Will's performances and Chehon is a magnificent dancer. And then, of course, there's Cyrus. Short of an amazing—no, miraculous—transformation in the next three weeks, he should not win, and if he does, there's something wrong with the show. As far as the girls, I guess it's Eliana's to lose, but I'd guess any of the other three could win.

I just don't feel as strongly about these contestants as I did Melanie, Marko, and Sasha last season. And I have no idea who will be in the bottom two next week—I'm guessing it will be Chehon and Cole (or Will), with Chehon or Will going home, and I'd guess for the girls, anyone but Eliana will go home next week.

For a show I enjoy so much, I wish I didn't feel so ambivalent. But maybe it will change next week, should (fingers crossed) it be Cyrus' turn to say adieu.

Lord have Murphy, indeed.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Book Review: "Goodbye for Now" by Laurie Frankel

There are no words to describe how I'm feeling now that I've finished Laurie Frankel's hopeful and heartbreaking Goodbye for Now. I absolutely loved the book although it really affected me emotionally, and I'm also sad I'm done with it.

Sam Elling is an extremely intelligent computer programmer who works for an internet dating company. He creates an algorithm to find your perfect soul mate, and testing it out on himself, meets the love of his life, Meredith, who works for the same company. The bad news is that Sam gets fired because the algorithm is so successful that his company starts losing money, because people don't need to try and find their soul mate more than once.

One day Meredith's beloved grandmother, Livvie, dies. She is devastated by this loss and wishes she could keep communicating with her. To try and help Meredith through the grieving process, Sam creates a computer program through which Meredith can email Livvie and Livvie—or a computer simulation of her—responds, as it accesses previous emails and other online conversations to develop its communications. And then, because Meredith used to chat via video with her grandmother a lot, Sam creates a video simulation as well. But does this truly help the grieving process?

Sam, Meredith, and her cousin, Dash, begin adapting the program (now called Re-Pose) to help grieving people communicate with their dead loved ones. For some it's cathartic, for some it's necessary, and for some it brings comfort. But as they see the ramifications of their innovation they begin to wonder if they're doing the right thing. And when tragedy strikes, they are confronted with the decision of whether being able to communicate with the one they lost is really helping.

If you've ever lost someone you cared about deeply—parent, spouse, partner, child, sibling, grandparent, friend, or anyone you loved—and wished you could talk to them one more time, this is a book for you. For me, it hit home on so many levels, as I identified with the emotions and desires these characters had. This was such an innovative yet meaningful idea, and not only does Laurie Frankel pull it off magnificently, but she helps you to see both sides of the idea. This book made me laugh and boy, did it make me cry.

Read this book. Have tissues at the ready, but read it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Why not just be happy?

Thanks to Teresa Scanlan for this inspiration this morning! C'mon, get happy!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Book Review: "The Dog Stars" by Peter Heller

The world was rocked by a flu epidemic and a subsequent blood disease that killed a significant portion of the population, and even Mother Nature has been affected—winters are getting shorter and shorter, temperatures are getting hotter, wildlife has died in many places, and droughts are coming.

Hig survived the flu, although his wife didn't. He and his trusty dog, Jasper, live in an abandoned airport in Colorado along with a cranky, well-armed misanthrope named Bangley. Hig and Bangley have a marriage of sorts—Hig hunts and fishes and cooks and plants, while Bangley berates Hig for his lack of strategic thinking as he keeps Hig protected from roaming survivors who wander into their compound with nefarious purposes on their minds. Hig and Jasper fly "The Beast," a 1956 Cessna, both to monitor the perimeter and simply to escape the reality of losing everything and everyone you love. One day, Hig decides to go in search of the voice he heard briefly on the plane's radio three years before, to see if there are others out there. He flies beyond the point where he has enough fuel for the return trip home, but he does encounter people he never thought he would, and comes face to face with emotions he has hidden deep inside of him.

