Friday, November 30, 2007

English Aphrodisiacs

'Tis the season for all sorts of indulgences. I love the holidays because even though you still have to go through the daily grind, there's some latitude that's ascribed to "good cheer" that's somewhat akin to being on vacation. Meaning, you can get away with all kinds of shit. For example, in December, you can pretty much drink freely during the day and it's not frowned upon. As long as you don't slosh your martini around and slur your words and don't call it drinking. You have to frame the whole enterprise in seasonal traditions and couch it in fancy language. For example, pop a mini candy cane in your cocktail, put on a mistletoe hat and say you're "enjoying libations!" If you bother with that, then it's not considered sick or problematic, it's considered festive.

Also among these indulgences is repeated viewing of otherwise cloying holiday movies. So over the next few weeks, I'm gonna tell you about some of my favorites. As you can guess, I love movies. I go to the movies once a week. And really, it's not that hard to please me, I think perhaps because I have a strong duality in my taste. Which is to say I'm one of those gross cliches who's outwardly, unforgivably hardassed and crass while inside I'm a sap-loving hopeless romantic with a penchant for the sentimental. What that means is that I'm just as happy watching Goodfellas as Moonstruck.

So, today, in a stunning display of candor and poor taste that's also revealing my romanticism, I wanna tell you about the mother-lode of misty-eyed holiday schmaltz, Love Actually.

This is the directorial debut from the undisputed king of British rom-com and Hugh Grant's top pimp, Richard Curtis. This movie even had the welly to tag itself as the "ultimate romantic comedy." And that's not for nothing. It features nine interconnected romances that blossom during the holiday season, and it boasts a cast that perhaps only the Ocean's franchise can rival.

When I first saw this flick, in the theatre, I hated it. It came off as contrived and cluttered instead of clever and charming. Mostly, it was just too fucking long. Rom-coms have a certain cadence, and by stuffing so much into this one, it ran over two hours. There were highlights, namely Bill Nighy's every second onscreen. But as a whole, it felt disjointed and heavy-handed, and I felt manipulated.

It was precisely because of Bill Nighy's delightfully roguish performance that I bothered to flick this on again when it replayed on cable. And when I did, from the comfort of my own home, I watched a completely different movie and this time was delighted by it.

This isn't exactly unusual -- to have different reactions to a movie based on the venue. Though I love the movie theater, I prefer the flicks to be big and loud and perhaps even bloody when they're on the big screen. Or, if they're smaller, intimate movies, I like them shorter. Also, I suspect, when I'm in public, I throw up my defenses and I'm simply not as susceptible to charm. But at home, I can wallow in my own disgusting marshmallow core without as much shame. Also, at home, I can fix one (or four) of those candy-cane infused cocktails (vodka and peppermint schnapps with a splash of Godiva liqueur work really well) to really settle in and feel comfortable with longer run times.

Whatever the reason, at home, though this movie is still completely over-the-top and masterfully manipulative, I absolutely love it. Nighy is still the perfect infusion of hilarity in the mix, but the more subtle good-natured humor of the rest of the cast blossomed for me. Hugh Grant always has been a charming cad, but here he's such a stand-up good guy that I guess it took a second viewing to see his mischief bubble to the surface in his scenes with the adorable Martine McCutcheon. Colin Firth? Please. Don't even make me try to enumerate the ways he can woo.

Emma Thompson has a scene that could break your heart, and Laura Linney simply is the long-suffering girl with the hopeless crush who nearly bursts with joy when she gets somewhere. Rodrigo Santoro shirtless. And pantsless. (BTW, check him out in 300 where he wears gold body paint, lots of heavy metal jewelry and not much else.) Keira Knightley, fuck her spindly ass, you know? But that's the beauty of the movie. Where it all seemed to go too fast the first time, it just means she's off the screen just as quickly the next time around so you can get back to Alan Richman's hand-wringing over a tedious, clandestine department store purchase.

