Saturday, June 30, 2012

Book Review: "Tell the Wolves I'm Home" by Carol Rifka Brunt

Beautiful, painful, and brilliant, Carol Rifka Brunt's Tell the Wolves I'm Home broke my heart and gave me hope. Fourteen-year-old June Elbus has one soul mate, one person with whom she feels she can be herself completely, one person that understands her completely. That person is her uncle, Finn, a renowned artist who sees in June a kindred spirit. They explore many New York landmarks, enjoy fine art, classical music, and Finn nurtures June's love of medieval times.

When Finn dies of AIDS in 1987, June is devastated. She knows her mother is experiencing a different kind of loss, yet she doesn't understand her mother's anger and refusal to talk about Finn's life. June's older sister, Greta, with whom she has a very fractious relationship, treats June cruelly and plays on her deep loss. When Finn's friend, Toby, who has been ostracized by June's family and others close to Finn, contacts June, she is afraid to betray her mother's wishes. The more she gets to know Toby, she realizes this relationship helps her keep Finn alive, although she is jealous that Finn loved someone other than her. And then June realizes her feelings for Toby are more than simply a substitution for Finn, yet this realization comes at a cost.

This book is so beautifully written, and Brunt really evokes the pain and hopefulness of the teenage years, and the way that a special relationship can make a lonely person open up. It captures the uncertainty surrounding AIDS in its early days, and how those with the disease—and gay people in general—were treated by their lovers' families. At times I found Greta's treatment of June almost too mean and hurtful to enjoy, but the way Brunt resolved this issue and their relationship worked for me. This is a book about loss, love, the pain of jealousy, and the beauty of friendship, and while it certainly is poignant, it's also hopeful. Enjoyed it tremendously.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Goodbye (for now), Ann...

One of the worst-kept secrets in television finally came to light yesterday, when Ann Curry announced that she was leaving her year-old post as co-host of the Today show, after spending 15 years at the news desk. News of Curry's impending departure (and subsequent offer of $10 million from NBC to leave) leaked last week, but she showed true class by appearing to not let the rumors affect her performance.

Her tearful goodbye yesterday was all the more poignant because it appears she has bought into the conventional wisdom that she is to blame for Today's losing ground to, and even getting beaten by, Good Morning America in the ratings. The truth is, while perhaps Curry wasn't completely suited for the softer role as co-host after 15 years of harder news reporting, and the chemistry between her and Matt Lauer wasn't as strong as it was between Lauer and Meredith Vieira, the show's shift toward fluffier stories and more celebrity involvement hasn't helped the show's ratings either. And Matt Lauer isn't always the warmest person to begin with now that he's ascended the throne.

Still, it was a sad way to end Curry's involvement with the show. While it certainly seems as if she's headed for better things more in her wheelhouse, she deserved better treatment after 15 years. And watching the video of her farewell, it appears like she knew where some of her trouble came from, because she didn't look Matt Lauer in the eye when he talked about how much she'd be missed.

Thanks for 15 terrific years, Ann. I look forward to seeing you in a more expanded role soon!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Book Review: "The World Without You" by Joshua Henkin

It's July 4, 2005, exactly one year after Leo Frankel, a newspaper reporter, was killed after being captured while covering the war in Iraq. His family and friends are traveling from across the world to gather in the Berkshires for a memorial service, since his funeral had been such a public spectacle. But as if the stress and grief associated with commemorating Leo's loss isn't enough, each of his family members has their own problems to deal with, as well as their relationships with each other.

His parents, David and Marilyn, have each dealt with their grief differently—Marilyn has become an outspoken critic of the war and President Bush, while David has become more introspective, preferring opera and biographies to confronting his wife's anger. And this is causing their 40-year marriage to dissolve. Leo's oldest sister, Clarissa, is struggling to become pregnant at age 39, which is wreaking havoc on her relationship with her husband, Nathan. Lily is dealing with an inability to effectively deal with her grief and anger, and doesn't want to have to depend on anyone for help, not even her boyfriend of 10 years. And Noelle went from a youth spent mired in promiscuity to a life in Israel, where she and her husband, Amram, are Orthodox Jews raising four boys. Leo's widow, Thisbe, also flies in from California with their three-year-old son, Calder, and she is dealing with secrets of her own, as well as the struggle to keep Calder from forgetting a father he barely knew. As the family gathers, they deal with their own issues and rehash old hurts, and wonder where the future will find them.

When I read Joshua Henkin's novel Matrimony a few years ago, I fell in love with it completely, and I couldn't wait for him to write another book. The World Without You hooked me immediately, and if it wasn't for the obligations of work, exercise, and sleep, I would have finished the book in a day or two. Yes, this is a familiar story of family frictions and relationship issues, but the characters Henkin creates, and his terrific storytelling ability, raises the book several notches above your typical family drama. This book deals with questions of family, loss, communication, trust, dependency, anger, and need, and it does so quite skillfully. I don't want to have to wait another few years for Joshua Henkin's next book, but since he's such a great writer, I know it will be worth the wait! (That being said, I just ordered his first novel, Swimming Across the Hudson, off of Amazon.)

SYTYCD Recap: The Roaring 20...

I figured since I've been watching So You Think You Can Dance since the middle of Season 5, and always have something to say (shocking, isn't it), I'd start recapping this show, too. I mean, if all of my snark builds up with no outlet, what am I going to do?

Last night was the 200th episode of the show, and although Cat and Nigel Lythgoe (evening, sir) mentioned it several times, there was no celebration, no marking the occasion with clips or balloons or the return of former winners (save last season's winner, Melanie Moore, sporting a jaunty chapeau). What we did have, however, was an absolutely fantastic top 20 (save a questionable choice, IMHO), some great routines with the contestants dancing in their own styles, and the return of the ever-fabulous (as long as she's only choreographing) Mia Michaels.

Phew! I'm tired already. But a marvelously befrocked Cat kept the jam-packed show flowing. She introduced us to our (say it with me) JUDGES!, which included the ever-effervescent Mary Murphy, Nigel, and Katy Perry, err, Zooey Deschanel, in the "I don't know a thing about dance but I'm on one of Fox's most popular shows" slot.

Basically, 35 dancers left Vegas and returned to Hollywood, where the panel of Nigel, Mary, Adam "Rock of Ages Sunk Like a Rock" Shankman, Lil C, Debbie Allen, and Keith-Tyce Diorio delivered their final judgments to the dancers, while sitting on the American Idol final judgment set. (I kept waiting for Steven Tyler to jump in the pool.)

First up, talented-but-dead-inside Alexa Anderson, who as we've been reminded an infinite amount of times so far this season, made it thisclose last season, only to be cut in favor of immensely uncharismatic Ryan Ramirez. Would someone with this much camera time get cut at this same point? Keith-Tyce (who clearly is having Seinfeld-esque low flow shower head issues) semi-apologized for tearing Alexa apart during Vegas week, telling her, "You showed great fight, but was it enough?" But of course it was!

George Lawrence II came next, and Debbie Allen told him during his audition that he "was born to dance." George rocked a dress shirt, bow tie, and shorts, and Debbie said, "My dear, welcome to the Top 20." But of course.