This is a book that wonders, how do you keep hope alive when everything around you has been destroyed or will die? How do you keep on living when you know there may be an all-too-finite end? In Hig, Peter Heller has created a complex, resolute character, lonely and sad, hopeful and grateful, who really doesn't know what to do beyond putting one foot in front of the other. While this book isn't quite as apocalyptic as, say, Cormac McCarthy's The Road or Justin Cronin's The Passage, the vision of isolation and destruction is still disturbing.

It took me a while to truly get into this book, mainly because Heller's writing style became less disjointed as it moved forward. (I think he tried to write the way Hig thought, and instead of providing verisimilitude it was a little disorienting.) I also wasn't a fan of the interactions between Hig and Bangley, at least at first. But I loved Hig's character (among others) and found the emotions the story provoked were very real. It is always a testament of how much I enjoy a book when I wonder what happened to the characters after the story ended. That was definitely the case with The Dog Stars.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Movie Review: "The Dark Knight Rises"


I waited out the crowds and allayed my slightly-niggling fears following the Aurora movie theater massacre and saw The Dark Knight Rises. Once again, Christopher Nolan, whose Inception was my favorite film of 2010 and whose Memento was one of my top 50 movies of the last decade, has demonstrated his genius once again, creating a film of epic proportions.

Following the events at the close of 2008's The Dark Knight, in which Batman took responsibility for the death of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), the police of Gotham City have immortalized Dent and used his death to crack down on crime and imprison thousands of offenders. While the police force and the mayor hope to find Batman and hold him responsible for Dent's murder, only Police Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) knows the truth.

Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is holed up in his mansion, languishing from his injuries and mourning the murder of his girlfriend. His company is in a financial shambles, and all his ever-faithful servant, Alfred (the spectacular Michael Caine), wants is for Bruce to move on with his life and leave the Batman business behind. As if.

When Wayne is robbed by mischievous cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway, who steals nearly every scene she's in as well), he realizes there is trouble ahead, led by violently evil Bane (Tom Hardy). Bane and his not-so-merry band of marauders have enlisted Selina and others in a scheme to strip the privileged of Gotham City of all of their money and possessions, turning the tables on who are the haves and have-nots. Egged on by earnest policeman John Blake (a steadfastly marvelous Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who gets better and better with every film role) and much to Alfred's chagrin, he turns Wayne Enterprises over to the charming Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) and Batman returns to save Gotham City.

Ah, if it were only so easy.

This is a film that tackles big issues—privilege versus wanting, wishing for a clean slate to erase your mistakes, loyalty, revenge, sustainability, overcoming grief, and telling the truth—even as it ratchets up the action and the violence.

Although I'm not a fan of movies which threaten New York City (err, sorry, Gotham City) with destruction, the film truly crackles and pops with confrontations galore. As Bane pits citizen versus citizen, authority versus authority, as he works to carry out his ultimate plan, the results are chilling, emotionally provoking, even surprising. And I'll admit it, during crucial fight scenes, I found myself scanning the entrances to the theater, just to be sure no one unexpected entered. (Shudder.)

At times the movie tells more than shows, and it wants to be both a think piece and an action film, but to me, it never felt like I had been watching for nearly three hours. The acting was truly top-notch—Bale is at his taciturn best; Hardy is sneering, sadistic, and scary, although sometimes unintelligible as the criminal with the voice of Darth Vader; Hathaway is playful, flirty, and flinty; Caine is magnificent; and Oldman is appropriately conflicted. (As an aside, I can't get over how old Matthew Modine looked in this movie; between him and C. Thomas Howell in the remake of Spider-Man, I'm having trouble watching my teen idols age.)

The Dark Knight Rises is a tremendously powerful and satisfying conclusion to the Batman trilogy. Christopher Nolan is to be applauded for bringing gravitas, humor, pathos, and action to this franchise. I only hope Hollywood can leave well enough alone this time and not choose to remake this series again in 5-10 years...

Ladies, be sure you steer clear of "legitimate rape"

In case you missed those special lectures in health class, Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), who is running against Senator Claire McCaskill in November, can break it down for you.