Also, though it's a recipe flick, it has dashes of flavor you have to savor. What other movie can show you little kids dancing gleefully to "Good King Wenceslas" and pull it off? Mix in the stunt casting of Billy Bob as the American President, played with sharp, smarmy perfection in just his brief interlude. Toss in the bitter, sad acknowledgment that not all Christmas wishes or romances come true, and you only heighten the sweet happiness for the lovers who get their shit together. It's a multitude of these little touches -- which most movies miss, but the extra running time in LA allows for -- that take this flick from an English trifle and transform it into a holiday treat.

In a lot of ways, this movie really is like Christmas. There's nothing really new here. We've seen all the main scenes and tactics before, from desperate, romantic chases to the swelling music. But it's so old it's kind of traditional, and yet it's all glossed up with a modern twist and wit. And there's so much good cheer flowing through it all and some really endearing quips so that it ends up looking tinsel bright.

And yeah, it's still manipulative. But it's like those candy-cane cocktails. You know what's in them -- all that sugar and syrupy liquor mixing together -- so you know why they're giving you that fuzzy feeling. You also know that if you have too many, you'll make yourself really fucking sick. But those cocktails and Love Actually are just so good going down. And 'tis the season, right? Might as well indulge.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Checkered Flags and Mirror Ball Trophies

So Helio Castroneves vrooms off with the trophy for this season of Dancing.

I am mad about Maks and kinda dug Mel B's dancing and style, and if nothing else, Maks did walk off with the best line of the season. Mel leaned her head on his shoulder and sighed, "God." And Maks said, "Just call me Maks." Yeah, I guess if you don't find him as hot as I do, the line doesn't work. But he wears his ego well.

Despite Maks's cocky adorableness, I don't mind Helio winning. I mean, he charmed my socks off the first few weeks. I did feel he became a bit of a caricature by trying so hard to be so happy and smiley, but he worked hard, wanted it, and was a good dancer. More he importantly, survived the most outlandishly awful costuming for a male on this show ever. Also, did you know that he is a race car driver?

There was no fence for Indy's Spiderman to climb, but he was awarded milk and the coveted mirror ball trophy.

Though Monday night blew chunks -- with the exception of Marie's so-bad-it-was-great stumbling, sex-doll send-up disaster -- as a whole, this season was alright. I leave it still wanting a personal, mini-Bruno to cheer me on and compare me to old movies. "Weeell, Soozahn, you remind me of Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve."

There were fainting Mormons and bitchy Brits (Len, not Jane). They reportedly used over 14 gallons of spray tan. (that number seems low) I couldn't even begin to estimate how many sequins this show blew through. Last night, Drew almost dropped his trousers for us, that was nice of him. So as long as Maks comes back and shows some skin -- though not quite as much as Edyta -- I'll be watching again when they trot out their tangos and get cheeky with the cha cha cha. Until then, it's time to tuck away the bedazzler and rhinestones, let our skin fade out, stop pretending to salsa across the living room and let Helio enjoy the drive as king of the (dubiously) celebrity ballroom.

Author Emma Wildes

Readers, today I’d like to introduce you to best-selling author Emma Wildes. Accomplished in erotica, suspense, historical, and regency, Emma is the queen of the books at Fictionwise, where she reigns as the #1 bestselling author. (Yes, that does mean that she outsells Dan Brown and Nora Roberts.)

From steamy hot to supremely detailed history, Emma knows how to please readers. She’s with several houses, including Siren and Phaze, and her backlist is formidable. For a naughty taste in short bites, Phaze has recently released three of her novellas in one package, Secret Sins.

Not just a talented writer, Emma is also a charming and sweet person, and she was kind enough to take some time for an interview with me. So meet Emma Wildes.

1) Who are some of your favorite writers, and how do you think they've influenced you?

I love Mary Stewart, Dick Francis, John Sanford, John Dickson Carr, and Kimberley Cates…plus a million others. Just love to read. Mary Stewart taught me every word needs to count. Dick Francis that it doesn’t have to be whodunit, John Sanford has suspense nailed to the floor…etc.
They are all great writers and I have many more I love.

