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Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

You’ve probably seen this book in the window of your local bookstore. It’s been hyped, promoted, and advertised to death, so we decided to see what all the fuss was about. Critics loved it. The premise: Two old magicians train children into adulthood to compete against each other in a competition/showcase. The venue is a unique circus full of colorful performers and great minds. There can only be one winner, which makes it hard when the young magicians fall in love.

The good:
  • The descriptions, the circus, the scenery, and the visuals. This author is a painter and she knows how to describe art that comes to life in your head. You can see everything. The book’s world is colored, textured, and gorgeous. The descriptions of what’s going on, the clothes, the circus tents, and the circus acts are the best part of this book. If you love rich descriptions when you read, you’re gonna choke your chicken to this book. If you liked Memoirs of a Geisha because of all the descriptions of the kimonos, this book will deliver exactly what you like.
  • The actual writing is good. For a first novel, it’s stellar, and the author is obviously brilliant and talented. We think that’s the draw of this book for critics. A beautiful writing style is not all it takes to make a book great though...
  • The tone is gripping. Sometimes the book can be genuinely eerie and then, in the very next chapter, a scene will be full of childlike wonder. “Dreamlike” is a good word to describe this mood.
  • We wanted to go see the circus. We wanted to live in this world. We wanted this world to show up in our dreams.
  • We’re pretty sure this is going to be a movie soon, because it’s screaming to be made into a movie. The movie will be truly magical.
The bad:
  • It’s slow and takes a while to get into some action. One of us listened to it on audiobook and it was hard to finish. When it’s hard to LISTEN to a book while you are riding a bus, you know you’ve got a chore of a book. The writing and pace are akin to that of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. It’s a wonder we finished that book. In fact, if you loved Jonathan Strange, you will love The Night Circus. They are similar. They both have little magical realism, a little of the macabre, and then a little all-out magic. They are both a little cold and distant from their characters and human themes. They both take a while to get going and could have been a heck of a lot shorter.
  • The plot takes a backseat to the scenery. The author even said in an interview, “Plot is not my strength” and confessed that she only thought up the circus and the magician/love/competition element (basically the whole plot) was pitched to her by publishers. She added it in after they gave her the inspiration. This is a woman who should be co-writing novels with another author. She should describe everything and let the other author do everything else. Better yet, Erin Morgenstern should probably make movies. She’s be a great director, visually. She should design sets and magical scenes. Film is what she should be in, not books.
  • If you are more into character development, plot, and dialogue in books, you are going to be really frustrated. One thing we wanted with this book was a character to root for. You never got into anyone’s head. You didn’t care who won the contest. You wouldn’t have been truly sad if anyone died. Some of the characters are interesting, but we don’t get inside their heads or stories enough. They are never fleshed out or explained to an extent that you want them to be. The consequence is that the book never grabbed our hearts. 
  • It ends like Lord of the Rings. There are about five too many endings. But, unlike with Lord of the Rings, by now you don't care about everyone's fate and you already know what happens to everyone. There isn't much new information.
Bottom line? Unless descriptions are your favorite parts of books, you’re gonna want to wait for the movie on this one.

Book grade: C
Writing grade: A

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

It’s Mindy Kaling from The Office, so of course it’s funny. It’s not as funny as we wanted it to be, but it left us wanting more. This book could have been three times as long. It made us want to be best friends with Mindy. We were really impressed with her ability to create a play where two women played Matt Damon and Ben Affleck and have THAT be her big break. We liked her essays, lists, and honesty. The best parts of this book, for us, were her childhood memories. We also liked her observations on romance. We don’t get one-night-stands either, Mindy. This book is less "laugh-out-loud comedy" and more "amusing memoir", as is usually the case with comedians. If you want to get to know Mindy Kaling, pick it up. If you just want to laugh at comedy essays, go get a George Carlin book.

We ended up wanting to know Mindy and laugh at her life, partly because she is so relatable in her book. If everyone is hanging out without you, Mindy, we would love to hang out with you. She's a little like Kelly on The Office, if Kelly were really smart and not a horrible, devious, and desperate person. This book made us wish that someone this obsessed with comedy could get another gig now that The Office is worn out. They’ve done all they can with those characters. Move on. This is someone who hit comedy gold with a female version of Ben Affleck. Give her another show! We did like her behind-the-scenes tidbits about The Office and the people who work on that show, including what the work environment was like.

We especially enjoyed her smart, eerie take on Steve Carell. He’s a nice, polite, genius with integrity…who observes people so well that he is able to create a bumbling character like Michael down to the mannerisms. We shudder to think of how he would imitate our unknown foibles and dorky moments. We are a little scared about how Mindy keeps talking about wanting to star in a romantic comedy. No, Mindy, you’re too good for those. Clearly, Mindy needs to write young-adult novels that are humorous and real. We know Mindy Kaling is going to have a great future and this book just made us love her more.

Book grade (for a memoir): B+
Book grade (for a comedy book): B-

The Bride Wore Black Leather by Simon R. Green

One of us has been reading Simon Green’s Nightside series for years. The reason we like it is the Nightside itself. The world under London that Green imagined was just as colorful on the page as in Green’s head, it seemed. We also liked the eclectic mix of characters and mythical beings. John was ok, but he was never the draw. We liked the noir-ish tone and the standalone mystery plots. This series is a good springboard for the imaginations. We always thought there was more that an author could get out of this world and more that he could do with it. We guess Green ran out of ideas. We wish he would co-author this series, with, like, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, or someone else. It helped that all the books were short too. 

One of us usually hates the parts in books that feature description and prefers dialogue. Here, the descriptions and back-stories were what won that blogger over. This series isn’t must-read, rush to the bookstore stuff. We weren’t waiting earnestly for another installment. It’s one of those things that you read because it’s there, it’s mildly entertaining, and you’re waiting for something better to come out. It's not particularly great, but if it's your taste, it has its moments.

This series was at its best in the first six books, when John was trying to figure out who his mother was. Then things got repetitive and fluffy. The climax happened halfway through the series and it was stalled from there. The last two books, however, were pretty good and almost a return to form. We thought the Unnatural Enquirer was the weakest entry. We never liked that demon girl reporter.

