Dec 29, 2009

Life is a Beach: Laguna Beach, S1, Ep. 3 "Fast Cars & Fast Women"

If you haven't already, head to MTV and watch "Fast Cars & Fast Women," the third episode of Laguna Beach. When you're done, come back and comment on the full recap, featured below!

Fine in 09: Movies

No new releases made my Top 5 in 09. That's because I finally took American Film last semester, and got a chance to see movies made before 1990 (besides The Godfather, The Deer Hunter, and the other classics my dad calls me into the living room to watch, no matter the time of day he discovers them on cable).

The Long Goodbye: An unconventional approach to the film noir, set against the neon hues of 1970's Los Angeles. A gorgeous movie complete with femme fatale, gangsters, topless hippies, beach parties, loads of drugs, and random acts of violence. It's also the tale of an honorable man struggling to live by a seemingly outdated code in a world that's spiraled down into free-wheeling hedonism.

McCabe and Mrs. Miller: An unconventional Western, and the second Robert Altman entry on my list; his work blew me away. A cold, wet, dirty Northwestern town gets a little action when McCabe and Mrs. Miller set up the most pleasant whorehouse in film history. Altman refuses to judge his characters, and demands you do the same. A tragic love story, as well as an artful, unpretentious examination of community living.

Dec 28, 2009

All of this has happened before.

After watching "The Attic," the latest Dollhouse episode, I've come to a few conclusions about Joss Whedon. First, he loves The Matrix. "The Attic" wins the title of Most Obvious Whedon Matrix Homage: Adelle sends Echo, Victor, and Sierra into a computer program where they meet an old man who explains the plot, while their bodies reside in creepy, shrink-wrapped, goo-filled coffins* (I know). "The Attic" not only highlighted Joss' Neo boner, however, but also awakened me to numerous plot/thematic elements that have recurred throughout his body of work.

Dec 27, 2009

Fine in 09: Music

If you regularly visit this space, you know I enjoy music as much as the next pop-culture enthusiast, but rarely write about it. I like the music on my iPod because it sounds pleasant to me, not because I can eloquently explain its importance. Thus, I give you my five favorite downloads of 2009:

"Raindrops" (Basement Jaxx)
"U.R.A. Fever" (The Kills)
"Alejandro" (Lady Gaga)
"Can You Tell" (Ra Ra Riot)
"Samson" (Regina Spektor)

According to this list, I like: alternative bands on the "yes, please" side of pop/electronic (see also: MGMT, Passion Pit, Phoenix), songs featured on Gossip Girl ("U.R.A. Fever" brilliantly characterized Serena in "All About My Brother"), Top 40 Female Solo Artists, alternative bands who use string instruments (see also: The Airborne Toxic Event), and Female Solo Artists Who Play the Piano (see also: Adele, Imogen Heap).

Of this year's entries, I have the most to say about Lady Gaga. If you've seen the "LoveGame," video you probably thought (as I did) "How original, another Madonna impersonator dressing like a cop and making out with a woman." We've seen that desperate sort of self-objectification before; it's tired. If you've seen the "Bad Romance," video, however, you probably thought (as I did) "Holy shit!" That video is a beautiful, distorted Dr. Suess story boiling over with Dark Phoenix rage. For those four minutes alone, I am glad I gave Lady Gaga a second chance.

Dec 19, 2009

The Mean Seasons.

Colin the Pig: It's time, Rose Red. The crisis is here. Now is the moment. They need you to step in and avert a tragedy.

Rose Red: And I need you to please for once shut the hell up!

Fine in 09: TV

Instead of listing my five favorite TV shows, I've listed my five favorite TV characters of the past year. Working with individual characters expands the playing field, and makes things much more interesting/fun.

April (In Treatment): It will be a shame when Alison Pill doesn't win an Emmy for her work on this show. The structure of In Treatment (each episode covers one half-hour therapy session) demands the actors do little besides talk to each other. The writers also presented Pill with a defensive, stubborn character, unwilling to tell Paul (and the audience) directly the troubling details of her life (much less her cancer diagnosis). By season's end, April stopped therapy in order to focus on her physical health (to Paul's disappointment) but her renewed will to live was a triumph worth celebrating.