2) I love that you're into the historical romance or "regency" romance genre. Where did you initially get your inspiration for diving into those different settings? Is it the customs or "manners" that attract you most, or the culture, or something else?

I have really always enjoyed historical. I am not sure why, maybe the escapism aspect of it. That said, part of the joy of writing erotic Regency is the characters are very polite everywhere else, but not in the bedroom Never there.

3) Your books are loaded with details of the times. Does working in the historical genre require a lot of research for each novel? Or have you now built a good knowledge base so that you can write with such detail and get it correct?

Oh my goodness, ask me anything about Wellington’s Campaign during the Napoleonic wars. Sitting next to my desk are books on the Iberian Peninsula, Bonaparte himself…etc. Want to talk about the battle at Badajoz? I’m all about it…Talavera? Ciudad Rodrigo? Well, you get my drift…

4) You kind of turn the notion of "regency" romance on its head by making it erotic. Was that an intention, or just happy coincidence?

I know…how odd! I didn’t really set out to write Regency erotic, it just happened. I’ve also written three Scottish historical novels (also set during turbulent political times), but when people think Regency, they think polite. When I hear it, I think about the impact that war had on the English people (not to mention Spain, Portugal, Austria, and of course, France). It was a very influential force on English culture. So, to answer the question, I think coincidence applies.

5) When did you first get the feeling not that you wanted to write, but that you could be so successful at it? What are you working on now?

I used to rewrite endings of books, even when I was about ten, changing them to what I would do in my head. Might have been a sign…

Then I got that lovely call from an editor a few years ago, who said she loved my book. But honestly, I think I would write anyway, success or not. I just love doing it. The stories call…all authors say this and there is reason for that, it is because it is true. A recent example…well, my book, The Letter, from Siren Publishing. I can’t believe it has sold so well because it breaks all the rules, but see, I didn’t know that when I wrote it (Regency, the characters are already married when the book starts…oh my, could you make more mistakes?) It really wouldn’t matter to me because I love the story and it was so fun to tell it.

What am I working on now? A suspense/erotic set in southern Tennessee that an NY agent is interested in called Dead in the Water. Yes, I also write erotic suspense as Kate Watterson. Just this morning I finished a book for Samhain Publishing called Lawless, which is a western.

6) Stock question: Dinner with anyone, dead or alive. Who is it?

Zane Grey

7) Stock question 2: One book, one CD, one DVD. What are they?

The Crystal Cave, Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, and A Few Good Men. How could I live without those three?

8) Other than fiction writing, what's the biggest lie you ever told?

Whoof…I told my parents I was going to a friend’s house to spend the night and instead we went camping in the mountains of New Mexico (so stupid, no one knew where we were, teenaged girls…good grief). If you want a really good laugh, a chipmunk (not making this up) ate through our Styrofoam cooler and devoured our food. We were hungry. I think I decided not to lie much after that. Years later (married, children at the table) I mentioned it because something came up in conversation, and my father was still shocked and upset.

I was like…thirty. It made me decide I don’t want to know everything my children do as long as they live through it

9)Suppose you can't have both: Would you rather have respect from your peers and critical acclaim (but not making cash from writing), or would you rather be a bestselling author with the fat coin?

Oh man…that’s a hard one. You don’t pull punches.

Okay…here’s the thing. My books that have the highest reviews and ratings, actually don’t necessarily sell the best. I have decided I can’t figure out the formula for what is going to sell. So I am going to sidestep your question in a way by saying I want to write the books I enjoy writing. I don’t think of any book as a career decision, and maybe that is best. For instance: write the book with the married characters (how many romances start out that way?) and tell their story, go ahead. Do I want great reviews and high sales, well, of course.

Would I sell my soul for them? No. Never.

I’ve loved being here! Thanks, Susan.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Make a Scene by Jordan E. Rosenfeld

Over the weekend, I got my copy of Jordan E. Rosenfeld's Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time.