We always had a problem with the seeming limitlessness of John’s gift. In later books, using it too much made him bleed from his head orifices, which by that point just seemed like a way to answer that complaint. We also hated the way Green would repeat the same jokes, but we liked the self-aware way he addressed that later in the series.

We liked that Suzie got healthier, over the course of a few books, and was able to get married at all. We really liked how Green brought back most of the characters for a farewell, including some that have been long gone. Green knows how to end a series. This last book almost made the ones that were dull worth continuing the series for. It was a fun and satisfying conclusion.

We are a little annoyed that it’s ending NOW. It would have taken real imagination for Green to keep things going with John as Walker now. It’s easy to write for the underdog defying authority. We thought Green breathed new life into the series by making John the authority, but then he decided to do nothing with that and just end things. We hope Green changes his mind.

Now that it’s over, even though we haven’t appreciated it much in the last few years, we are wondering if there is a way we can bring it back. If there was a book series that would make a good TV show, this is absolutely it. The standalone adventures worked well for this series and we could see it making a decent TV show, even if it would be too weird for most people.

Book grade: B
Series grade: B

Three young adult novels for people who can't get enough of that genre

We recently went on a small young adult novel binge. Did we find the next Hunger Games? Naw. Were our lives changed forever? Unlikely. Did we have fun being distracted from schoolwork by formulaic teen romance, strong female protagonists, dystopian societies, and supernatural beings? Of course.

First up is Wither by Lauren DeStefano. Premise: You know, the usual. In the future, a cure for cancer and many forms of aging has been found. Sadly, the generation born after the first, perfect generation has a life span of 20 for females and 25 for males. Everyone is freaked out. The other countries may or may not be nuked into non-existence. And human trafficking has amped up a notch since female brides are needed to breed quickly so that more children can be born to keep families, and the human race, alive. Teenaged Rhine Ellery has been grabbed by a rich family and forced into a marriage with two other wives to a pretty na├»ve young man. Fortunately, one of the family’s servants is young, male, not a jerk, and might help her get free. Less fortunately is the house’s all-knowing, controlling, super-creepy patriarch who experiments on dead bodies in the basement, looking for a cure that will save humanity. Sounds familiar, right? Ha, kidding.

The great thing about this book is the villain. The patriarch is really and truly scary in a lot of ways. His traits ring true and he will get your spine crawling, at least a little. The plot of this book is to be praised. While most of it happens in the house and there isn’t much action, it is intense, haunting, and you really, really want Rhine to be able to escape back to her twin brother. With death looming so closely over most of the protagonists, this book has a morbid, deep vibe that makes everything more urgent and less saccharine than other teen books. The main character is smart, emotionally healthy, and easy to like. The downside is that the love triangle probably won’t put butterflies in anyone’s stomach, but it will probably spark a good debate as to who Rhine should end up with at the end of this trilogy. Also, some of the things about the future world are way too unrealistic. The second book comes out in February, and we recommend reading this one in time for the sequel. We also like that Rhine was blond. Usually YA books have to have brunettes as main characters in order to show intelligence and strength, but that's one of our stupider stereotypes in society, right? (We're both brunettes, by the way.) The book was entertaining and weird enough to warrant checking out. We got it in audiobook format and the narrator's breathy, depressed-sounding voice was annoying at first, but the performance was good after you got used to those qualities. The best thing about this book was that it stayed with us days after we read it. Book grade: A-

The second young adult book we read recently was Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. This was one of the easiest reads we’ve come across in a long time. We don’t want to give much away about the premise, but let’s just say that it’s a star-crossed lovers story between a human girl raised by monsters and an angel. It’s less stupid than it sounds, really. This one is strong on the romance front. The side characters are also interesting. The main character, Karou, is likeable and her best friend brings humor to the book. The writing is good, and the fantasy aspects and world are pretty original. It has what’s usually called “good world-building.” The downside here is that this book ends on a cliffhanger and the next book doesn’t come out until late this year. We’re talking August, at least. If we were young adult book fans who hadn’t read this book yet, we would totally read it….but only once the next book was available. Book grade: B+

The last young adult book we read recently was Gabrielle Zevin’s All These Things I’ve Done. Of all three of these books, this was the quickest read. It had a strong plot, but we don’t know that we fully bought the premise and the world. Would chocolate REALLY be something to kill and steal for? We doubt it. This book takes place in New York City, in the future, after we have ruined our world a little bit more. Not as much as in Wither, but it’s still pretty bad. Sixteen-year-old Anya Balanchine (ridiculous name, right?) is the heir of a notorious crime boss and mobster, who is dead, and she has to take care of her grandmother and younger siblings. However, the book strongly implies that later Anya is going to take over the running of the family business from her extended family. The wrinkle in that is Anya falling in love with the district attorney’s son.

This book is entertaining fluff. We hope that, in the future, the author focuses more on the mafia and birthright aspect of Anya’s story. We loved how tough she was and how her intelligence made her a prime candidate to step up (down?) and be a crime lord. This could be sort of a teenage Walter White in the making. From nice girl to The Godfather. We know there will be a sequel at some point, so we hope to see the rift between herself and the D.A.’s son grow as she gets into the family business. But you know how sometimes you are reading a book and you think some of it is too like the author’s fantasy through which she is living vicariously here, and that it’s too self-indulgent? That’s present here. Some of it is TOO romantic, if you know what we mean. Did Anya really have to go to the juvenile detention center twice? Although her silent cellmate was pretty interesting… We also thought the title was forced. The last line of the book nearly ruined the whole thing for us. There's not as much action as you would expect from this premise. Anya goes to school like a regular kid too. Lots of it is pointless. But it’s a quick read and teens should enjoy it if they like futuristic romance. Book grade: B-

Friday, January 27, 2012

Glee Casting News

White Collar's Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) will play Blaine's older brother. We are so excited. What great casting.

5 things we’ll miss about Chuck (and 3 we won’t)

With Chuck ending its 5 year run tonight, we thought we’d reminisce about our favorite (and least favorite) parts of this charmingly nerdy show.