We apparently met Will Thomas during the LA auditions (although by "we," I'm guessing they meant the people running the cameras, because he wasn't featured), but the super-tall dancer made it into the top 20. Sadly, Megan Branch and Colin Fuller had their dreams dashed, but since they didn't get camera time, we didn't mourn as much.

Amber Jackson (of the Rihanna haircut) auditioned in Seasons 6 and 7; in Season 6 she was cut at the very end, while in Season 7 she was cut during Vegas week. She vowed she wouldn't come back, but here she is in Season 9...and she made it!!

Alexa, George, Will, and Amber danced to a Keith-Tyce choreographed contemporary routine to a Jessie J remake of We Found Love (originally recorded by Rihanna and Calvin Harris, coincidentally). I really enjoy his non-Broadway routines, and I thought this one showcased each of the dancers well. George's spins and his flexibility are out of this world. Their ending move, with all four standing on a bench-like platform and leaning to the side, was beautiful.

Nigel called Will a "really big, tall man" (he even towered over Cat, who you know rocks the heels) but said he needed to move his body faster, like a smaller guy. He told Amber how unattractive she looked in the clip from Season 7 when she said she wouldn't come back to the show, but called her a beautiful star now. He praised Alexa for "finding her performance" and told George, "If every light in this studio went out, you'd still be shining," and told the other dancers that everyone needs to be at George's level. Zooey gave the first of her non-comment comments, saying how hard it was to say anything. Clearly.

Next up: the ballroom kids. Nick Bloxsom-Carter, another dancer I don't recall seeing, was already crying on his way to the judges, and they (especially Keith-Tyce) looked at him as if he were drooling or something. Keith-Tyce couldn't stand it any longer, so he snapped, "You're in the Top 20, stop crying!" (I guess that's his "There's no crying in dancing.")

We were reminded how close childhood dancing friends Witney Carson and Lindsay Arnold, even though they were competing against each other. Witney even said, "Our friendship is even more than any competition." (Uh huh.) The judges told them there was only room for one female ballroom dancer, and our ever-stoic Adam Shankman proclaimed, "This totally makes me sick." Mary told Witney she made it into the top 20, and they told Lindsay how great they thought she was, and thanked her...then told her they couldn't think of a top 20 without her! Fake out!

The ballroom routine for Nick, Lindsay, and Witney was choreographed by my fave Jason Gilkison, to J.Lo's Dance Again. (Note: If this show becomes another J.Lo promo-fest, someone's going to get cut.) It was a fun routine, but in general, ballroom routines don't give the guy as much to do, so Nick didn't have as much of a chance to show off as the girls did. I thought Lindsay's lines were just phenomenal.

Mary said, "The train has pulled up to Sizzle Station! Whoo, whoo!" She said that Nick needed to be more grounded when he came down from his leaps, but called Witney and Lindsay "Two of the hottest tamales we've ever seen!" Zooey said it was incredible, blah blah blah, firecrackers, blah blah blah...

Cirque du Soleil aerialist and pole dancer Eliana Girard explained that Vegas week was a "clusterball of emotions," and then proceeded to demonstrate them. She reminds me a bit of Ellenore from Season 6. Walking down the green mile, rocking peacock earrings and blue suede high heels, Debbie told her, "Walk on, girl. Walk on into that top 20."

Next up, our two professional ballet dancers, Australian hunk Daniel Baker, who left the San Francisco Ballet to audition, and Swiss stud Chehon Wespi-Tschopp, who danced in New York. They both expressed concern about putting their lives on hold to audition and wondered what getting cut would mean to their careers. Nigel mentioned that Daniel exceeded the judges' hopes throughout Vegas week but underwhelmed with his final solo, while Chehon struggled in Vegas but his solo was absolutely magnificent. Daniel was told he made it into the top 20, and then, just as Chehon stoically tried to deal with being cut, Nigel told him he made it as well, which made him cry.

Our ballet trio danced to a Desmond Richardson/Dwight Rhoden-choreographed routine to Romantic Inclinations/Like a Shot/Fury, clad in what looked like aluminum foil. (But both guys were shirtless, so why quibble?) Eliana was almost unrecognizable with her hair slicked back. I found the routine beautiful in places and slow in others, and I didn't feel it really allowed the male dancers to shine. Mary called Eliana a "ballet warrior," saying, "We haven't seen the likes of you!" And of course, she shrieked about both guys.

Jazz dancers Tiffany Maher (I don't remember her) and Audrey Case (of the "farting" shoulder thing) were concerned that they both wouldn't get into the top 20 because they had similar looks and styles. Debbie told Tiffany that during Vegas week she was "invisible, but like a great racehorse, you pulled up to that finish line like a champ." She made it through. Cue looks of concern on Audrey's face. Adam told Audrey that there were a lot of good girls in these genres...which should make it sweeter now that she made it through. He asked her what she was going to do, and she honestly said, "Cry. And call my mom." Cue adorable phone call.

Poor Caitlin Edgar, cut again during this phase of competition. Don't remember her from last year either. And for dancers named Abigail, Katie, and Rebecca, it was sayonara as well.

Belly dancer Janelle Issis became the first one of her genre to make it into the top 20, and Adam told her to "own her moment." Debbie remarked, "Honey, own this!" (Everything sounds much more important when Debbie Allen calls you "honey" or "child.") When she went back into the holding room, she proceeded to whip her head into the door frame—not as bad as Joshua Alexander's back flip into unconsciousness, but equally awkward.

Cat announced that Janelle was "sick" but the doctors said she could perform once the show resumes. (Rumor has it she needed some stitches after the door frame incident, but no one is talking.) Tiffany and Audrey danced a vintage Sonya routine, jerky movements and all, to Sail by AWOL Nation. The two dancers were indistinguishable from each other. Zooey gushed over the performance, saying "I love to see ladies support one another." (Because ladies usually tear each other down, don't you know.) Nigel asked if Tiffany and Audrey were old enough to know what The Flinstones was (I would have died inside if someone said no), and told them they looked like "two dancing Pebbles."

In case you'd forgotten, Joshua Alexander knocked himself unconscious attempting a back flip, and they let him move into the top 35 without doing a solo. (But, of course, they cut Danielle Dominguez, who was injured when she helped another contestant after already getting through one round in Vegas. Ugh.) The judges told him they loved him, but it was a no this season. As it was for male dancers named Blake and Daniel, and Jasmine Mason.

Ryan Gosling lookalike (seriously) Matthew Kazmierczak was given some charade-like tasks by Mary, so it looked like he was opening a door. And then she proclaimed, "You just stepped into the top 20!" Nigel asked Dareian "Lousy Feet" Kujawa if he had done any more training to try and improve the way he points his feet when he dances, to which Dareian replied, "They're like bricks on the end of a leg." But he made it through!

There were two more spots among the top 10 girls left, and three contestants—Janaya "Who?" French, Jill "Never Saw You" Johnson, and our little 1920s ingenue, Amelia Lowe. Janaya made it through, so Jill and Amelia visited the judges together. Keith-Tyce mentioned they were looking for star quality, which is why they picked Amelia over Jill (and probably why Jill had no camera time). I'm either going to love her or loathe her, I haven't decided.