I've already read through it, and was amazed with -- and thankful for -- the great content. I wish I had this book before I wrote my meandering first novel, as it would have been vastly improved. What Jordan does is comprehensive. She deconstructs all the elements that go into crafting a scene and explaining them and variations on what does and doesn't work to hook a reader. Chapter by chapter, she covers dialogue, action, subtext, tone, setting, voice and plenty more. She offers practical suggestions for a vast array of different types of scenes (dramatic, suspense, ect.) and highlights each chapter with examples from a vast array of novels.

To say I was impressed with the book and learned a lot from it is kind of like saying that Marie Osmond didn't dance very well last night. I highly recommend this book to all kinds of writers, no matter their experience level. You can visit Jordan at her blog to learn more about her and her other projects. Today, Jordan was generous enough to answer a few questions for me about the book and her writing future.

1) What gave you the initial idea for "Make a Scene"?

Well, honestly I'd been editing manuscripts for a service--lots of "first" novels, and even some second or thirds (and I am a novelist myself, albeit unpublished). I found that new writers were making the same essential round of mistakes over and over again to the point that many of them actually sounded as if they'd written the same book. It took me a while to pinpoint what it was they were missing (and yes, I looked back to my own fiction to investigate). When I realized it was a kind of essential misunderstanding of what a scene is, the idea was pretty much born instantly.

2) There's so much that goes into making each scene a success for the reader, such as pacing, plot, characterization, setting, tone, action, dialogue, not melodramaing out, and opening and closing. You give great examples throughout the book while explaining how to keep the reader hooked by using these devices. Was the deconstruction of these foundational elements more difficult, or was it tougher to come up with such easily understood explanations?

I've learned something about myself in the process of writing this book--I am very good at breaking down concepts of writing. BUT....I'm better at the deconstruction of writing than I am at actual writing. It's just as much work for me to go over my own scenes in my novels, to figure out what's missing or what needs to go. So In some ways getting to these foundational elements was utterly simple because my brain deconstructs really well, and at other times I would find myself feeling trapped in an M.C. Escher painting thinking "What am I actually saying here??" But I got to re-read a lot of my favorite books with a sharp eye, so that was fun.

3) Did all the research and deconstructing and writing about the techniques help make you more aware, so that when you write fiction, you can put the tools to use more quickly and easily?

Yes. Sickeningly so. I was concomitantly writing a novel (still am) and would often do the verbal equivalent of slapping myself when I found myself making the very mistakes I was cautioning my audience about! But that's the hypocrisy of writing anything how-to. Nobody is perfect, you learn as you go. I still feel that people should learn to write by just reading and writing, and then, when they've labored at it for a while, start reading books and taking classes and getting MFAs or whatever appeals.

4) You're now experienced in fiction, nonfiction, interviews, and freelance work. Have you found that you enjoy one niche more than another, or do they all sort of feed into each other and help you grow as a writer?

Honestly fiction and non-fiction take up two almost completely different parts of my brain. Fiction for me is like entering a trance or a dream (albeit the kind where you're running as fast as you can and still can't get anywhere). Non-fiction is very puzzle-like, or maybe Tetris-like. Shifting info around to support and illustrate ideas. I actually really thrive on the freelance work I do--which is mostly article writing and a lot of manuscript editing. I think it does all feed into a larger aspect of itself, some kind of uber-writing center in my brain, but I couldn't tell you exactly how non-fiction has helped my fiction and vice versa only that writing is a muscle and the more you feel the burn, the better shape it stays in.

5) What are you working on now?

Technically I am still writing this crazy pseudo-supernatural novel, but I've taken a wee break from it, so I'm really just working on individual projects. I'm ghostwriting a novel for a man--he's already written it, I'm just helping him revise it. I've got a handful of articles on my plate, and as always I'm working on the Write Free Newsletter with my partner in crime there, Rebecca Lawton. Our first book together: Write Free: Attracting the Creative Life is due out at the first of the year, so we're gearing up to promote that, too.