Akin doesn't think abortion in the case of rape is really an issue. That's because he has it on good authority that women don't get pregnant from "legitimate rape" anyway.

Says Akin:
First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.
Umm, really? So women who get pregnant after being raped were only, say, magically raped? Or was it because they didn't really fight hard enough when fending off the rapist to make their body avoid becoming pregnant?

And this man is actually leading in the polls!!

Watch Akin's science lesson for yourself.

Sometimes there are no words.

How much destruction should one city take?

As the 9/11 terrorist attacks unfolded, particularly on the World Trade Center, the world watched in horror. Although the city (and our country) has proven its ultimate resilience, the indelible images of that day are seared in our collective consciousness.

Given those inexplicable horrors, I don't understand why so many action movies still use New York as the nexus of a climatic battle or event, and why filmmakers think it is appropriate to destroy the city on screen time and time again. I realize what New York City represents to the world, and perhaps it is the city's very resilience that makes it an appealing target, but I'm finding these scenes more and more disturbing the further from 9/11 we move.

Take The Avengers, for example. (Some spoilers ahead, so skip this if you haven't seen the movie.) When the alien race commanded by Loki finally breaks through to Earth, they do so in New York. I know I wasn't alone in finding the scenes of alien creatures and crafts flying dangerously close to windows and alongside buildings eerily and painfully reminiscent of that horrible day in December. And as buildings were destroyed, and the police mobilized, I thought the reactions of the characters on film who witnessed this were really disturbing. While The Avengers saved the day and took back the city and our world, the attack did leave some significant destruction in its wake.

Couldn't this destruction have happened in another city, perhaps one not still shell-shocked by real and similar events?

Gotham City becomes the target of Bane and his merry band of evil villains in The Dark Knight Rises as well. Of course, the terror of this movie is all but amplified by the real-life horrible events that took place opening night in Aurora, Colorado, but I still found the violence, the attacks on police, and the destruction of bridges and other landmarks in the city tremendously disturbing.

Maybe I'm not the only one who feels uneasy at the city's falling prey to aliens and villains and Mother Nature again and again and again. Or maybe someone needs to remind me it's all just a movie...

Thursday, August 16, 2012

SYTYCD Recap: Oh, Solo Mia...

Great to have the show back after a two-week break for the Olympics! I feel like we've missed so much—they've launched an app, celebrated National Dance Day, and welcomed the cutest Nappy/Tabs production of them all, little London Riley D'umo. (What do you have to show for those two weeks, just watching the Olympics? Slacker.)

After a two-week hiatus I'll admit I was expecting more Fabulous Fashion Cat and less Viennese Countess Cat, but there she was, Heidi-inspired braids and all. And clearly she spent her two weeks marooned with the Swiss Family Robinson, who lent her scraps of their washcloths from which to make fringe for her sparkly pink dress, but it is what it is...

Last night, SYTYCD attempted to answer the question, "Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?" (Oh, wait, that was The Odd Couple.) In all seriousness, last night's show was dedicated solely to Mia Michaels, with the contestants performing some of her—and the show's—most memorable routines.

Sounds like a great idea, right? Well, much like we've seen on other performance shows, you cannot manufacture magical moments. Sometimes performances are transcendent not only because of exceptional talent, but because the performers are in a moment, you know? There's something special about that second, that crowd, that note or that move, that can't be duplicated. Plus, when you ask different people to recreate that same moment, it will almost always fall short.

For me, it was a night of unrealistic expectations, few inspired performances, and unfair judging from Nigel, which bordered on the interrogatory at times. And Mia didn't seem all too wowed by it either, although in an interview with, Mia mentioned that she was honored by the tribute.

But before we get started, let's introduce our...JUDGES! In addition to Mr. Nigel Lythgoe (sir) and the subdued Mary Murphy, the panel featured the "BalletBoyz," noted English dancers Michael Nunn and Billy Trevitt, who apparently have never seen the show and seemed torn between Zooey Deschanel-like praise and actual constructive criticism.