Matthew, Dareian, Janaya, and Amelia danced to a Stacey Tookey-choreographed contemporary routine to Efterklang's Modern Drift. Amelia had an amazing leap into Dareian's arms. As with many of the routines last night, it was partially terrific and partially underwhelming. In her most cogent comments of the night, Zooey called the routine "delicate and beautiful, like watching a painting move." She said that Amelia appeared to be "lit from within." (She's so pale, she's almost like the Cullen family in sunlight in the Twilight movies.) She also said that Janaya almost didn't belong in the routine, but she's just under the radar. Mary said that Dareian may be the smallest male dancer, but she praised his partnering. She continued the trend of calling Janaya "under the radar" (translation: among the first to be cut) and told Matthew they loved him before, and they still love him now.

Amazing martial artist Cole Horibe made it into the top 20. Tappers Aaron and Zack did not. This season two steppers made the final 35, and one, Brandon Mitchell, made it. Which left one slot and two dancers—animator Cyrus "Glitch" Spencer and hiphop dancer Feliciano Turk. To review: Feliciano excelled in every round of Vegas week, Cyrus was weak in every round and only made it through because the judges allowed him to dance his own style in the "dance for your life" round. But of course, Cyrus made it through, because Nigel has never seen anything like him before. Feliciano was rightfully pissed off, because the judges made it clear he was the better dancer.

Look, I like to watch Cyrus dance, too, but after a while it starts to look repetitive. I feel like they've made an exception in his case. Russell in Season 6 didn't need the help, he excelled in everything. They didn't give Legacy much slack. I just hope the choreographers don't create numbers around his animating to make it appear like he can dance.

Cole, Brandon, and Cyrus—dressed as baseball players to plug (repeatedly) Fox's airing of the MLB All-Star Game (July 10, if you care)—danced to a Christopher Scott routine to Nathan Lanier's Resolve. I was most impressed by Cole in this number. Nigel and Mary wore baseball caps when it came time for the judges' critiques, and Nigel explained, "I thought if we publicized the All-Star Game enough, perhaps Fox would pick us up early for Season 10." He said that when the show started nine seasons ago, he never would have believed that there would be a stepper, an animator, and a martial artist as contestants. And then, in the first instance of what I believe will be a long line of unnecessary pimping, Nigel saluted Cyrus for sticking with the competition when his roommates dropped out.

After a promo for National Dance Day (with Season 7 champ Lauren), the top 10 (well, 9) girls performed a Travis Wall routine to Sennen's Where the Light Gets In. The girls danced around a door, which represented the gateway to the afterlife, as well as the gateway into the competition. It was a cool concept, marred only by the fact that when the camera caught certain angles, the bright spotlight behind the door was utterly blinding. Nigel called the routine "like a frieze on a Greek vase."

Sonya choreographed the routine for the top 10 guys. She had them all take off their shirts (not a bad thing, I'm not gonna lie), and Will was concerned about his jiggling. "America doesn't need to see this," he said. The routine had a lot of partnering, as Sonya explained she liked a lot of body contact in her routines, whether the partnering was guy-guy, girl-girl, or guy-girl. Brandon fell out of my favor when he let everyone know "he loves the ladies" even though he has to partner with a guy. (Grow up.)

Dancing to Precognition by Steed Lord, all 10 guys were shirtless and wearing some weird maternity-type pants that looked like they had cummerbunds. It was a terrific routine, athletic yet artistic, and George really stood out. Cat said, "I smell man" afterwards.

And then, the moment hyped for most of the show—the return of Mia Michaels, as she choreographed a routine for the top 20. Clad in black outfits and sunglasses, they danced to Kaskade's Eyes. It had a really cool, flash mob-like quality that I loved. Her choreography is terrific and I hope they'll be using her more often, because as much as I love her group numbers, I love the intimacy of her routines for couples. After a standing ovation, Nigel had the last word: "Welcome home, mama! You've been missed." (Was that Mia's real hair or a frightening wig?)

With that, the evening ended. The show skips a week for July 4, but the top 20 start competing on July 11. How will things change with no more results show? Will the pimping of Cyrus continue? Will they find perceptive guest judges or more deadweight, a la Zooey and last season's Katie Holmes debacle?

Time will tell, my friends. But I hope you'll stay with me on this journey.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Remembering Nora Ephron...

You might not necessarily have heard of Nora Ephron, but if you love movies, you're certainly more than familiar with her work. The three-time Oscar-nominated screenwriter (for Silkwood, When Harry Met Sally... and Sleepless in Seattle), director, writer, and producer died of leukemia yesterday at the age of 71, leaving behind an amazing legacy of sharply written dialogue, memorable characters, and films that continue to leave an indelible impression.

Ephron, who started out as an intern for JFK (she called herself "the only intern Kennedy didn't hit on"), was the writer behind movies like When Harry Met Sally..., Julie & Julia, You've Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, Heartburn (based on her novel about her failed marriage to Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein), and Silkwood, and directed eight movies, including Julie & Julia, You've Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, and Michael.

She once said, "I try to write parts for women that are as complicated and interesting as women actually are." And she truly was a shining example of the amazing contributions women for far too long were kept from bringing to Hollywood.

I can honestly say that When Harry Met Sally... is one of my favorite movies of all time (I thought it should have been nominated for Best Picture that year) and nearly 25(!) years after it was released, I can still quote lines from it. (And not just "I'll have what she's having.") And if you can watch the last scene of Sleepless in Seattle, you are made of stone.

RIP, Nora Ephron. Thanks for sharing your mind, your talent, your wit, and your heart with movie lovers everywhere. We are truly fortunate your words and your genius will live on.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What's in a name??

"Look, kids. Elizabeth Tower. Parliament."

Those iconic lines from National Lampoon's European Vacation certainly sound different, don't they?

Authorities in London today announced that the Clock Tower of Britain's Parliament—known, however incorrectly (apparently), as Big Ben—will be renamed in honor of Queen Elizabeth II. (Big Ben was the nickname originally given to the bell within the tower.)

It will now be known as Elizabeth Tower. No word on exactly when the name change will be implemented.

Believe me, I am completely in favor of the Queen's receiving every honor and tribute she gets. But a tiny part of me is a little bit sad about this change, although I don't know if people will ever call it anything more than Big Ben. (I'd imagine my friends in the UK may feel differently.)

Another reason to love Oreos...

Oreo published this image on their Facebook page the other day to celebrate LGBT Pride festivals happening in New York and San Francisco last weekend. It's always great when companies (especially those that produce yummy cookies) are willing to publicly support equality—because LGBT people eat Oreos, too!

This is another sign that although there are still many battles ahead, we're moving in the right direction. (Note: The picture below is a modified version of Oreo's original picture, to reflect the reaction from conservatives over Oreo's support for LGBT rights.)

Monday, June 25, 2012

The inexplicable need for classification...