6) Stock question: Dinner with anyone, dead or alive. Who is it?

I think it would be Einstein. I am really into physics and I'll bet picking his brain was an unforgettable experience.

7) Stock question 2: One book, one CD, one DVD. What are they?

I'll be honest, this answer would change if you asked me in six months. Right now, book: Raw Shark Texts by Stephen Hall because I could read that over and over and still get something new. CD: Regina Spektor's greatest hits. DVD: The final episode of HBO's Six Feet Under :)

8)Suppose you can't have both: Would you rather have respect from your peers and critical acclaim (but not making cash from writing), or would you rather be a bestselling author with the fat coin?

This is a great question because I find myself somewhere in between. I want to be the kind of person who wants respect and critical acclaim--but sometime after I graduated with my MFA I realized that that didn't matter to me in quite the same way as I had once thought. I mean, I don't want to be thought of by one of those unfair terms like "sell out" but I think all of us writers would like to make a living at the thing we love most. At this point I think I'd just settle for a published novel that sells out its print run and doesn't drop off the radar in 30 days. Was that a cop out?

No, Jordan. That wasn't a cop out. That's a great answer, and Make a Scene is a great tool for both novice and accomplished writers.

Dancing with Doakes

I thought Dexter hit the zenith in shock value when I saw Keith Carradine's ass Sunday night. I really did. Especially because it wasn't a brief flash. It was a prolonged scene of cheeky, middle-aged gluteus shown to the maximus. But no. Even though I knew the Dexter-Doakes showdown was imminent, I was, for some reason, stunned when Doakes showed up and caught Dex red-handed. And by red-handed, of course I mean with a bloody hand of a recent victim that he was working on disposing of.

This show is just too fucking good. The best? Ray Charles would've seen some of these plot twists coming, but I thought they'd be season ending highlights. But oh no! It's all out there, baby, and yet there are still three episodes left, so now I really don't know how it's all going to unfold. Well done writers. Well done. (Though I'm putting money on Deb learning some ugly family secrets and sticking by her brother's side.)

Speaking of televised mutilations, last night was the finale to Dancing, which was the most awkward display on a dance floor since Britney stormed the stage for the VMAs. You thought last week's Naval-outfitted Riverdancing spectacle was odd? At least it wasn't what happened this week. What the fuck happened to Mel & Maks? Look, I love Maks, but clearly choreographing freestyle isn't his cup of tea. It just didn't make any sense. It was like Wade Robson on Ritalin: vaguely odd, not very charming, slower than expected, and somewhat disjointed. And then, after I'd grown to adore Mel, she nearly breaks Maks's back and then walks away and leaves him squirming in pain on the floor! What the fuck? Help him up, Scary Spice! Her pal Posh was in attendance, but the dance just wasn't major.

Marie? She's grown insufferable, huh? Laughing at her own jokes, backtalking the judges, pushing her dolls. Even Tom Bergeron had to politely tell her to stuff it a couple of times last night and shove her backstage. And her dance? At least Marie's dance was entertaining -- because it was so fucking awful! Bruno said it best. It was like Baby Jane meets Bride of Chucky.

(Oh, how I still long for a pocket-Bruno to take with me everywhere.) Marie even completed the fucking disaster by falling on her face.

I don't know who Helio pissed off in the wardrobe department, but he's looked foolish in his costumes since week three, and tonight was the darling tree-topper of gangly-grotesque fashion. They sprayed one of his racing firesuits down with glitter and I think even Liberace would've said, "Now that's overkill."

One guy, ONE guy got away with a glitter suit on this show, and Helio is most definitely not the FatOne. In his first couple weeks, Helio was so charming and so damn good, and he's gotten consistently worse as the weeks went by and as his smile tightened. And then there's Julianne, demonstrably and repeatedly insisting after their dance, "Now that's a freestyle!" No Julianne. This is a freestyle.

There's one more round tonight, complete with Celine to sing her famous Titanic song, probably while Sabrina and Mark crash around the floor one last time. But the votes are in and the damage is done. Just like Doakes sneaking up on Dexter, we've now seen the carnage and we won't ever be quite the same.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Every Rose Has Its...