The show opened with a group number to Active Child's Hanging On, which Mia said was inspired by a long-distance relationship she's been in for the last two years. It was like Cirque du Soleil-meets-50 Shades of Grey, as many of the dancers hung from ropes and did aerial acrobatics, while many of the female dancers had one arm tied to them. Interestingly enough, Cyrus and Dareian didn't do much in this number, just wandered around the stage a lot. While this was visually stunning, I'd rather watch group numbers when everyone's in sync, because it's harder to concentrate when you're watching 14 people doing different things. (Ooh, something shiny.)

As each pair was introduced, they shared their most inspiring moment from the first eight seasons of the show. First up, Cyrus and Eliana. For Cyrus, the most inspiring moment was Bryan Gaynor's Season 7 audition, especially since Bryan is an animator and apparently one of Cyrus' roommates. And Eliana chose Season 3's "Peace Dances," choreographed by Wade Robson.

The pair would be taking on "The Door," first danced in Season 4 by Katee and tWitch, to Mercy by Duffy. As Nigel will comment several times during the show, it's difficult to separate the original routines from the new ones, and I had a hard time here. First of all, I felt Cyrus barely danced; he lumbered around the stage a lot, and the most challenging moves he did in the routine were animation moves. I'm starting to tire of routines being choreographed around his lack of skill, when better dancers keep getting eliminated. Eliana was fierce and showed some passion, but it must be hard to dance with someone that doesn't have a lot of skill.

Nigel acted surprised that it was difficult to disassociate the dancers from those who originated the routines, but said that Cyrus "got to twitching" (although he cautioned him to lower his shoulders) and said that Eliana was so strong she should have ended up on the other side of the door. He also said that she demonstrates an ability to create great characters while focusing on technique. Mary loved the routine, saying Eliana was "for roaches" (ferocious) while Cyrus was an entertainer. (Not a dancer, mind you.) Michael and Billy talked about how they have never seen any of the routines so they would approach everything fresh, and then didn't say anything about the performance at all. So the non-dancing Cyrus gets a pass. Again.

George's most inspiring moment was Season 2's zombie group dance choreographed by Wade Robson, while Tiffany liked Ellen DeGeneres' hiphop tribute to Alex Wong from Season 7. This week, the pair would be dancing "Hometown Glory" to Adele's song of the same name (originally danced by Katee and Joshua in Season 4. This is an amazingly acrobatic, balletic routine, with fast and frenzied movements. I thought George danced beautifully but lacked personality, and Tiffany just seemed a little too much.

Mary wanted to call 911 because "they murdered the routine." She called George's assisted lift and the transitions flawless, and said that while Tiffany was soft and powerful, she needed to be careful of over-performing. Billy (I think) praised their fantastic energy but said that it felt as if they were watching two solos instead of a duet, because Tiffany wasn't connecting enough. Nigel told George it hasn't seemed as if they've seen the best of him all season, "but tonight we have." He commented on the pair's energy and strength, and called it an excellent job, but said Tiffany "overegged the pudding" (gross) a bit. (I guess when there are three English judges out of four and an English host, you can go for pudding humor. You can also do this when Bill Cosby is on. And I miss Jell-O Pudding Pops.)

Will and Amelia had the misfortune the opportunity to dance "The Butt" routine originated by Evan and Randi in Season 5. (Will's favorite moment was when Nigel was "kidnapped" during a Top 20 group dance in a season I didn't watch, and Amelia loved Melanie and Neil's contemporary dance to Total Eclipse of the Heart last season.) "The Butt" piece, danced to Koop Island Blues by Koop, is a piece of musical comic theater, where a guy is entranced by a woman's bodacious bottom. It requires not only some great dancing skills, but great personality, great energy, and great acting. I thought Amelia and Will brought all of that to this routine. They have terrific chemistry. Will had some terrific tumbling and floor moves, and Amelia's tousled hair looked great on her. Really loved it.