Things we’ll miss:
1. John Casey: He’s easily one of the best parts of this show, and has remained that while our interest in Chuck and Sarah has drastically decreased over the past 2 seasons. We don’t even mind that they gave him a daughter, which we usually do (see Luke Danes, Gilmore Girls).
2. Ellie and Awesome: One of the most adorable, fully functional, completely in love couples on tv in recent memory. They’ve definitely changed since having Clara, but they’re still a couple we aspire to be like.
3. The Chuck and Morgan friendship: We love this relationship too. They’ve had their arguments, which is completely normal, but they’ve always gotten over them and realized that they do love each other. These two would obviously do anything for each other, and have. In general, their friendship is a great example of true love. Forget Chuck and Sarah, we’ll miss Chuck and Morgan.
4.  The Buy More: We mainly liked confining the cast of weirdos to this place. It could be a nice change of pace from the spy world. When the original Buy More blew up, we were kind of bummed. Luckily, Carmichael Industries was able to rebuild it and use it as their headquarters.
5. Zachary Levi: There were times when we didn’t understand why Chuck was acting in a certain way, but we always appreciated how Zachary Levi brought him to life. In other hands, Chuck might have turned unsympathetic, especially after losing the Intersect. Luckily, Zachary Levi still made us root for the most adorable nerd since The O.C.’s Seth Cohen.

Things we won’t miss:
1. Jeff and Lester: During the first season, we didn’t mind them. They were pretty small characters, and we could handle them in small doses. Even the first instance of Jeffster! was fine. After 5 seasons though, we’re thankful we don’t have to see them anymore. We do have to say, though, that we liked making Jeff saner (and having them both figure out the spy secret). An interesting development for them, finally.
2. Everyone having the Intersect: We know other places have complained about this before, but it really negates most of the first, awesome season if both Morgan and Sarah can handle having the Intersect in their brains. Part of what made Chuck so compelling originally was having this special character who was needed by the government. Taking away his uniqueness, to us, diminishes part of the beginning of the series.
3. The massive inconsistencies: In addition to everyone and their mother having the Intersect, we also won't miss sloppy plotting (like bringing all of the villains to Castle and still thinking of it as a safe location).

Regardless of what we will and won’t miss, we’re glad we’ve had 5 seasons with this little show that could. We’re especially glad that the show runners got 13 episodes to wrap it up, even if we didn’t like some of the things that happened at the end. Now we can go back to eating Quizno's instead of Subway.

Glee - First Listen Friday song reviews

It’s Michael Jackson week on Glee this upcoming Tuesday, and we are actually pretty excited. We love that there are a LOT of songs. We may stop complaining about the lack of Rachel songs, because she’s had the most solos, by far. Naw, we’re still going to complain. We want at least one Rachel solo per episode, haha.

"Bad" - Artie, Santana, Blaine and Sebastian with New Directions and Dalton Academy Warblers. We didn't like Sebastian’s voice the first time we heard it, but maybe that song was just too high for him. You already know how we feel about Artie (ugh) but we like the Warblers and Blaine. Everyone loves Santana’s voice. Without Artie, it would have been perfect. One of us doesn’t really care for this song, but it’s a decent, energetic version. We like the Warblers on background. It really works for this song. B+

"Ben" - Kurt, Rachel, and Finn. Lovely, but just ok. It’s a down-tempo song. One of us has always hated Kurt’s voice. The other of us really thinks this song fits him. It’s not bad. B-

"Black or White" - Mercedes Jones, Santana Lopez, Rachel Berry, Artie Abrams and Kurt Hummel with New Directions. Jeez, enough with the Artie already. This song is fun and this version is just what you would expect from a Glee version of this song. B

"Human Nature/Nature Boy" - Mercedes and Sam. We like these two voices (and characters) together and enjoyed listening to this song. It didn’t blow us away, but it was pleasant and not at all annoying. Mercedes really is the unsung singing hero of this show. She can sing anything and make it good. B+

"I Just Can’t Stop Loving You" - Finn and Rachel. We love Finchel duets. It calls back season one. Finn sounds less autotuned than usual in this song. We like it. Overall, this song was a little dull though. Rachel sounded like every girl in the song at the end of a Disney movie, when the credits roll. A 90s diva. Definitely an older, dated sound here. C+

"I Want You Back" - The Warblers. We love the a cappella sound and their background noises. They probably spit so much though. We think Sebastian’s voice is too high and thin to really compete with Blaine’s, but this song was pretty good. Short though. B-

"Never Can Say Goodbye" - Quinn. Finally! We actually love Quinn’s voice. It’s not a powerhouse, but it’s pleasant. She rarely gets to sing. Her voice reminds us a little of Natasha Bedingfield’s in this song. B+

"Scream" - Artie and Mike Chang. Artieeeeeee. Just stop. We had trouble listening to this whole song. C-

"Smooth Criminal" - Santana and Sebastian. Pairing these two is an interesting idea and this is a great song. We had high hopes for this number and it delivered. Santana even sounded a little different than she usually does. She sounded kind of sweet and even dipped into her higher register more. We liked the variation. We’re sure to download this one. It’s one of those songs that as soon as we heard it the first time, we immediately wanted to hear it again. One of us saw the clip on hulu and the context makes it even better. A

"Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" - Blaine and New Directions. We love us some Blaine. B

Overall, the songs should satisfy people who have been waiting to hear Glee cover lots of Michael Jackson. One of us doesn’t really GET Michael Jackson but still enjoyed most of these songs. Music-wise, this should be a great episode. You just know there is so much opportunity for good dancing here. The performances should be amazing. Overall grade for sound only: B. We anticipate that will go up to an A or A- once the performances are paired with it. We're gonna go listen to "Smooth Criminal" again.

You can listen to the songs for yourselves here:

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Southland - Underwater

Lucy Liu’s Jessica Tang is still around, even though it still says “guest star” in the credits. How long will she be on the show, we wonder? And yet, we are too lazy to try to look it up. We are as lazy as Tang. Lydia Adams’ new partner, Reuben, is also still around, and we find him boring and forgettable. We’re surprised we know his name. We didn’t catch it last week.