There's really nothing much left to say about Dancing. So I'll state the obvious. Maks is hot. I'm now grateful to Russia and Ukraine for two things. Vodka and Maksim Chmerkovskiy. And I'm glad he's finally got a partner he can win with. He's been excellent at showcasing Mel's strengths and his choreography puts her in the spotlight. Also, they're smokin' together.

I'm afraid it's probably time to rev up Donna Summer's "Last Dance" for Jennie Garth. But if nothing else, she does take the award for handling the most criticism with the most class. Even Marie got a little lippy last night. When Bruno gently told her that she'd missed a few steps, the look crossed her face and she tilted her head and said, "Did I?" It was just the briefest flash of petulance, but it was there. Whereas Jennie never had that sort of reaction, even when she was getting scolded by Bruno, complete with him pounding his fists on the desk and telling her she wasn't bringing enough star quality. So, at least last night they gave her perfect scores for her charming cha cha and Bruno told her she brought it. That's called a gentle kiss off.

Speaking of gentle kiss offs, let's talk about The Bachelor for a moment!

Yes, yes, it's a hideous and exploitative show, pretty much emotional pornography they way it preys on these women. And yet, the women sign up for it. It blows my fucking mind. And this year's bachelor? Brad? I knew it from the first episode. Knew it, I tell you. I knew it because I liked him. And I never like these phony fucks on this show. But this year they picked a guy who owns a bar and laughed at some of the women. I know, it doesn't look good on paper when I describe it there. But what I was seeing was a kindred spirit to myself. In other words -- I was seeing another emotionally remote asshole with commitment issues.

Sure enough, last night, bachelor Brad chose no one. He sent both of the final two girls home and said goodbye.

Honestly? That alone doesn't make him a douche in my eyes. Clearly, this guy was on the show to promote his bar, suck up attention, and bang as many hot yet emotionally questionable chicks as possible. Of course I wouldn't have a problem with that. My goals are pretty much to promote my shit, suck up vodka, and nail as many hot men as possible.

The thing with Brad is that he paid lip service to "the process" and said he hoped to find a wife. Lie. LIE. Now, I can forgive him for telling that lie to producers and in his confessionals, because there really wouldn't be a show without him saying that. However, if I saw through his facade right from the start, I know the producers did, too. I'm sure they salivated like Pavlov's dog when they found this guy, because they knew how it would all turn out. There is no fucking way that the casting agents and producers on this show couldn't recognize this guy for what he is -- a player. A player with a rather dull and somewhat gentle edge, sure. But still a total pussyhound with no intention of settling down. They saw their chance to shake things up on the show and they jumped on it.

And then they found 25 clueless, masochistic women to exploit over it. And I watched it! Ray Charles would've seen this one unfolding. And yet the women did the obligatory tears and hit all the buzzwords about "connections" and "fairy tales" and ya-ya.

To his credit, Brad never did lie to them and tell them he loved them. He gently discouraged some of them, repeating the "just friends" line until it was nauseating to see the chicks not get it. And I do have to assume that the producers insist that he never tells the women straight up that it's just not gonna happen. Because, that would leach most of the "suspense" out of the show. And that is the underlying hook of the show -- suspense, not romance.

So the majority of guilt should be laid at ABC's feet, because they orchestrated the whole thing. And, frankly, as you can guess, I have a difficult time sympathizing too much with women who sign up to do this. They're happy to emotionally prostitute themselves, spouting cliches that it's worth it for true love.

And, again, some credit to bang-'em-all Brad, because for the most part, when he sensed a girl was getting too clingy, he'd axe her instead of dragging her along to increase her hopes. But it doesn't really matter, because rejection, at any stage of the game, still stings, and therefore still makes for sadistic, watchable television for a lot of people.