Apparently the judges watched a different routine. Of course, Nigel has "had Randi's butt on my mind for four years," so immediately you knew he couldn't separate the original routine from Will and Amelia's performance, and then he said the number was just "so Evan, so Randi." He said that Amelia could have brought more charm and coquettishness to the performance, and said she was staring at the floor a lot, while he said Will tried to bring more of a character to the routine. Mary liked it, although she said Will was "over the top but believable" (oxymoron much?) and that Amelia was "exquisite to watch" but looked down at the floor too much. The BalletBoyz said it was very strong, musical, and endearing, although (in beautifully understated English style) "there were moments where a little subtlety wouldn't have gone amiss." (Brilliant.)

Janelle's favorite moment was Chelsea and Mark's Season 4 dance to Bleeding Love, while Dareian's was Season 7's contemporary dance by Kent and Neil to How It Ends. (Why I love Dareian, part 12...) Last night, the pair danced "The Bed" routine to John Mayer's Dreaming with a Broken Heart, originated by Kherington and tWitch in Season 4. In her interview, Mia mentioned that this was envisioned as a follow up piece to "The Door," in that the male character was regretting breaking up with his girlfriend and dreamed of her, but they could never connect, which is why they don't ever touch in the number. Janelle revealed that the emotion of the routine hit home, because her eight-year relationship is on the rocks. Dareian was absolutely fantastic in this performance, bringing passion, vulnerability, fire, and some phenomenal moves (including a flip on the bed), and while Janelle didn't have much to do, her moments were passionate.

The Boyz called out Dareian's sickle feet (as everyone does) and said they were worried about his lines, and they said that while Janelle gave a great performance but they were distracted by her hair. (But Cyrus and Eliana got no criticism at all. Weird.) Nigel said it was the first time he saw Dareian's personality (so not true), said he had better technique than tWitch, and that he is "a great little dancer," but said it was almost a solo, since Janelle didn't have much to do and didn't stand out. Mary said she didn't feel any raw emotion in the performance, partially because she couldn't see Janelle's face, and told Dareian, "there's nothing stopping you, except those tootsies!"

Audrey's favorite moment was Season 1's disco dance from Melody and Nick, while Matthew's was Ade and Lauren's pop jazz routine from Season 7, to Oh Yeah (aka the song from Ferris Bueller's Day Off). The pair would be taking on the emotional "Time" routine to Billy Porter's song of the same name, danced originally by Lacey and Neil in Season 3. This routine represented a reunion in heaven between Mia and her father. I described this number as beautiful but not technically challenging, and Matthew and Audrey's performance lived up to that description. I thought Audrey brought a beautiful passion and light to the performance, but Matthew's lack of personality (although seriously hot) didn't help him, and he seemed almost tentative, as if he were afraid to slip on all of the flowers strewn across the stage.

An emotional Mary, who talked about how much the original performance touched her, said that Matthew and Audrey brought dignity to the routine but that she didn't feel Matthew's passion or truth. She called Audrey a shining star, however. The Boyz said Audrey nailed her first pirouette and was lovely, but said that Matthew's performance was inconsistent, as he would drop his expression just before a lift, as if he were looking for where to place his feet. Nigel was downright abusive in his critique, asking if Matthew knew who Mia's father was, what he did for a living, and asking Audrey at what age Mia lost her father. It seemed utterly ridiculous. He explained that Mia's father was a song and dance man (and apparently the original Marlboro Man?), so the original routine had his character wanting to entertain his daughter, and Matthew didn't do that, and since Mia lost her father as an adult, Audrey's almost childlike performance didn't work for Nigel. Both seemed crestfallen, Matthew more so, almost on the verge of tears.

Witney and Chehon were up next. Witney's favorite moment (which she saw "when she was 12") was Travis' fake audition as "Danielle" in Season 4, while Chehon (wearing a "Che Force" shirt) said his favorite moment was Melanie's audition in Season 8. Witney and Chehon danced "The Bench," one of Mia's most iconic routines, danced beautifully by Travis and Heidi in Season 2. The routine, to Celine Dion's Calling You, is about Mia's relationship with a gay friend, whom she loved but he wouldn't (and couldn't) reciprocate. While not a dead-on re-creation of the original routine, I thought Chehon and Witney's performance was quite lovely. Chehon's amazing technique allowed him to replicate some of Travis' signature moves without looking like imitations, and his steeliness worked in this number, but he didn't quite lose all discipline. Witney is really just a beautiful dancer, and her sweet, innocent-seeming quality made her endearing. I love this routine and Celine's version of this song from the movie Bagdad Cafe.