Tang, Cooper, Dewey, Rueben, and Lydia find a handbag with a severed arm still attached to the handle. Nice. Inside the purse is I.D. for a rich woman named “Meredith Williams.” Tang and Cooper are to notify the husband. When Mr. Williams is told of his wife’s demise, he laughs and the house’s butler says, “The witch is dead” in Spanish. The entire house seems to celebrate and the cops, weirded out, walk away. Lydia and Rueben look for the man who ran down Meredith Williams and find him in his garage. He had a few to drink the night before and though he hit a coyote. Oops! Also, how drunk do you have to be to think a person is a coyote or to not check. He is put under arrest, which is good, because if you are THAT drunk and you even consider driving, you deserve what you get.

Lydia and her boring partner are then called to investigate a homicide that occurred in a convenience store. The victim was a prison snitch named Mac Logan. He was a key witness against a man named Darrell Miller who spent 22 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit. He was released when DNA evidence exonerated him. Lydia and Rueben go to Miller’s house, where he is uncooperative. When Miller leaves, they knock again and are admitted into the residence by Miller’s grandma, who has dementia. Wildly illegal. They find the evidence they need though. Rueben thinks Miller’s victim got what he deserved for getting an innocent man sent to prison and wonders if he and Lydia should just toss the evidence against Miller. Lydia disagrees. Hey, Rueben, just tell the court about how you guys got the evidence without knowing consent to search the house, and Miller will get off without you breaking any rules.

Cooper tries to find out about Tang’s personal life, but she is tight-lipped. Tang has to be the laziest cop on this show. Last week, she spent the day trying to get food from a taco truck. This week, she sees a naked jogger and, rather than arresting him, tells him that he can’t run around here, but he can run down the freeway. That way he will be busted by highway patrol and she won’t have to do it. Nice one, Tang. Jeez. Karma hits when Cooper and Tang spot a man running down the street, fully on fire. You give up an easy, disgusting case and you get a hard, disgusting case. Let that be a lesson to Tang. Also, the man got caught on fire while he was in a porn shop, so Tang had to go in there and investigate. Ha. We kind of like Tang though, laziness aside.

Sammy has a pool party attended by Ben, shirtless. Ben makes out with a cute female cop. Another cop comments that white boys get the hottest girls. Well…ok then. That was a random and weirdly racist comment. Ben and Sammy have a new captain, Captain Rucker, who is played by Carl Lumbly, Sidney’s partner on Alias. Hell yeah. His policy is that the cops will be hard-asses, cleaning up the streets, and for every mistake they make, they will have to fill out one line of a McDonalds application. He hands these applications out. We feel bad for all the people who work hard for a LIVING at McDonalds and get this crap from everywhere.

Ben’s sweet side is not on display as much in this episode, and we don’t like it. We guess it’s good to have a rounded character, but it’s weird to see Ben act like a saint last week and a horn-dog who punches women in the face this week. We’ll get to that… Anyway, Ben teases a female officer and Sammy suggests that he just ask for her number. Ben says the middle-school method is more fun. The sweet side makes a brief comeback when Sammy and Ben bust an underage hooker with a crack pipe. Sammy’s plan is to turn her into a C.I. so the cops can use her and Ben’s is to call social services or something and get her out of “the life.” Sammy names Ben “Captain Save-a-Ho” and the hooker lets them know where she got the drugs. We guess Sammy won that one.

They arrest the people at the stash house. There was a little drama where one of the suspects escaped, and that ends with Ben yelling at a woman for letting the suspect hide in her house. He’s all, “See if we ever answer a call down here again!” and the woman responds with, “No one asks you to come down here.” It almost gets ugly, but Sammy pulls Ben away.

We find out later that Ben is starting to get jaded. He says, “I wanted to make a difference. You know it's funny, I used to think about how these kids grew up. No parents, drug abuse, hungry. [Now] I ain't a social worker.” We hope Ben finds a happy medium between wide-eyed, too-trusting softy and the a-hole he’s becoming now. Next, he and his colleagues deal with a crazy cat lady and we have no time to go into that. There are just too many cases and incidences in one episode. It’s The Vampire Diaries of cop shows.

Ben and Sammy have to shut down a dance party in a parking lot when the property owner calls police to evict the hooligans. One of the teens girls pushes Ben, so he has to arrest her for putting her hands on a police officer. Her friend starts defending her, slapping Ben and then spitting in his face. Wow that is a) a good friend and b) a dumb friend. Ben punches her in the face. We were taught that men shouldn’t hit women, but we would have hit this bitch too. It was a huge overreaction and both Ben’s captain and Sammy chastised him for it. And that girl cop Ben was teasing? She handed him a McDonald's application. Zing. We guess. This episode brought a lot more humor than usual.

In other news, Dewey is a chubby chaser. 

Episode grade: B

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Our Instant Reactions to the Oscar Nominations, Especially the Snubs

There were lots of glaring snubs this year, and we are not pleased. Even for a year with mostly lame movies, there were a few that deserved to be rewarded. How many accolades do The Artist and The Descendants need? Spread the love around, why don’t you? We wish War Horse would just go away. Manipulative drivel. We are happy about the love for the very weird The Tree of Life. We are also glad about Nick Nolte’s nod for Warrior and Demian Bichir’s nod for A Better Life. Those are both underrated and under-seen movies. Ern just saw Warrior and loved it.

Poor Albert Brooks! He should have gotten a nod for Drive if only because Drive should have gotten some sort of nominations in a big category. It wasn’t exactly Oscar bait, but it was our favorite movie of the year. Brooks’ tweet after the nods came out was, “And to the Academy: You don’t like me. You really don’t like me.” Oh Al, we like you! Jonah Hill was good in Moneyball, but it’s baffling to us that he got the spot and not Brooks. We’re also surprised that Ryan Gosling wasn’t nominated for anything.

There were two break-out stars this year that did wonderfully in multiple movies and received lots of Oscar buzz. One, Jessica Chastain, was recognized for The Help. We like her unique look and obvious range. She did funny in The Help, deep in The Tree of Life, and dramatic in The Debt. The other break-out actor, Michael Fassbender, was snubbed for Shame, even though most people assumed that was a slam-dunk for the actor. We’re surprised as well. Maybe the message or content of the movie turned voters off? Or maybe Fassbender isn’t as well-known among industry insiders as Brad Pitt and George Clooney. We would have been rooting for Gary Oldman anyway. We have a feeling that newcomer Fassbender will get another chance at an Oscar and Oldman has been deserving of AT LEAST a nomination for years.