Cameron (Modern Family): The funniest character of the 09-10 season, Cameron's quiet confidence allows him to hilariously comment on the insanity of his boyfriend's family ("There's a fish that carries its babies around in its mouth. That fish would take one look at Mitchel's relationship with his mother and say, 'that's messed up.'"). He loves football, clowning, Diana Ross, and debuted his adopted daughter to "The Circle of Life," but he'll also kick your ass for messing with his loved ones.

Dr. Claire Saunders (Dollhouse): Amy Acker has only appeared once during Dollhouse's second season, but she left a lasting impression. Her character (a disfigured Doll programmed to serve as the in-house physician) raised fascinating moral ambiguities regarding the Dollhouse's work. Does a programmed persona deserve the chance to live once that personality inhabits a real person? Clarie's ongoing search for self (are any of her thoughts/feelings authentic, or just part of a computer program?) made her the most compelling character on the show.

Don Draper (Mad Men): Yes, he's an asshole, a horrible husband, a cheat, has a temper, regularly ignores his children, and tends to bail on people when the going gets tough. The show works because sometimes you don't want to root for Don. When he dismisses Sal with the homophobic "you people," or yells at Peggy to relieve his own stress, we'd really like to punch him in the face. The writers aren't afraid to show us Don's dark side, making his victories (the moments he connects with his kids or recognizes his co-workers' talents, his brilliant plotting in the finale) all the more memorable. Plus, the man exhales charisma.

Rachel Barry (Glee): She's annoying, overly ambitious, self-centered, and occasionally lacks basic social graces, but don't ever forget that Rachel Barry cares. She cares about her team, even if that team includes people like Quinn (and Kurt), who spend their time making her miserable. She cares about rising above and performing to the best of her ability. Rachel isn't afraid to stand on stage and sing like the world is ending. She might "want everything too much," but that doesn't stop her from pursuing her goals with a relentless (occasionally manic) vigor.

Honorable Mentions: Peggy Olsen (Mad Men), Kurt Hummel and Quinn Fabray (Glee), and Adelle Dewitt (Dollhouse).

Dec 16, 2009

Life is a Beach: Laguna Beach, S1, Ep. 2 "The Bonfire"

If you haven't already, head to MTV and watch "The Bonfire," the second episode of Laguna Beach. When you're done, come back and comment on the full recap, featured below!

Fine in 09: Books

Below, you'll find my five favorite books of 2009 ("of 2009" meaning I read them this year; most of my recent reads were published previously). Choosing just five was painful, but I'm pleased with the final outcome.

The Corrections
(Jonanthan Franzen): "The strength of The Corrections is Franzen's ability to completely actualize all five of his chief protagonists, and weave their narratives together into a seamless tapestry . . . All five of the Lamberts are selfish, annoying assholes who make horrible decisions at the expense of their family members, yet you can't help but love them . . . It's just a really impressive thing to watch an author juggle so many people and so many plots and make it look effortless."

Lit (Mary Karr): " . . . Karr has delivered a story so brave and honest you want to call her up and thank her for it . . . This is the story of one woman's struggle to let go of her self-hatred and become a person capable of love. That she enters the narrative plagued by inner demons proves an understatement, that she emerges from it a whole person suggests a miracle."

Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro): "Reading this book is like taking your heart out of your chest, caressing it lovingly for a few hours, and then unceremoniously smashing it to pieces. On the surface, it's such a quiet, delicate thing . . . [Kathy] diverts our attention away from pressing existential matters toward smaller moments of emotional intimacy. It's only after you've finished the novel that you realize those moments pack a more forceful punch than any discussion of clones and organ donations."

The Tenderness of Wolves (Stef Penney): "Stef Penney strikes the perfect balance between intricately complex plotting and strong character work. The entire cast exists in three dimensions . . . Mrs. Ross, in particular, is a triumph. The plot (which begins as a murder mystery) grabs your attention, but the characters are the real reason for sticking around."

Unaccustomed Earth (Jhumpa Lahiri): Easily my favorite book of 2009. Lahiri describes with an uncanny ease the indescribable intricacies of everyday life. The way you feel about your parents, your lovers, your siblings - she captures those feelings with a precision that escapes the best of us. Reading this book was "like sitting quietly on a cloud" (on Christmas morning) (while wearing your favorite pair of flannel pajamas and sipping a cup of hot chocolate). I'm lucky to have read it.