Mary said Chehon has "the strongest center" of anyone on the show, but he needs to "just let it go a little more," pointing to his stiff slide off the bench (which Travis did so fluidly). She called Witney remarkable and fearless. Nigel re-explained the story behind the dance and said the couple pulled it off, while The Boyz praised Witney's home of Salt Lake City (random) and told Chehon he'd always have a job with them.

The final routine of the night was Lindsay and Cole's take on Kayla and Kupono's brilliant "Addiction" routine from Season 5, set to Sara Bareilles' Gravity. (Lest I forget, Cole's favorite moment was when Mark Kanemura—a friend from Hawaii—made it into the top 20 in Season 4, while Lindsay loved Travis and Benji's hiphop routine from Season 2. Lindsay watched it "when she was 12" and she and a friend even re-created the number on film.) Next to "The Bench," this may be my favorite routine of Mia's. From the second the performance began, I was absolutely mesmerized by Cole, who looked like Edward Scissorhands or another of Johnny Depp's Tim Burton-directed characters. Cole brought a creepy twist to Kupono's sinister portrayal, and truly took hold of Lindsay and the performance. Lindsay was emotional (though a little more restrained than Kayla's initial performance) and threw herself across the stage. Seriously, Cole should win this competition, but more and more I'm fearing Cyrus might.

The Boyz were very impressed and said they couldn't even tell what genre were Cole and Lindsay's specialties. Mary said she loved the pair the best of anyone last night, saying Cole's "quirky role" really worked for him, and of Lindsay, "My God, was she good tonight?" Nigel, too, said the couple gave the best performance of the night, and said that Cole "scared the s--t" out of him with his "psychotically brilliant, spine chilling" performance. He called Lindsay "stunning."

Then it was time to reveal the bottom three guys and girls. For the first time this season, Cat revealed the result by couple, but since people vote individually, the whole thing didn't work as well. The bottom three girls were Amelia (what?), Janelle (no surprise there), and Lindsay (the voters just don't like her for some reason). The bottom three guys were George (again), Dareian (again, no surprise), and Matthew. Someone explain to me how Cyrus escaped the bottom three again, and why Audrey—who was just as weak as Matthew in their salsa—didn't wind up in the bottom three either. Nigel decided that all of the contestants should dance solos.

Amelia's solo to Falling Slowly from the movie Once was beautiful but boring; Janelle did a good, if not showy enough, belly dance to Elie Attieh's Inta Omri, and Lindsay dominated the solos with a fiery routine to one of my favorite songs, Hip Hip Chin Chin by Club des Belugas, in a fierce pink dress with fringe which really showed how long her legs are.

For the guys, George danced another beautiful but passionless solo to So Long Lonesome by Explosions in the Sky, although he did show he could point his toes. (Take that, Dareian.) Dareian went full-bore again in his solo, dancing this time to Joshua Ledet's version of It's A Man's Man's Man's World, throwing in a fabulous pirouette series and lots of other moves. And Matthew's solo to Damien Rice's Delicate was nice to look at but boring.

After some fake consideration, Nigel revealed that because of her performance last night, the judges chose to save Lindsay, thus eliminating Amelia and Janelle. Janelle seemed unsurprised but Amelia was overcome with emotion. He then told Matthew he was a great dancer but needed to find a way to connect with the audience, and called Dareian a "great, tricky dancer" from whom they never knew what to expect, but he needed to learn how to point his feet. And then he revealed that for the second week in a row, the judges chose to save George. (Yawn.)

Next week comes the all-stars, and I hope they're strong. Because I'm all about the eye candy strong dancers, I'd love to see the return of Mark, Neil, Kent, and how about Jakob?