Ern is not happy that Harry Potter didn’t get a best picture nomination. It wouldn’t have won, but it should have gotten a spot in order to honor what that cast and crew did for ten years making those unfilmable books into decent movies. It was powerful and it got rave reviews from all the critics. We have no patience for genre bias. Freaking Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close got a nomination and not Bridesmaids or Harry Potter? Rotten Tomatoes needs its own awards show.

We are both really bummed that Shailene Woodley didn’t get a nomination for The Descendants. She was probably our favorite part of that movie. We are glad Rooney Mara got a nod, but she’s not going to win, so we are not THAT glad. We are rooting for Michelle Williams in that category anyway, because Charlize Theron was snubbed, and we like Williams as a person. We’re pretty happy about Melissa McCarthy, but, again, she probably won’t win. How was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo not nominated for Best Original Score?!! The Artist is obviously going to win, but still. We've made our love for Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross pretty well-known on this blog.

There should be a new category called “best Meryl Streep performance” so that she can just compete against herself. We are glad that Rango is probably going to get a win, and Leeard is glad that Angelina Jolie didn’t get nominated for the movie she directed. Leeard is also happy that a Polish film was nominated, even though A Separation will take that prize. 

Overall attitude: Whatever. And TEAM GARY OLDMAN.

Alcatraz - Kit Nelson

The criminal of the week is Kit Nelson, a child killer. So, a fan favorite, naturally. He goes into a little boy’s bedroom, kidnaps him while he sleeps, and leaves a white chrysanthemum on the kid’s bed. Hurley hears about the kidnapping on his police scanner and recognizes the detail of the flower as part of Kit’s M.O. Hurley alerts his partner and Hauser. Hauser remains unimpressed with Hurley’s skills, especially because of Hurley’s weak stomach. Hurley doesn’t like to see people killed, and a kidnapped child really rubs him the wrong way. Hauser can’t imagine why and wants Hurley off the team. Rebecca resists Hauser on this.

Back in the ‘60s, Kit would kidnap 11-year-old boys on Friday, keep them alive for the weekend, and then return their dead bodies to their homes on Sunday night. Hauser calls off the Amber Alert put out for the boy (Dylan) so that Kit Nelson won’t know the police are onto his eventual plan. That way, Kit will return Dylan’s corpse on Sunday night and Hauser will be able to catch him at the boy’s house. Hurley doesn’t like this plan, because it doesn’t involve saving Dylan, so Hurley makes it his personal mission to find and save Dylan before the weekend is up. We love you, Hurley. You do what Hurley would do, even when you are not Hurley. Even though one of us keeps calling you Hurley in the Alcatraz posts ....

Kit Nelson’s first kill was his little brother, because he was jealous of all the attention his mother gave him. Nelson spent the rest of his free life recreating that crime with other little boys. Nelson’s mother covered for him and said his brother died of scarlet fever, because she was unwilling to lose two children at once. Kit’s father hated him and was grateful for Alcatraz. Daddy Nelson even paid a visit to Alcatraz to tell his son that.

Because Hurley has studied all these prisoners and researched them, he knows that Nelson likes to do things like fishing, mini-golf, and desert-eating with his victims. Hurley ends up finding Nelson and Dylan in a diner, eating cherry pie. He calls Rebecca, but she doesn’t arrive in time. Hurley rashly decides to stall Nelson and Nelson quickly figures out that Hurley is onto him. We seriously loved how hard Hurley was trying to get that boy back. He did NOT want to let Nelson go. Sadly, Nelson got away with Dylan shortly after Rebecca arrived and was able to do nothing.

Hurley and Rebecca dig through Nelson’s items from the 1960s, when he checked into the prison. An item leads them to an old bomb shelter. There, they find Nelson and Dylan. Dylan runs and Nelson almost catches him, but Hauser appears, redeeming himself slightly, and shoots Nelson. Nelson dies. No one is sad. Hauser decides that Hurley is useful because of his expertise, but Hauser cautions Hurley that he needs an adult doctor, not Hurley the 11-year-old boy. That’s when we find out that Hurley himself was kidnapped at that age.

Hauser brings Nelson’s body to the new Alcatraz in the woods. He gives the body to Dr. Beauregard, the doctor who worked in the Alcatraz infirmary and tormented Nelson in the 60s. Beauregard had two kids himself, you see. In the present, Beauregard will be examining the body for clues or something. Just like Lucy, he hasn’t aged a day. Speaking of Lucy: she has not yet woken from her coma.

We are starting to really like this show. It seems we're not the only ones. The show got solid ratings in its second week and we don't think this episode will cause the show to lose many people. Hurley got more to do this time. Now, it’s time to develop Rebecca more.

Episode grade: B

One Upon a Time - 7:15 a.m.

David and Mary Margaret must really love each other, because they have been going to the diner at the same time, every day, in order to run into each other, even though that time is near the crack of dawn. You just know Mary Margaret has to get up an extra hour to do her makeup and pick out her outfit. This sounds awful, unless they are morning people. If they are, that’s further proof that they are meant for each other. Emma kindly points out to Mary that she is stalking a married man. Mary then runs into Catherine at a drugstore where Catherine is buying a pregnancy test! Uh oh!

Later, Mary Margaret finds a lost dove separated from his flock. She brings the dove to the pet shelter, where David works. The vet tells her that if the dove doesn’t find its flock before the flock moves on, it will be depressed forever. Mary goes into the woods to look for the flock so that she can release the dove into the flock before a storm hits Storybrooke. She almost falls off a cliff and David, who was following her, saves her. He wanted to make sure she didn’t get caught in the storm. When the storm hits, they break into an empty cabin. They tell each other that they still have feelings for each other. Then Mary’s conscience gets in her way, and she tells David that his wife might be preggers.

The thing is, David only has memories of his feelings for Catherine (which were planted by Regina) and real feelings for Mary. When David goes home, Catherine tells him that she is not pregnant and convinces him to go to marital counseling with Dr. Hopper. David decides to go to Granny’s at a different time so that he can avoid Mary. The trouble is, Mary has the same plan and they still end up running into each other. David tells Mary that his wife isn’t pregnant. Weirdly, this changes everything and they start kissing on the side of the road….right where Regina can see them. And she does see them. We understand that pregnancy might strengthen a man’s commitment, but it shouldn’t be the deciding factor, either way. We don’t know how we feel about David and Mary right now. Mostly we just hate Regina for putting them in this position, which is good, since she's the villain.