Honorable Mentions: Less Than Zero (Brett Easton Ellis) and Call Me by Your Name (Andre Aciman).

Song for you.

Because Rachel Barry rules.

Dec 14, 2009

TV time.

Dollhouse "A Love Supreme": Can Alan Tudyk guest star every week? He's made Alpha into the Dollhouse version of the Joker - chaotic, unreliable, and menacing, yet also fun, dashing, and poignant. He brings an immediate sense of danger to any story. He also makes a good foil for Echo; while Alpha succumbs to his multiple personalities, Echo fights to control hers, thus maintaining a sense of autonomy. I like the idea that Echo (originally intended as a blank, Active persona) has developed into a functioning person (even if she's merely a composite of all the people she's been), and that it was Alpha who ignited her "awakening." It explains why Echo is more "special" than the other Dolls - they didn't experience a composite event, so they haven't been triggered. When Echo tells Adelle "I'm like [Alpha]" we understand her unique role in the series' mythology, and thus why we're supposed to care about her.

Glee: I loved "Sectionals" upon initial viewing, but the further I stray, the more cracks I see in the pavement. The Will/Emma final moment didn't work for me. Will hasn't done anything to deserve Emma's affection; he's still kind of a douche, and incredibly patronizing toward everyone around him (the kids, Terri etc.). It might have something to do with Matthew Morrison's acting choices, but I regularly want to punch him in the face. That explains why my Sue affection has only grown. The more she demoralizes him, the happier I am (her comment about his lesbian hair = priceless). I want her to metaphorically beat Will to a pulp, I just don't want it to happen at the kids' expense. Nothing beats Rachel performing "Don't Rain On My Parade." It's the perfect song for her because it will always rain on Rachel's parade. She admittedly wants "everything too much." People who want that badly, who try that hard, get penalized for their passion - it hurts harder when they fall, and the Glee kids are no exception. As Will says, "sometimes being special sucks," and that's a lot more compelling than two adults in their early-thirties acting out their latent Dawson Leery/Joey Potter fantasies.

To Emily Blunt.

Thanks for being the best thing about Sunshine Cleaning (a movie I wanted to like a lot more than I did). I believed in Norah more than I anyone else; you managed to make a complete person out of a character sketch. I wish they had given you a better ending (road trip of self-discovery = lame). Was Norah a lesbian? I get that no one wanted to SPELL IT OUT, but you can't let a girl eat sexy candy off your neck and then not talk about it. You did good work, but you deserve better material.


My apologies for disappearing last week. I didn't plan a hiatus, but life demanded one nonetheless. I hope you all had a pleasant weekend.

During my absence, I discovered Beccamendations a blog written by my friend Becca Marsh. I met Becca at Columbia, where her impeccable grammar helped to redeem my early attempts at copy-writing. She also loves Jacob Clifton, so you know she has good taste. Her Glee recaps (Gleecaps!) are a pure delight in which she defends Terri Shuester's life choices and Finn Hudson's dancing ability with equal vigor (go read them, I'll wait). I particularly enjoyed her analysis of the Shuester marriage:

"He's not the man he thought he would be, and that's why he's here. He never left town, never became a star, never had an audience worth bragging about. He never got that special thing that everyone coveted – unless you count Terri. She's still the head cheerleader in his mind, beautiful, pristine, forever young. She's the high school triumph he managed to hold on to, but a trophy by any other name is still a trophy . . . This marriage works because he doesn't feel good about himself."

Dec 5, 2009

Life is a Beach: Laguna Beach, S1, Ep. 1 "A Black & White Affair"

If you haven't already, get yourself to MTV and watch "A Black & White Affair," the first episode of Laguna Beach. When you're done, come back and comment on the full recap, featured below!

Dec 4, 2009

TV time.

The City: Is anything more awesome than a fleet of synchronized town cars dispensing brightly-clad, bossy fashion ladies like a platoon of real-life Miranda Priestlys? I also loved Erin's refusal to leave Olivia and Joe Zee alone on-camera; she was busting into their scenes like a tornado ravaging a small mid-western town. A good episode, but not a great finale. It lacked any sense of closure, and the cliffhangers didn't work (we already know Whitney debuted a collection at fashion week, and who cares if Olivia leaves Elle?). Kelly Cutrone line of the night: "You really want to stand there like Lucy and Ethel in some kind of bad Stephen King film?" I don't even know what that means. Also: does Roxie own a shirt that covers her bra? She must have the most revealing professional wardrobe in existence.