It was obvious by his final choices that thought he was minimizing the damage. There was the one with the perpetually sunny disposition and the "independent" one (read, bitch.) He probably figured that the happy one would shake it off and still be happy, and that the hard one wouldn't be so wounded. But here's the thing. They're chicks in their twenties. I don't give a flying fuck what girls at that age spout off about being strong or independent or whatever. Sure, there are some out there like that. But by and large, for the most part, they will fall into the fairy tale traps and they do want to be the chosen one and they do want to feel special and loved.

So Brad does end up being kind of douchey about the whole thing. Because he may not have said leading things to them, and in his mind he tried to minimize the collateral damage, but he sure as shit didn't stop them from professing their love for him -- on camera -- and then lapping it up. Again, granted, I'm sure the producers are there backstage coaching and egging the girls on, encouraging and convincing them to be open and honest and serving up leading questions to embolden them to indulge their emotions.

But Brad, see, he kinda liked it. I can't stand those kinds of fuckers. They're emotional vampires is what they are. Because that's a strong, non-verbal form of encouragement. If you're emotionally remote, or simply off the market but not a complete jackass, you don't pull someone closer as they confess their love and tell them you care deeply about them. You back the fuck off! THAT'S a non-verbal clue telling THEM to back off. But Brad was clearly loving being loved. He was just so damn comfortable and self-satisfied with these women fawning over him.

Though it was a little funny to see him freak out when he was actually considering doing the storybook thing and giving a ring to someone. He actually physically choked on the thought of it! He choked and couldn't breathe and had to step down and walk it off and then had to eventually tell the truth and dump the girl. For this act, I actually give him credit. This somewhat de-douches him. He could've dragged it along and then had the break-up after the show like everyone else does.

But then comes the most telling moment. When the girls try to back away from him and hide their tears and escape, he won't let them. He. Won't. Let. Them. Instead, he insists on telling them how much he cares about them. And the one girl, she gives him exactly what he wants to hear. She tells him it's all okay and she still thinks he's great. You know why he wanted that? Because Brad really doesn't want to be the villain in this scenario.

But here's the thing -- he would be less of a villain if he'd just reject the girl and let her have her self-pity and a little rage for feeling strung-along. If he'd just man up and deal with that, okay. But no. He still wants them "open" to him and to listen to him spew shit about how he cares about them. He still wants to be the gentleman and good guy. He literally won't let the one wiggle away until she hugs him and he gets a little cross and disappointed with her!

So now, with those manipulative, self-serving actions, he does become the asshole.

ABC zoomed in on the final rose, laying there, like it was forlorn and wasted. That's the beauty of roses. Lurking beneath the lovely soft petals, you're eventually going to get a prick.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Darlings & Dexter

Dexter sure has himself in a pickle these days, doesn't he? He broke up with his (admittedly annoying) girlfriend and started sleeping with a supernova smokin' psycho who got him all tangled up about his serial killer impulses. While he was off laying the luscious limey, Lundy and his task force started closing the circle around the Bay Harbor Butcher.

Dexter's smart, alright. But in his efforts to be proactive and outwit the feeb, he's coming close to undoing himself, as the feeb was able to see through his manifesto and detect the fine hand of law enforcement personnel. And Dex's sister Deb has discovered that the Butcher is definitely a cop or cop affiliated. Worse, Lundy has started screwing Dex's butterface sister!

Egads! Deb's daddy issues are raging to the surface as she dumps a guy who was so hot and perfect that I think Rosie O'Donnell would've dated him. But I give episode writer Scott Buck credit for playing it for laughs. I was pretty skeeved out by Deb and Lundy having dinner at his place, but by the time he warned her that she wasn't too old to be smacked, Keith Carradine had won me over. And then, when he actually smacked her ass, I figured Deb oughta break a piece of that off.

Meanwhile Dexter was off getting his murder on and Doakes broke into his air conditioner and discovered Dexter's stash of blood samples. Considering the series is titled "Dexter" and not "Doakes," I have a gruesome feeling that Doakes better enjoy his pyrrhic victory while it lasts. I don't think it's an accident that Doakes mentioned that his father was a butcher. Um, foreshadow just a bit heavily, writing team?