Henry goes up to the stranger who came to town last week and talks to him. Regina wants to know his story, so she asks Emma to check the guy out. Emma refuses until Regina says that the stranger was talking to Henry. Emma finds the stranger at Granny’s where he secures a drink with Emma at a future date in exchange for showing her what is in the box he is hauling around. Inside the box is a typewriter, because he’s a writer. Does that mean he will have the power to alter Storybrooke or the fairytale world? Will he be able to re-write parts of the story or help the town inhabitants discover things about themselves? We know there is a reason he’s a writer and we can’t wait to see how it is used.

In the Magical Kingdom, Snow White can’t get Prince James off her mind, even though he is marrying Princess Abigail soon. She is hiding out, alone, in the woods, and even though Red Riding Hood sometimes visits, Snow is going a little crazy from all the solitude. Red Riding Hood tells Snow that Snow could go to Rumpelstiltskin to take care of her love problem. Rumpy takes a piece of Snow’s hair as his price for a potion that would make her forget the prince. We’re pretty sure this is going to come back and bite Snow later… Before Snow can drink the potion, James sends her a message that says something like, “Come to the castle and stop my wedding and I’ll know you love me and I won’t marry the princess.” We don’t remember the exact words. Sue us.

As a Taylor Swift song about stopping a wedding ensconces itself into our heads, Snow rushes to the castle, but a guard throws her into the castle dungeons for trespassing. There, she meets Grumpy and Grumpy’s brother, Stealthy, breaks them both out of jail. In the escape, Stealthy dies. Not stealthy ENOUGH, eh? Apparently there's a reason he wasn't in the Disney version of this story ... Snow saves Grumpy’s life. He gets away and Snow is taken to see the king. The king tells Snow that Snow is going to need to break up with James. If Snow doesn’t tell James that she doesn’t love him, the king will just kill James. Then James will be some sort of martyr and the kingdom will be saved anyway. The king doesn’t want James marrying Abigail and then pining over Snow. That would kill the marriage and Abigail would go tell her daddy that it was the prince’s fault.

Snow obeys the king and James is upset. Snow leaves the castle and meets the seven dwarfs who offer her a place to stay. They are her new family. Grumpy convinces Snow not to take Rumpy’s potion, but to endure the pain of lost love instead. The next day, Grumpy rushes to Snow and tells her that James called the wedding off anyway. He is coming for Snow. Unfortunately, Snow doesn’t know what Grumpy is talking about. She took Rumpy’s potion. Like in that sappy-looking upcoming movie, The Vow (that we are totally going to see and love), James is going to have to make Snow fall in love with him all over again. Since they seem to love each other on sight, that probably won’t be too hard.

We thought the Storybrooke plotline was a little ridiculous. Saving doves doesn’t interest us. Neither do cheaters and false pregnancy tests. The fairy tale world part, however, was worth watching and nicely romantic. We’re excited about the stranger. Despite ourselves, we are excited that David and Mary seem to be unabashedly together, for now. At least until Regina ruins it. It’s time for a Ruby/Red Riding Hood backstory, no?

Episode grade: B

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Pretty Little Liars - The Blonde Leading the Blind

If A kills Caleb, we will jump into our TV screens, find A, and kill him/her ourselves. Earlier, we posted a spoiler that said “a beloved character will die” and it won’t be one of the main four. If this “beloved character” is Caleb, we will be really and truly sad. It has to be Ezra! It just has to be! Caleb and Hanna have a real future. Aria and Ezra will have to sneak around for a very long time. It just makes sense from a writing perspective to tragically kill Ezra off so that Aria remembers him as her forbidden Romeo (redundant?) and free up the Aria character to have a different romantic arc.

After Toby falls and breaks his arm (because A is evil) Spencer sees Jenna in the hospital, visiting Toby, and realizes that she needs to re-break up with Toby. Dr. Wren is conveniently there, working on Toby’s case. Spencer gets Emily to tell Toby that Spencer is getting back with Wren. Toby does not take it well, confronts Wren from his hospital bed, and then drives the doctor out with threats of impending punching. Toby leaves a goodbye letter for Spencer. We guess Spencer is the only reason Toby had to stick around. Hell, we know that’s the only reason. The whole town thinks he’s creepy and we’re sure Toby is elated to be miles and miles away from creepy Jenna. In a cast of total weirdos, Jenna is the weirdest.

Speaking of creepy Jenna: Noel Kahn is dating her. Man, you just know that Noel Khan is the key to everything. He’s probably A. Meanwhile, Hanna is freaked out about Caleb’s involvement in the A situation. She refuses to tell him what’s going on and snatches his USB drive right out of his hands. Then she puts it in a blender right in front of his shocked face. Caleb says, “I want to protect you!” and begs to know what’s going on. We collectively swoon. But Hanna is stern-faced and decidedly against Caleb getting more involved. The way she sees it, he’s the one who needs protection, gender stereotypes be damned.

Caleb (obviously) had a back-up of the video Hanna destroyed and he is still going to decrypt the phone files for the other three girls. They will be keeping it a secret from Hanna. Oh Caleb, you are so dead. So, so dead. The hacker, Aria, Emily, and Spencer want there to be enough on the video that A's identity will be revealed and they can finally turn everything over to the police. If we were in this gang, we would have Caleb leave town to work on this project. Heck, we might run away and go with him until it is done and then blast everything to the police over the internet. Our parents would understand and forgive us later. Mona is still upset about being dumped. Hanna, you’re Leeard’s favorite, but you need to learn how to comfort people.

One thing we are sick of is this show playing shocking music and closing in on shocked faces when the revelations just aren’t that shocking. The NAT club was in Alison’s room the night she died, and Ian taped their meeting because Garrett wanted to quit the club and stop being such a freaking creeper?!!? Yawn. Alison was being threatened by A? Well, of course she was. We knew that from Halloween. Now the girls do too. Double yawn.