On Entertainment Weekly's website there was an article with the title, "Could the heroine of Pixar's Brave be gay?" (If you're still planning to see this movie, you might want to avoid this post, because there are spoilers here.)

The article reads:
"Today, crowds will line the streets of cities like New York and San Francisco for parades that mark the high point of LGBT Pride Month. At the same time, legions of kids will swarm into theaters to watch Pixar’s Brave, the animated story of a young Scottish princess named Merida who goes to extreme lengths to avoid having to marry one of the three noblemen that her parents have chosen for her. The two events don’t seem to have much in common at first glance. But it’s quite possible that while watching Brave's tomboyish heroine shoot arrows, fight like one of the boys, and squirm when her mother puts her in girly clothes, a thought might pop into the head of some viewers: Is Merida gay?

"Let’s be clear: Merida isn’t an overtly lesbian character. Nothing in the story implies that she’s attracted to other women (or men either, but more on that in a second). She doesn’t completely swear off the idea of marriage to a man, and she never hints that she might have a hidden sexual identity. And neither Pixar, which created her, or Disney, which is distributing the film, has made any official attempt to tell the gay community that Merida might be one of them.

"But could Merida be gay? Absolutely. She bristles at the traditional gender roles that she’s expected to play: the demure daughter, the obedient fiancée. Her love of unprincess-like hobbies, including archery and rock-climbing, is sure to strike a chord with gay viewers who felt similarly "not like the other kids" growing up. And she hates the prospect of marriage—at least, to any of the three oafish clansmen that compete for her hand—enough to run away from home and put her own mother’s life at risk. She’s certainly not a swooning, boy-crazy Disney princess like The Little Mermaid’s Ariel or Snow White. In fact, Merida may be the first in that group to be completely romantically disinclined (even cross-dressing Mulan had a soft spot for Li Shang).
While there may be some truth to these remarks, why is there a need to classify this character in such a way? Doesn't this writer fall into the same stereotypical traps the gay community is trying to fight—Merida doesn't want to get married, and likes to climb rocks and shoot arrows, so she must be gay? And would an equivalent male character like to sing and dance, or like to be smartly dressed, or enjoy reading rather than fighting? Because all of those things definitely mean you're gay, right?

Don't get me wrong, it would be great if we lived in a society where a character in a movie, television show, book, etc. could be a strong role model who just happens to be gay. But I believe it will be a long time before a gay character is presented as a hero or heroine in a movie, television show, or book geared toward children. Since it happens so rarely, I understand the need to make a big deal out of a character's sexuality if they are being presented as a person to emulate. I just don't see the need to assign labels just based on stereotypical traits.

Can't a movie character just be a movie character? Can't we just revel in Merida's independent streak rather than seek to find its attributions? Can't we just enjoy a person's humanness, or a character's personality and goodness, without the need to classify them? Sigh.

Living up to a legacy...

Amazingly, it's been 14 years since Olympic champion Florence Griffith Joyner (aka "FloJo") died of epilepsy at the age of 38. It was a huge blow to the sporting world and the world in general to lose such a fabled athlete so suddenly at so young an age. When FloJo died, she left behind her husband, Al, and their seven-year-old daughter, Mary.

Last week on America's Got Talent, the now-21-year-old Mary Joyner showed the world that she's prepared to reach the heights her mother did, albeit in a completely different field. (As you'll see watching the video of her audition, one of the judges asks her jokingly whether she's planning to do a track and field routine as her talent.)

Joyner—with her tearful, proud father watching in the wings—took on Sara Bareilles' amazing song, Gravity. While I've fully admitted that I'm an utter sap, and shed tears at nearly anything remotely emotional, watch Mary's audition and tell me you didn't at least get choked up.

Here's hoping she continues to demonstrate her immense talent.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Movie Review: "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter"

When I read Seth Grahame-Smith's wildly inventive Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter last year, I was amazed at how much I enjoyed it. So when I saw that not only was it being adapted into a film, but one of my favorite actors, Benjamin Walker (who was absolutely amazing in the Broadway musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson two years ago), would play the title role, the movie quickly made it onto my list of most-anticipated films of the summer of 2012.

Like many things you eagerly anticipate, the movie didn't quite live up to my expectations. It definitely was an enjoyable, well-acted, action-packed film, but in the translation from page to screen, it lost a little bit of its off-kilter creativity, even though Grahame-Smith wrote the screenplay himself.

As in the book, Abraham Lincoln first comes into contact with vampires at a young age, and as a teenager, finds himself under the tutelage of the mysterious Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper). Henry turns Abe into a one-man, vampire-ass-kicking vigilante, who promises to kill those vampires Henry sends him after, with the idea that one day Henry will let him kill the vampire responsible for his mother's death. Lincoln settles in Springfield, Illinois, where he meets Stephen Douglas and is charmed by the beautiful and independent Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), although Henry warns Abe not to build attachments to anyone, because the vampires will use those connections to hurt.

The movie, as the book did, interprets history in a very interesting way, even if the movie isn't quite as true to Lincoln's life as the book was. The Civil War is held in parallel with a war Abe has with Adam (Rufus Sewell), the creator of the vampires, and his mysterious henchwoman, Vadoma (Erin Wasson)—but interestingly enough, both struggle over similar core issues.

For an action movie, this movie isn't as fast-paced as you'd expect, although there are some terrific fight scenes and special effects. Walker and Cooper both have a terrific magnetism, and Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker), who plays Lincoln's childhood friend, Will, brings a quiet power to his role. In the end, I enjoyed this movie, but not as much as I'd hoped I would. I'd definitely recommend you not spend the extra few bucks for the 3D version—while the effects are cool, they're not crucial to the story.

Book Review: "The Red House" by Mark Haddon

As I said when I reviewed the movie Your Sister's Sister last week, what would movies and books do without family dysfunction? Certainly The Red House, Mark Haddon's latest novel, would cease to exist.

Richard, a wealthy doctor, invites his estranged sister, Angela, and her family, to join him, his new wife, and teenage stepdaughter for a week's vacation in the English countryside. Both families have more than their share of struggles. Angela's husband is having an affair, her daughter has discovered a new religious zeal at the same time as she is dealing with questions about her sexuality, and Angela herself is still having difficulty dealing with the birth of a stillborn child 18 years ago. Richard and his wife are also having some issues, and his stepdaughter, Melissa, vacillates between cruelty and wanting to be liked. As both families work to try and enjoy the holiday, old grudges and hurts—and new ones—must be dealt with.

Mark Haddon is the author of the brilliant The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and the tragicomic A Spot of Bother, but sadly, this book doesn't match his earlier two. The book switches between eight different narrators (Angela, her husband, each of their children, Richard, his wife, and her daughter) about every other page, so I found it very difficult to gain any traction with the story. And while you'd expect some crises to arise when two troubled families get together, Haddon seemed to throw nearly every possible difficulty and crisis into the plot. I really wanted to like this book, but I just couldn't warm up to the story or the characters. Oh, well...

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Movie Review: "Safety Not Guaranteed"

This was a terrific little movie.

Jeff (Jake M. Johnson from New Girl), a magazine reporter, heads out in search of the man who placed a classified ad reading, "WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED." (The ad was actually placed in real life by a man in the Seattle area.)