Glee: I'm relieved to have the pregnancy conspiracy revealed, but Will and Terri's confrontation demanded a complete shift in style and tone. A well-played scene, but I like to feel happy at the end of a Glee episode, not depressed. That's probably an immature response ("it's different, so I don't like it"), but it's hard to feel good about an episode that also revealed the depths of Rachel's insecurity and mania. That girl lives on the edge of completely batshit crazy, and I'm not sure how I feel about that. I did love Quinn blackmailing Sue, and Sue's reluctant admiration of it.

The Hills: Kristin and Justin's "first appearence" at the reunion special was a joke. Kristin couldn't have looked more uncomfortable; she refused to look at Justin, or answer any questions about their "relationship." Dear producers: Kristin Cavallari rocks. Stop feeding her premeditated storylines, and let her do her thing. Her "thing" includes being massively appealing and a natural source of entertainment. The reunion proved an utter waste of time (besides Holly admitting that she still likes to get wasted). If Heidi and Spencer aren't going to show up, at least don't make every other castmember talk about whether or not they'd make good parents.

Song for you.

Also: the latest piece of Lady Gaga perfection.


Yesterday, the New York Times named Mary Karr's Lit one of the 10 Best Books of 2009! Seeing as I work for her publisher, and recently finished the book, this was an especially exciting announcement.

While perusing the reviews for this year's list, I also stumbled upon Jonathan Lethem's piece on Lorrie Moore's A Gate at the Stairs. I haven't read much of either author, but this quote perfectly expresses my own frustration with most September 11 fiction:

"The book is also set in the autumn of 2001, a fact Moore has the patience to barely deploy for 200 pages, and then only with a deft sleight of hand that will make readers reflect on the ways so many other treatments of this (unfinished) passage in American life have resembled heart surgery performed with a croquet mallet."

Well said, Mr. Lethem.

Dec 1, 2009

It's a long December.

(We'll get to these crazy kids in a minute)

Hi! Welcome to December at (Title Pending). It's been a while since I've done a status report, and I have some exciting plans in the works for this lovely, little space, so today I'm taking a break from regularly scheduled programming to address some of the changes you'll soon encounter.

In the sidebar, you'll discover my December playlist. Every month, I'll post a new playlist, composed of fourteen songs arranged in a specific order I find pleasing. This month, I journey back a year to bring you the sweet sounds of Leona Lewis, and the early efforts of Lady Gaga. These fourteen songs represent my favorite downloads of 2008; highlights include "Sometime Around Midnight" and "Time to Pretend."

Over Thanksgiving, Colleen asked me what was up with the posts comprised of quotes from comics/books ("Are they about your feelings or something?"). The quote posts do not have anything to do with my feelings, they're simply quotes I like from things I've read. I find that format works well with comics, since I can include a juxtaposing image. The X-Men posts have been an homage to Grant Morrison's New X-Men, while the Fables posts feature a highlight from the most recent issue.

Join the party: if you're a regular reader (thanks!), leave a comment. I'd like to get a sense of the readership: who are you, what features do you like/dislike? Are there shows I should be watching, books I should be reading? I'm totally down for constructive criticism.

NEW FEATURE: You guys, I'm so excited about this. The City and The Hills wrap tonight, and Glee goes on hiatus in a few weeks, meaning my TV roster is about to drop down to Modern Family and the remainder of Dollhouse. Instead of scouring my cable box for shiny, new offerings, however, I've found something better. Effective this Saturday, join me for a new, weekly feature: Life Is a Beach. That's right, I'm going to recap Laguna Beach Season One. I can't wait! Just look at Lo's hair in the above photograph. I can't think of a better way to brighten a New York winter.

Whether you're a new reader, or an old reader, get ready for more books, movies, comics, music, and MTV It Girls at (Title Pending). I had a blast writing the first 70 posts, here's to the next 70 (or 700). I hope you'll join me.