Aria is the Rachel Berry of this show: Always making things about herself. As soon as Spencer started lamenting about her relationship with Toby, Aria brought up Ezra. What a drone. She calls Ezra up and tells him to meet her in Philly, in front of this clock. Ezra has a lick of sense these days. Maybe he’s dating college girls now instead of high school ones, and they are teaching him the ways of adult women. So Ezra doesn’t even pick up the phone. Aria leaves a message and then goes to town with Holden as her cover. We still don’t know what that boy’s up to, but at least he’s not another A red herring.

Then an undergrad student who wrote a sappy love story convinces that love conquers all for the brave or something, and he runs into town to meet Aria. Of course, it’s raining. They kiss and are back together. Wouldn’t it be amazing if A were Ezra? We know he’s not. But still. This episode was strong on the romance front and weak on the mystery aspects. It’s great to see the show moving along and building toward the revelation of A. The last A scene, where she cut the photos of the girls’ boyfriends, was super creepy. At this point, we think the death is either Ezra or Caleb. For now, Toby is safe.

Episode grade: B

If you want to know the song that was playing while Aria was waiting for Ezra and Spencer was looking out the window, here it is:

Sunday, January 22, 2012

It’s Not Sex If You Can’t Remember It - Grades for this week's comedies

Shameless - Summer Loving
Sheila makes it out to a fruit stand, getting ever closer to Frank’s bar. Frank reaches a new low when he decides to find someone else to mooch off of and goes to a former bar patron, Dottie, who has health problems. She has a city pension that could go to Frank if he plays his cards right and wins Dottie’s heart before she dies. Dottie has lots of home repairs for Frank to take care of, but she can’t have sex with Frank, because it could kill her. Dottie is known for being a “butterface,” which means that she has a great body…but her face (is ugly). This is an accurate, if horrible, description of Dottie. Frank finds out that he is the male butterface. We don’t think that body is anything to write home about, Frank. Jasmine tries to set Fiona up with a sugar daddy. He turns out to be a nice guy, just along for the ride with a friend. He and Fiona have an honest, cute conversation about how it’s so not happening between them.

There wasn’t enough Fiona this week. Emmy Rossum is possibly the strongest thing about this show, and Fiona is the most developed and sympathetic character. Taking focus off of Fiona and putting it on Frank isn’t a great idea. Veronica breaks the rules at her job in order to take the elderly people at the retirement home on a fun excursion to the park. One man overexerts himself and kicks the bucket. It’s all very sweet, if a little morbid. Lip is upset that Karen seems to be taking her relationship with her new beau seriously. Ian tries gets Mickey a job at the Kash and Grab so Mickey can get redemption. Debbie is starting to show some growing pains this season and craves her own room. Frank shows compassion by lending his bedroom to a pregnant illegal immigrant. Carl moves into the van. This was funny filler. Our favorite part was when Fiona had her old diary read aloud.
Episode grade: B-

How I Met Your Mother - 46 Minutes
Lily and Marshall move to the suburbs, 46 minutes away and Barney becomes “leader of the group.” First destination? A strip club. Final destination? Lily and Marshall’s house where the gang find that it doesn’t matter if they have to travel nearly an hour by train. As long as they end up together, the group is just fine. Kevin and Robin play “relationship chicken,” which is where they both try to appear adventurous and flexible by agreeing to every suggestion. That’s how they end up at a strip club when neither of them wants to go.

Confession: Ern totally does that. Crazy restaurant with gross food? Ern is there! Go-karts even though Ern is a grown-ass woman? Ern is there. Beer festival? Ern is there (and wasted). This episode, while not as funny as we wanted it to be, at least showed Ern that she is not alone in being too agreeable at the beginning of relationships. And, actually, Ern ended up really liking the go-kart thing. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with trying out a guy’s interests for a while. What else is dating for, if not to learn about new people and have experiences?

The episode was briefly funny when Barney and Ted played poker with the Russian mob. The whole thing with Lily’s father trying to “help” Marshall and refusing to move out was not funny. Strip clubs are gross. The best part of this episode was the new intro with Barney as the head of the group. The show gets bonus points for playing a second version of that halfway through the episode. Overall though, the episode was dull and flat.
Episode grade: C+

New Girl - The Story of the 50
Jess prepares a party bus for Schmidt’s 29th birthday. Schmidt gets drunk and tries to kiss Jess, which is why he had to put a 50 in the douchebag jar. There, see? We told that story a lot quicker than the gang in this episode. Nick has a new girlfriend named Julia who is played by Lizzy Caplan who was also in Party Down, True Blood, and Mean Girls (and Related!!). She was Janis. Yes, Janis is pretty in real life. We love Lizzy Caplan. This episode was mildly amusing. Jess acted intelligently, for the most part, which is a relief to Ern. We also got to see Schmidt as a fat college guy. Awww.
Episode grade: B+

Happy Endings- Makin Changes
Jane convinces Penny not to change herself for guys, but to find a guy to change instead. Penny starts dating Jeff, a 30-year-old who still acts like he is 20, played by Ryan Hansen (who will always be Veronica Mars' Dick Casablancas to one of us). Penny changes Jeff for the better and he goes back to his ex-girlfriend a new-and-improved man. Penny does manage to break her pattern though. Year of Penny! Jane brags about how she changed Brad, so Brad starts acting like he did back in college. Jane realizes that Brad changed her too, so she approaches Brad looking like she did in college (with pink hair). They admit that they grew up together. Alex and Max are addicted to shows like Hoarders and Intervention. They conduct an intervention for Dave to stop him from wearing V-necked t-shirts. All three storylines are funny. We love this show.
Episode grade: A-

Parks and Recreation - Campaign Ad
Paul Rudd is Leslie Knope’s opponent! Brilliant! He is adorable and makes the episode even funnier than it would normally have been. Leslie and Ben fight over whether Leslie’s ad should be positive or negative. Finally, they make a great ad that they both like. April and Andy have multiple doctor appointments so that they don’t have to seek medical attention for at least ten years. At the end of this post, we have included Leslie's full "pro list" because it was impossible to see in the episode.
Episode grade: A-