He brings with him two interns, melancholy misfit Darius (a luminous Aubrey Plaza, from Parks and Recreation) and shy, awkward Arnau (Karan Soni), and when his initial contact with Kenneth Callaway (Mark Duplass, star of the movie I saw last week, Your Sister's Sister) fails, he dispatches Darius to find out his story. Expecting to find someone completely unstable, Darius instead finds someone who truly believes he has the ability to time travel, and she finds herself beginning to share that belief, and perhaps go back in time to make one change in her life. As Jeff comes to realizations about his own life, and tries nudging Arnau toward breaking out of his shell, Darius is torn between falling for Kenneth and needing to understand the truth behind his story. But the truth isn't easy to handle, nor is it easy to determine just what the truth is.

This movie is both funny and bittersweet, in large part because of the appeal of Plaza and Duplass. Much like Darius, you're not sure exactly what to believe, but you find yourself rooting for their "mission" to succeed. The idea of traveling back in time to right a wrong or make a change is appealing, so you can understand how enmeshed Darius becomes. I really, really loved this movie.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Standing up for what you believe, no matter what...

People aren't always willing to speak out about what they believe in, especially when they're in the public eye. But that is when you see a person's true character, and that is what makes me admire people not willing to remain silent when they see inequity or unfairness.

Carrie Underwood is such a celebrity. Recently, in an interview with the UK's Independent, she stated her support for marriage equality, saying, "As a married person myself, I don't know what it's like to be told I can't marry somebody I love, and want to marry. I can't imagine how that must feel. I definitely think we should all have the right to love, and love publicly, the people that we want to love."

While her support of marriage equality is admirable, what makes her actions even more so is the fact that she risks alienating some of her core audience, as a large number of country music fans are much more conservative, both politically and socially. (While it's a different case, remember the boycott of the Dixie Chicks after their comments bashing then-President George W. Bush.)

It's uncertain how much damage sales of her album might sustain from this stance, but she already has experienced some right-wing backlash. The good news is, she is undeterred by this criticism. While it makes her uncomfortable to know that people are saying negative things about her, she has stood by her comments when asked by some whether she wishes to rescind them.

My hope is that any negative effects Underwood experiences from this public support of equality will be short-lived. I know I'll certainly buy everything she has recorded, simply to show my appreciation for her willingness to stand up for people's right to marry the person they love.

Today on the "Today" D'oh...

I saw this on Entertainment Weekly:

Reports started surfacing all over the interwebs yesterday that the Today show was working to relieve Ann Curry of her co-hosting duties, a role she assumed a year ago upon Meredith Vieira's departure. Despite the fact that the show's newsworthy content has diminished significantly in favor of fluff, celebrities pushing their latest projects, and entirely too much Al Roker, Curry is being blamed for the show's declining ratings. (While the show is still the number one morning program, Good Morning America beat it in the ratings race a few times earlier this year, and continues to gain ground.)

With Matt Lauer signing a new long-term contract, Curry, whom many think lacks warmth, is on her way out. The New York Times reports that talks to replace Curry have been occurring in secret for weeks, while producers find a new assignment for her. She has held several positions on Today for 14 years, most notably as its longtime news anchor.

But regardless of what is transpiring behind the scenes (although in quite a public fashion), I don't imagine producers intended to be this direct, as the caption under Curry's face read, "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow." (The phrase was in reference to Steve Carell's new movie, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, but I don't think anyone realized it.)

It will be interesting to see if anyone on the production team joins Curry on the way out after that gaffe...

Rochester? We have a problem...

Don't know if you've seen this yet, but the other day, a school bus monitor in the Greece School District in Rochester, NY was verbally abused by a group of teens. The bullying was so bad it actually made her cry.

But this isn't just any school bus monitor. This was Karen Huff Klein, a grandmother of eight, who has spent 20+ years as a bus driver and monitor with Greece Central Schools. She said she has never experienced this sort of treatment before.

Among the taunts: "Dumb-ass, fat-ass." "Maybe she is an elephant." "She's gonna pick out which kid she's gonna rape next." "Karen wants herpes." "F**king hearing aid." "I'll egg your house." "What's your address so I can p*ss all over your door." "I'll f**king take a cr*p in your mouth." "You touched her arm flap. It's all stinky and smelly." "She probably eats deodorant because she can't afford real food." "What size bra are you? Triple sag?"

"It’s just plain mean and no one should have to live with that," Klein said.

The videos of Klein's verbal abuse at the hands of these students has gone viral. After a call to arms on Reddit and a fundraising effort to send Klein on vacation, nearly $120,000 has been raised.

The police and the school district are now investigating, trying to determine which children were doing the bullying. In the next few days, the students will have a superintendent hearing with their parents and lawyers if they wish and this issue is presented to the superintendent and the board. The disciplinary actions will be decided then.

Where does this behavior stop? Where is the accountability? These children shouldn't get merely a slap on the wrist; they should be banned from the school bus for a significant period of time, plus it should be their parents' responsibility to ensure their children get to and from school every day. And these abusers should at least be forced to do community service, so they can see first hand the impact abusers have on their victims.

As I've said before when commenting on LGBT children and adults being bullied, for every report of abuse and violence we see, hundreds more go unreported every day.

This can no longer be acceptable. This isn't kids being kids; this is kids being monsters.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The fine line between risque and just plain dumb...

Update: As of Monday night, Adidas announced plans to cancel the release of the sneaker. So intelligence (or fear of lawsuits) wins the day.

The fashion world is often known for pushing the envelope, and footwear designers are no exception. While sneakers frequently court controversy because of their astronomical prices, a new Adidas sneaker has garnered an altogether different type of criticism—claims that it promotes racism.

Adidas' new Roundhouse Mid "Handcuff" shoe, created by controversial New York designer Jeremy Scott (he of the $424 clutch that looked like a pair of tighty whiteys, among other infamous creations), features a plastic orange shackle that attaches to each ankle. While the sneakers—priced at a ridiculous $350 a pair—don't hit stores until August, their recent premiere on Adidas' Facebook page has caused quite an uproar.

The sneakers are accompanied by this quote on Facebook: "Tighten up your style with the JS Roundhouse Mids, dropping in August. Got a sneaker game so hot you lock your kicks to your ankles?"

While Adidas may be poking fun at shoe theft, many are equating these binding devices with slavery and prisoners. Comments on the company's Facebook page have referred to the sneakers as everything from "Adidas Amistad Originals" to "ignorant" and "slavewear."

Yet not everyone is offended. Some fans have noted the shackles' resemblance to those "worn" by the 80s toy My Pet Monster.

Adidas' initial response to the controversy was this: "The JS Roundhouse Mid is part of the Fall/Winter 2012 design collaboration between Adidas Originals and Jeremy Scott. The design of the JS Roundhouse Mid is nothing more than the designer Jeremy Scott's outrageous and unique take on fashion and has nothing to do with slavery. Jeremy Scott is renowned as a designer whose style is quirky and lighthearted and his previous shoe designs for Adidas Originals have, for example, included panda heads and Mickey Mouse. Any suggestion that this is linked to slavery is untruthful."