People, it's time for Cyrus to go—now. He's not a good dancer, period. Even though I didn't think Russell deserved to win in Season 6 as Jakob was the far superior dancer, Russell at least gave it his all and danced quite well. Cyrus has been getting a pass from the judges and the choreographers, week after week. It's so aggravating. And at what point do Nigel and company realize that if George winds up in the bottom three every week, he's clearly not connecting with the audience, so he's not succeeding like they think he is?

Because there was time to kill at the end of the show, we got to watch the awkward, sad segment where all of the contestants hug each other and the judges. Saw lots of weird interpersonal dynamics, but also saw Mia basically smother Dareian with kisses and tell him how fabulous she thought he was. (I haven't quite thawed on her treatment of Brandon in Season 5 or her rolling over AdéChiké in Season 7, but I'm getting there.)

One note of gratitude: although Shankman was in the audience, we were spared any cuts to his overly emotional visage after each performance. Bless you, camera gods.

See you next week!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A song that always stops me in my tracks...

There are certain songs that the moment I hear them, I stop what I'm doing (unless I'm driving) to listen and, of course, sing along. (And depending on the song, and where I am at the time, maybe dance, but no one needs that visual in their head.)

One of these songs is the mesmerizing The Blower's Daughter by Damien Rice. It's a simple, spare, yet powerful song that I can literally listen to over and over and over again. Rice's voice, and the backup vocals by Lisa Hannigan, are melodic and haunting.

The song was featured in the movie Closer, which starred Julia Roberts, Jude Law, Clive Owen, and Natalie Portman, and I guess because of that movie, the song tends to make me feel a little melancholy, but ultimately hopeful and uplifted.

What are the songs that stop you in your tracks? Enjoy watching and listening to one of mine. (Apologies in advance for the commercial preceding the video...)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

If being moved moves you to help...

While finding stories for my biweekly newsletter today, I came upon a story which moved me to tears.

Mike Masse's 11-month-old son, Noah, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor last month. To raise money for Noah's treatment, and provide support necessary for his family to stay financially solvent as they focus on Noah's care and comfort, Mike recorded a cover version of The Beatles' Let It Be. The song is designed as a "charity single" of sorts; anyone who contributes to Masse's fundraiser for Noah will receive a free download of the song.

I don't know Mike Masse, and I know that sadly, cancer affects an enormous number of people every day, and far too many children. If Noah's story, and/or his father's efforts to help him, move you, contribute. Or just listen to the song, and share your prayers of hope for Noah and his family.

As I thought I about Noah and the Masse family, I remembered another family dealing with cancer.

I've written before about Patti Digh, author, speaker, consultant, poet, and hero, who writes the 37days blog, as well as several tremendously inspiring books, including the amazing Four Word Self Help. I've long considered Patti Digh one of my heroes, because of how she encourages people to think, to act, to reach for their dreams, and most of all, to inspire.

Patti's husband, John Ptak, an incredibly intelligent and astute writer, teacher, and person in his own right, was recently diagnosed with kidney cancer. Patti and John have two daughters, Emma and Tess. John needs expensive surgery to treat his cancer, and he is uninsured.

Because Patti and John have touched so many people's lives, friends in their hometown of Asheville and all across the world have banded together to launch a campaign on Indiegogo to raise the funds needed for the surgery. And as this campaign has picked up steam, their friends have launched adjunct programs, like bake sales, t-shirt sales, and other initiatives to raise additional funds.

Again, I've been so overwhelmed by the generosity of Patti and John's friends, as well as total strangers, and the enormous gratitude they have shown toward those who have given, prayed, shared their story, and simply sent messages of encouragement. You may not know Patti, John, Emma, or Tess, but if you feel so moved by their story, see how you can contribute, even if it is simply a prayer.

In the play A Streetcar Named Desire, one of Blanche DuBois' most famous lines is, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." Mike Masse, as well as Patti and John, have been benefiting from the kindness of strangers. And I hope this kindness pays them in ways they never imagined.