The Office - Pool Party
This episode was really weird, but it worked for Ern. The opening was one of the funniest Office openings we’ve seen in a while, especially the dog dressed as Dwight. Ern is starting to ship Erin and Dwight, and Leeard thinks that is gross. “Monogamy for my hog in me,” might be one of the best Andy lines ever. Man, weird WORKS for this show. Even Gabe was funny! There were multiple, audible laughs from us during this episode. We all know The Office needs to change in order to have new life, and this type of humor might be a good direction for it to go in. It's not the show it was, but it's a show that's still funny, in a way
Episode grade: A

Modern Family - Little Bo Bleep
There was lots of controversy about Lily saying the F-word, but we thought it was funny and realistic. Who doesn’t remember younger siblings, cousins, or their own children accidentally saying bad words without knowing the implications? The highlight of the episode though was Phil getting autotuned on youtube for talking about how much of a pervert he is for wanting to have sex with his wife. CLASSIC. Stella is the cutest dog in the world and we want her. We are with Jay on this one.
Episode grade: B

  • More dog parks
  • Senior citizens rights
  • Safe streets
  • Safe sidewalks
  • Better schools
  • Lower taxes
  • Better parks
  • Better business climate
  • Better Better Business Bureau
  • Cleaner streets
  • Improve greenways
  • More snow plows
  • Protecting Pawneeans
  • Improving tourism
  • More trash cans
  • Energy-efficient street lights
  • Westside Detoxification and Revitalization Project
  • Repaving Grand Avenue
  • More teachers
  • Fewer libraries
  • Improve intergovernmental agency communication
  • Clean-up Barefoot Lake
  • Passing Pawnee Jobs Bill P-129.4
  • Playgrounds in every park
  • Playgrounds in every schoolyard
  • Playgrounds in every residential block
  • Clean energy
  • One police officer for every 5 citizens
  • One park ranger for every 10,000 raccoons
  • Resodding Hilltop Cemetery
  • Start talking to Cuba again
  • Emergency evacuation drills
  • Plow for Charity
  • Forming an Ad Hoc Sub-Committee Oversight Committee
  • Challenging the norm
  • Pawnee Corn Subsidies
  • Finally Passing PR-61, formally recognizing South Korea
  • Official peace treaty with the Wamapoke Tribe
  • Four-way stops at every intersection
  • Unionizing ice cream trucks
  • Get Europe out of debt
  • Free trade with Illinois
  • Enact RRP - Raccoon Relocation Project
  • Pawnee Community College tuition in exchange for 4 years of public service
  • Doubling Pawnee Hospital's emergency room nurse staff
  • Legalize Korean
  • Lower the obesity level
  • Stop global terrorism
  • Re-open the toucan exhibit at Pawnee Zoo
  • Find Gabe the Toucan
  • More community gardens
  • Ordinance 11F: To Re-pave City Sidewalks
  • Budget reform
  • Updated Technologies for Local Schools
  • Better retirement benefits for city employees
  • Edward Phillips Senior Center Remodeling
  • Speed bumps in front of elementary schools
  • Unemployment benefits
  • Re-instating the Main St. Farmers Market
  • No turtles as pets
  • New uniforms for youth sports programs
  • Free public Wi-Fi
  • Updated childcare facilities
  • Shutting down the Child Left Behind program
  • Handicap parking placards for the obese
  • Cleaner drinking water
  • Regulate heights of trampolines
  • Memorial for those lost in the trampoline "incident"
  • Control the floods
  • Funding for public art commission
  • Fencing in correctional facilities
  • New police patrol cars
  • Funding overtime hours for police
  • Rebuilding the PTA
  • Prosecuting former PTA president Linda Trifle
  • Profitable government organizations
  • Shutting down underground shooting ranges
  • Making sure city contracts employ local workers
  • Providing more economic development grants and micro-loans to small businesses
  • Foster partnerships with sister cities
  • More buses to speed up morning commutes
  • More streets to accommodate additional buses
  • Require all city employees check and respond to email
  • Working sewers
  • More parades
  • Grants for scientists to discover new forms of energy
  • Leave a lasting impression on all visitors
  • Challenge the norm
  • Finish the statue of Burt Bacharach
  • No more conflict diamonds
  • Bulletproof glass everywhere
  • Free cookies at every street corner
  • One school for every student
  • Require flattering mirrors in public restrooms
  • Develop a municipal composting operation
  • Enforce existing speeding and noise ordinances
  • Upgrade existing parks
  • Create an anti-graffiti, youth outreach program
  • Free cake when it's your birthday
  • Reevaluate NAFTA
  • Rickshaw Wednesdays
  • Making it illegal to refuse a hug
  • Make downtown more people-friendly
  • Sell candy in government buildings to pay down the debt
  • Get Pawnee a licensed pharmacy
  • Better screening processes at local adoption agencies
  • Finding homes for the adopted children of Day Labor Corp.
  • Prop 6A: To Recognize All Five Food Groups
  • Replacing all glass with plastic at Pawnee Psychiatric Clinic
  • Curfew for minors at The Pawnee Mall
  • Stop paying Sweetums the so-called "thank you for being here" tax
  • Mini-golf renovations
  • Subsidizing educational and eco-friendly businesses
  • Removing Zorp from all written laws
  • Reducing Federal Government Experiments in town to 10 per year
  • Ordinance 8R: A Goat Cannot Own/Inherit a Farm
  • Legalize clapping
  • New railway
  • Prop 14: Religion Is Not a Science
  • No longer recognizing the winner of the chili cook-off as a government position
  • Stricter testing at Pawnee Blood Bank
  • Boarding up unsanctioned "drop off" slot at Pawnee Blood Bank
  • Encouraging the FDA to re-analyze our farms
  • Funding for better and safer sewage treatment
  • Thicker cement for containment of old sewage treatment factory
  • Mandatory sexual harassment seminar for government employees
  • Starting a dialogue with the people who live in the trees
  • Pay off our debt to the Ringling Bros.
  • Prove that we can safely host a circus again
  • Ordinance 43K: Laws Cannot Be Secrets
  • Recall Food N' Stuff branded hand sanitizer
  • Disseminate the fund for a Pawnee Military
  • Find the stolen cell phone tower
  • Reduce obesity by .01% (100 lbs per family)
  • Make the Pawnee Cemetery less flammable
  • Less nudity on public-access television
  • Capping the number of local public-access channels at 50
  • Eliminate permit application process for legal ownership of a calculator
  • Making Li'l Sebastian Day a legal holiday