So what do you think? Are these sneakers racist, stupid, or cool? And is any sneaker worth $350?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Movie Review: "Your Sister's Sister"

What would movies and books do if it weren't for family dysfunction?

Iris (Emily Blunt) and Jack (Mark Duplass) are close friends, despite the fact that she once dated his brother. Seeing how emotionally and physically strung out Jack is, Iris sends him to her father's remote island cabin in the woods for some quality "alone time," an opportunity to pull himself back together.

But the cabin isn't empty as Iris promised—Iris' sister, Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), has taken refuge there after walking out of a seven-year relationship. Hannah and Jack's drunken encounter that first night has ramifications on both of their relationships with Iris, as well as their relationship with each other.

It's amazing how a movie with no car chases, no explosions, no alien abductions, and no murders can be so compelling. This is a movie with a lot of dialogue—some funny, some poignant, some angry, and some inspirational—and you can identify in part with the feelings each of the characters are experiencing. While some of the plot twists are predictable, the movie does surprise a bit in how everything unfolds.

DeWitt (who was marvelous in Rachel Getting Married) brings a brittle fragility to her role as well as a hidden inferiority complex that reveals itself slowly. Emily Blunt vacillates between emotional fronts quite well, yet you can see insecurity underneath her bravado. And Mark Duplass, whom I have never seen before (although he appears in another movie which opened this week, Safety Not Guaranteed), is both comically self-deprecating and simultaneously vulnerable and egotistical.

If you like movies that explore complex human dynamics with a touch of awkwardness, you should enjoy Your Sister's Sister. It's well-acted, well-written, and well worth your time.

Book Review: "Beautiful Ruins" by Jess Walter

One day in 1962, a speedboat approaches a small Italian village hidden in the cracks of the mountains. The boat bears a young American actress who has been sent from the set of Cleopatra because she is terminally ill (not to mention having an affair with one of the married actors). The actress, Dee Moray, stays at the small Hotel Adequate View, run by young Pasquale Tursi, and his relationship with the actress and the events that unfold following her arrival change the course of his life in many ways.

In present day Hollywood, an elderly Italian man shows up at a movie studio looking for a producer, hoping the man can help him find the woman who stayed at his hotel many years before. What he doesn't understand is how much the producer has to gain—and lose—by helping with this mission.

Jess Walter's poetic Beautiful Ruins switches between 1960s Italy and the present day, as well as times and locations in between. It is a story of love and loss, of realizing your destiny and shouldering your responsibilities, and how you never quite lose the dreams you have. Walter's characters are well-drawn (even the real-life ones) and they hook you pretty quickly. While the shifting of time and place became a little confusing once the book added settings beyond Italy and Hollywood, I fell in love with the story. I found this beautifully written and utterly compelling, the stuff of nostalgia. Definitely read this.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Here's my favorite "Call Me Maybe" spoof...

I will admit I cannot get Carly Rae Jepsen's hit song Call Me Maybe out of my head...maybe because I can't stop playing it on my iPod?

I've seen a lot of spoofs/versions of this song, President Obama's, the Miss USA contestants (pre-cheating scandal), even the Abercrombie & Fitch boys took on the song.

But I'll admit, my favorite version is this one, by "Corgi Rae Jepsen." What's yours?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Book Review: "The 500" by Matthew Quirk

Mike Ford has struggled for most of his life. After his father went to prison, he tried to support his mother, but found himself quickly drawn into the same criminal world that attracted both his father and his brother. A stint in the military helps point him in the right direction, and he is pursuing two degrees at Harvard Law School while working to pay off all of his debts. When he is tapped by a visiting lecturer to join The Davies Group, a high-powered lobbying and consulting firm in Washington, DC, it seems to be the answer to all of his problems.

But things are seldom what they seem. The Davies Group specializes in pulling strings for its clients by leaning on the most powerful people in Washington—all of whom owe something to the firm's founder, Henry Davies. Davies sees in Mike a kindred spirit, one willing to try and risk anything in order to succeed. And as Mike gets further embroiled in the firm's dealings, he realizes just how corruptible this type of power is—and how risky it is to try and make things right.

While this book is being billed as a Washington version of The Firm, I found this even better than that, because Mike Ford is a flawed character not above leaning on his past criminal life to do what he needs. While he struggles to decide whether to do what is right or what is easier, you can see just how tempting the wrong path is. Sure, this book isn't completely realistic by any means (at least I don't think so), but the plot and the action gripped me from the very first page, and I found myself racing through the book. Matthew Quirk knows how to tell a great story, and I hope a sequel is in the works. Looking for a great beach book? You've found it right here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Wait! There is an "I" in "Team" after all...

Go figure...

Things that make you say, "Whoa!"...

(Couldn't resist that title. You'll see why.)

Some of us are old enough to remember Joey Lawrence as the little boy brought in to add the "cute" factor to Gimme a Break. (Sitcoms were notorious for doing this in the 70s, 80s, and 90s—remember Raven-Symoné on The Cosby Show?)

Some may remember Joey from his "hearthrob" days on Blossom or his foray into the musical world with Nothing My Love Can't Fix.

And some of you may know Joey from the ABC Family sitcom Melissa and Joey.

But to use one of Joey's trademark phrases, "Whoa!" You see, he's now a Chippendales dancer!

Not sure what Blossom or Six think about this, but you know Nell Carter is happy he's shaking his groove thing.

Monday, June 11, 2012

One for the ages...

There were times yesterday when it looked like it might not happen. But this afternoon in Paris, Rafael Nadal won an historic seventh French Open men's singles title, breaking Bjorn Borg's stranglehold on the record.

When the men's final started yesterday, Nadal jumped out to an early 3-0 lead over World #1 Novak Djokovic. Yet Djokovic, who had beaten Nadal in the three previous Grand Slam finals and was seeking to become the first man since Rod Laver to win four consecutive Grand Slam championships, was able to up his play whenever the hole he was digging for himself got too deep. Even as Nadal took a two set lead, his victory never quite seemed certain. Despite some brilliant rallies and strategic points, Nadal's performance during the final was far from the crushing blows he had visited upon his previous opponents.

The rain began a game or two before Nadal served for the second set. Play was delayed approximately 30 minutes, Nadal won the second set, and then a wholly different Djokovic emerged. He dominated the third set, winning 6-2, and was up a break in the fourth set when the rain resumed again, and the match was called for the day. Fans watching at Roland Garros and on television across the world all wondered the same thing—would we witness one of the greatest comebacks in tennis history, even better than Djokovic's comeback from two sets down in last year's US Open semifinals?

Within a few moments of the match's resumption today, the answer to that question was evident. Nadal quickly broke Djokovic back to even the set, and then stayed with him until the 12th game of the fourth set, when Djokovic double faulted at match point to hand Nadal the victory. Nadal fell to his knees, embraced Djokovic, and then climbed into the crowd to hug his family. This win was his 11th Grand Slam title, bringing him to fourth on the all-time wins list, just five titles less than Roger Federer.

I'm a huge fan of Nadal's athleticism, his heart, and his affable sportsmanship, so I was thrilled with the the way the championship turned out, although I would have been excited to see Djokovic take his place in history. While Nadal's domination has been most evident on clay, he still has won four other Grand Slam championships, and I believe he has a few more to come.

I look forward to this rivalry playing itself out over the years, as when both players are at their peak, they push each other to true greatness. Felicidades, Rafa!!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Movie Review: "Moonrise Kingdom"

I've been fairly inconsistent about doing movie reviews so far this year, but seeing as this is just the fifth movie I've seen, I'm going to try and turn over a new leaf. Believe me, this summer there are literally TONS of movies I want to see, so I'm going to give the reviewing thing a better shot.

King of Quirk Wes Anderson (director of Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited) returns to his kingdom with the sweetly odd Moonrise Kingdom. Set in 1965 on an island off the coast of New England, the movie follows young Khaki Scout Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman), a foster child struggling with fitting in with the other scouts, as he disappears one night to meet his pen pal, Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), who has run away from her tumultuous home life to meet Sam and set off on a new life together.

When their disappearances are noticed, a number of people on the remote island begin searching for the two, including melancholy police officer Captain Ward (Bruce Willis), the head of Sam's scout troop, Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) and his ragtag scout troop, and Suzy's feuding parents, Walt and Laura Bishop (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), who have enough problems of their own. And then, to the dismay of everyone, Social Services (Tilda Swinton) gets involved.

Anderson gives the runaways' encounters the right amount of humor, awkwardness, and poignancy, that moment when you realize there is someone out there who feels exactly the way you do. The movie definitely has its slapsticky moments, but it also has a lot of heart. Gilman and Hayward, in their film debuts, truly embody the mixed emotions of their characters, and Bruce Willis displays a sadsack tenderness you rarely see in his performances. (Conversely, Bill Murray doesn't seem particularly interested in what's going on most of the time.)

This movie definitely isn't for everyone, but if you enjoy light comedy with a dash of uncomfortable awkwardness and a healthy helping of quirk, you're sure to like Moonrise Kingdom. I know I did.

Book Review: "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn

Nick and Amy Dunne were both writers living in New York City, when the economy cost both of them their jobs, and then the couple moved back to Nick's hometown of North Carthage, Missouri, to help care for his dying mother. A born and bred New Yorker, she has to leave her parents, happily married psychologists who created a famous children's book series about Amy called Amazing Amy. The transition is tough for Amy, who doesn't find a job and finds it difficult to make friends, but she is supportive of Nick's buying a bar with his twin sister, Margo (aka "Go"). And even though their marriage hits occasional rough patches, they are making plans to celebrate their fifth anniversary.

That afternoon, Amy disappears, and their home bears signs of a dangerous struggle. Nick cannot figure out what happened to his wife, although his interactions with the police and the media lead people to begin questioning his innocence. And Amy's diary paints an interesting picture of an increasingly difficult relationship. But as the clues mount and the surprises continue to be revealed, there is so much more to this relationship—and Amy's disappearance—than meets the eye. (And that's all I'll say for fear of revealing any crucial plot elements.)

Gone Girl has been nearly universally hailed as a fantastic book, the one sure to launch Gillian Flynn's career into the stratosphere. (Her second novel, Sharp Objects was a best-seller.) I enjoyed this, but not nearly as much as others have. I flew through the first 200 pages and I had no idea what to expect, and then when the plot twists began to unfold, I found it more and more difficult to remain invested. It's a challenge to love a book in which many of the characters are so unsympathetic, but Flynn really is a terrific writer. (If you've never read her earlier books, Dark Places and Sharp Objects, they're both unmistakably creepy and well-written.)

Friday, June 8, 2012

For the graduate who thinks they have everything...

If you remember your high school or college graduation ceremony (I'm not interested in knowing you're too young to have graduated from either or both yet), do you remember the commencement speaker? Do you remember what they said?

All I remember about high school graduation is that we in chamber choir sang I Sing the Body Electric, and after having sang it at others' graduations, it was amazing to sing it at my own, alongside some of my close friends. My college graduation was a crazy weekend (I actually had a kidney stone), and instead of graduating with all of GW, we graduated by college, so the College of Arts and Sciences had former New York Congressman Stephen Solarz as our speaker. (Yawn.) Solarz lost his bid for re-election the next year, aided by the fact he was named in the Congressional check kiting scandal.

Wellesley High School in the Boston area had one of their teachers, David McCullough, Jr., deliver a commencement speech. But instead of delivering the usual platitudes, what he said was more honest but perhaps just as inspiring, telling students "you're not special."

"Across the country no fewer than 3.2 million seniors are graduating about now from more than 37,000 high schools. That's 37,000 valedictorians...37,000 class presidents...92,000 harmonizing altos...340,000 swaggering jocks...2,185,967 pairs of Uggs," he said. "Even if you're one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you."

McCullough told students, "You've been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble wrapped ... feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie." He added, "You see, if everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless....We have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement."

He did push students to recognize real achievement: "The fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life is an achievement," and he encouraged graduates "to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance." Feedback to his speech from students and parents has been tremendously positive. It's nice to hear some honesty, don't you think?

What is love??

Saw this on Facebook and couldn't resist sharing it. But as a friend said, I often punctuate my television viewings with non-sequiturs and trivia related to the show in some tangential way. And I guess it's love when the person you watch with puts up with that, right?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Chevy Volt has a secret...

Kudos to General Motors for this terrific Chevy Volt ad they released at this year's Motor City Pride event in Detroit.

Almost makes me want to buy one, but then again, I can't even remember to charge my phone half the time...

Read more about the ad here.

Monday, June 4, 2012

One of the best singers you probably aren't listening to...

My musical tastes are pretty diverse, as evidenced by the 20,000+ songs that reside on my iPod. (Yes, I have the only iPod Apple makes that's big enough to accommodate all of my music—no Nano for me!) I've decided periodically to share with you some music you might not otherwise have heard of.

Although I listen to nearly every style of music, I find myself gravitating toward the singer/songwriter genre quite often. (And what I've found is that there are a lot of singer/songwriters named Jason, Matt, and Matthew—it's pretty amazing!) And one of my favorite singers for the last 18 months or so is Ron Pope. I first heard Ron's music on, of all things, So You Think You Can Dance, as a contestant a few seasons ago used his song Fireflies for a solo dance. While the lyrics of this song captivated me, it's his gravelly, soulful, expressive voice that hooked me, so I found myself needing to hear more of his music. (Below is a live video of Ron singing that song.)

The more I've listened to Ron's music, the more I love the moods his music evokes, as well as the complexity of his voice and the poetry of some of his lyrics. This song, A Drop in the Ocean, apparently was used by the television show Vampire Diaries. (Javier Colon, winner of the first season of The Voice, covered this song as his first single as well. I think he gives a new dimension to the song.)

His latest album, Atlanta, is pretty fantastic. For reasons I can't quite explain, my favorite song from the album is A Wedding in Connecticut, which seems to choke me up half the time I listen to it. (As I've established many a time, I'm a real emotional sap. It is what it is.)

And because I know you probably can't get away from this song, Ron also covered Gotye's Somebody That I Used to Know a while back, without the contributions from Kimbra. I'm a huge fan of the song, and I thought his version is really good as well.

If you've heard of Ron Pope before, hopefully you agree with my assessment that he's pretty fantastic. And if not, and you like this genre of music, I'd definitely encourage you to give him a try. You won't regret it.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

I just don't need to see this...

I've seen a lot of really memorable television commercials through the years. Some are uproariously funny, some make me cry (and I'm not ashamed to admit it), and some actually make me think.

Then there are the absurd commercials, the ones I cannot believe an advertising agency was paid to create, much less put on television. Take Charmin, for example. I don't know about you, but while I certainly understand that bears go to the bathroom, I don't need that visual in my head when I reach for toilet paper.

And I can say without hesitation, I don't need this visual:

But as disturbing as the Charmin-loving bears are, I am even more disturbed by this latest advertisement for the "Cottonelle Care Routine," namely toilet paper plus personal wipes.

Who thought this would make a good advertisement? I may have a lot of weird things rolling around in my brain, but I can assure you that assigning a name to toilet paper and personal wipes isn't one of them. And do you really want to know what other people name their routine?

Bring back Mr. Whipple, please. What commercials annoy you or make you uncomfortable?

Book Review: "Ten Thousand Saints" by Eleanor Henderson

Jude and Teddy are childhood friends growing up in Vermont in the late 1980s. They do nearly everything together—cut school, take drugs, steal, listen to and play hardcore music, and dream of a "real life" away from what they know. Teddy's mother has just disappeared, leaving him to fend for himself and turn to Jude and his family for support. On New Year's Eve, Teddy and Jude meet up with Eliza, the daughter of Jude's father's girlfriend, and they take her to a party in search of fun and drugs (although not necessarily in that order). The party turns their lives upside down in more ways than one, and after they put Eliza back on a train to New York City, Teddy dies of an accidental drug overdose.

Overcome with grief over the death of his best friend, yet unable to express himself, Jude heads to New York and finds Johnny, Teddy's straight-edge half-brother. (Straight-edge kids swear off drugs, alcohol, sex, and often meat, but follow the hardcore punk scene.) When they find out that Eliza is pregnant with Teddy's child from their encounter at the party the night he died, Johnny sees this as a chance to form a real family, one that has escaped him for so long. Yet he must deal with the demons inside himself, as well as Jude's jealousy, on so many different levels. This is a book about finding yourself and realizing what makes a family, about the hardcore music scene of the late 1980s and the changing demographics of New York City, and about trying to avoid making the same mistakes your parents made.

I thought this book was pretty fantastic. Eleanor Henderson created some truly memorable characters and gave each surprising depth, which made me feel truly invested in what happened to them. There were a few times I worried the book would veer into overly dramatic plot twists, but each time, Henderson remained true to the characters and her story, and I was grateful for that. No one is infallible in this book, much as in life, and that is what made the story so appealing to me—although I couldn't necessarily identify with all of the characters and what they were going through, I felt as if all of the characters were realistic, particularly to the places and time in which the book took place. I flew through this book and of course, I'm sorry I finished it so quickly, because I want more. But I look forward to seeing what Henderson comes up with next!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Out of the mouths of dogs...

Enough said!!

Book Review: "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" by Jamie Ford

One day in Seattle, Henry Lee walks by the old Panama Hotel, which used to be the gateway to the city's Japantown. Long boarded-up, the hotel is finally being renovated to its former glory by new owners. But there is a great deal of commotion, as construction workers uncover the belongings of many Japanese families, who stored their possessions in the hotel before they were shipped off to internment camps during World War II. This discovery awakens memories Henry has long kept at bay, and although Henry had a long, happy marriage to Ethel, and raised one son, Marty, Ethel's recent death leaves him more susceptible to reminiscences.

Growing up in Seattle in the 1940s, Henry's loyalist Chinese father harbored strong hatred against the Japanese. Henry was a "scholarshipping" student at the all-White Rainier Elementary School, ridiculed and reviled by his classmates, and unable to communicate with his parents, who insisted he speak only English despite their only understanding Cantonese. One day during his lunchtime duties, he meets Keiko, a Japanese student, and the two of them become friends, and allies against all of the hatred they face. As they grow closer, their relationship must battle not only the prejudices of Henry's father, but the realities of war, as Keiko and her family are sent to an internment camp. But Henry refuses to give up on Keiko, even as circumstances around him try and force him to.

I'll admit it, this book has sat on my bookshelf since it was released a few years ago, but when I got ready to fly cross-country, I picked it up as my book to read when I was unable to use my Kindle on the plane. (I'm a voracious reader; that's what you do.) I'm glad to say this book was well worth the wait. It is a poignant story of the poignancy of first love, the bravery needed to stand up for who you are, and the realization that your parents aren't always right. While the book was a little predictable, I didn't care; I found myself completely hooked on the story and wondering how it would unfold. (And I'm not ashamed to admit the book choked me up a bit, although I wasn't feeling well on the plane.) If you haven't read this, definitely do.

Book Review: "Truth Like the Sun" by Jim Lynch

Truth Like the Sun, Jim Lynch's great new book, is timely, compelling, and emotionally satisfying. In 1962, the city of Seattle is poised for the excitement of hosting the World's Fair, and the Space Needle is the crowning jewel of this event. Young Roger Morgan is the so-called "King of the Fair," as he pushed the city's leaders and financial supporters to throw their weight behind it, and he allegedly designed the Space Needle on a cocktail napkin. He has the world in his hands, with entertainers, world leaders, even married women marveling at what he has created, and he is proud of the changes he was responsible for bringing to Seattle. Yet as he revels in the glory of the event, he is still looking for something more.

Flash forward to 2001. Seattle is reeling from the bursting of the tech bubble, and crime and incivility have taken hold in the city. Seventy-year-old Roger Morgan, who used his fame from the World's Fair to gain influence as an adviser to countless politicians, surprises the city by declaring his candidacy for mayor, running against an incumbent he had once assisted. Many in the city rush to embrace this one-time king and fringe candidate, while others scramble to figure out exactly who Roger Morgan is, including Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Helen Gulanos. Driven both by her need to understand Morgan and what he stands for, as well as her desire to write a Pulitzer-worthy story, she throws her all into investigating every corner of Morgan's life, from 1962 until the present. And as she finds herself drawn by his magnetism, she's also drawn by what she finds out.

The book switches between 1962 and 2001, from Roger's early glory days to his seeking once last fling with fame and power. Lynch does a fantastic job weaving the two narratives, and I found myself in the same quandary as Helen—I wanted to know more about what makes Morgan tick but I was also afraid of what might be uncovered. In this era of news being driven as much by innuendo as fact, I found this book tremendously timely, but at its heart this is the story of a man motivated more by his desire to make his city the center of the world, one who gets caught up in the glory of doing so. I really enjoyed this book a great deal. Lynch is a fantastic writer and all of his books have captivated me in similar ways.