It all makes me realize that I really do love soap operas. As long as the soap is about twisted serial killers. Or, as evidenced by Dirty Sexy Money, you don't need a serial killer if you're willing to embrace your soapy heritage and can dabble simultaneously in camp and cuteness, with just enough cloak-and-dagger cutthroat business tossed in.

Do I know what the fuck is going on with Blair Underwood on the show? Is he a good guy, is he a bad guy? How about Donald Sutherland's Tripp Darling? Murderer? Or concerned family friend? I don't know! I don't care! None of it bothers me. I just like watching Karen screw Eddie Cibrian and then marry someone else and then demand a divorce and then tell Nick that she loves him. And I like to coo and worry about little Gustav. And whatever monkey wrenches they throw in there to keep the Big Plot rolling is fine with me. But oh, how sad I'll be if the writers strike continues and I won't ever know which Darling isn't a Darling but is really Nick's half-sibling. Also, I'm gonna miss seeing Peter Krause grow out those mutton chops he's working on these days.

Now if only someone would cast Lauren Ambrose in a deliciously addictive show, it'd feel like a full resurrection for the Six Feet Under cast.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"I don't understand what's happening!"

Well, I don't really know what to say about Dancing anymore. Last week was obviously the highlight of the season, with Kenny Mayne donning eyeliner and a robust tan to host an installment of "Dancecenter" that summed things up perfectly. In addition to that, Maks was the one who gave us backstage spice by flaunting skin.

Clearly, he and Mel have all but waltzed away with the trophy this year, and I don't have a problem with that. I do have a slight problem with Carrie Ann being relentlessly picky and bitchy to the women, and I have serious trouble believing that the marriage between Jonathan Roberts and Anna T. is for anything other than a green card. But just when I thought the show couldn't possibly get any gayer, on prances Richard Simmons to rouse Jennie Garth out of her supposed low self-esteem issues. It really was terrific.

But I also wonder if Jennie would have these self esteem issues if the judges wouldn't consistently underscore her and then, as Bruno said, "have a go at her." His complaint? She looks like Veronica Lake (or does she look like Kim Bassinger looking like Veronica Lake?) and she dances well but she's just not dazzling enough.

Come on. They let Helio come out in a banana suit and nearly send his partner ass-over-tin-cups and Cameron just keeps blabbing about his tough schedule and he lumbers around like Treebeard and they all just swallow it, while Carrie Ann criticizes Jennie for her chin. I shit you not. Her CHIN. It's too pointy or she leads with it or tucks it in or some other shit that ludicrous. And then they berate her for feeling inferior.

Though, it's a pity for Cameron that Edyta's been wearing so many sequins these days, because I think his time is running out with audience interest.

Doesn't matter. The rest will dance on, and with the writers' strike in full swing I'm sure abc is out there wooing their next batch of H-listers already to fill the programming gap. And as long as Maks and Edyta keep stripping it down and tanning it up, I'll be watching. Can we just PLEASE get insipid Samantha Harris off this show somehow?

As for Dancing alumnus Vivica Fox -- whooo! She helped Larry David close his season -- and possibly the series -- of Curb Your Enthusiasm with a bang. This season, Larry had to hilariously cope as a single man after his long-suffering wife Cheryl left him. (the season was plotted and filmed before life imitated the show and LD's wife left him) But his struggles came to an end when he settled in with feisty Lorretta (Vivica) in the last minutes of the season. And finally someone sent uber-screamer Susie into silence when Loretta shouted her down. The look on Susie Essman's face when Viv/Loretta jumped her shit was priceless.

But, is HBO having a laugh? Are they serious about the series finale of Extras? I saw a promo with Ricky Gervais telling us to tune in for the holiday special series finale of the show. What the fuck? When all the writers go on strike and we're shit out of luck for scripted television, the "unscripted" Curb and BBC imported Extras also give a swan song. What shit.

I understand the writers's stance and I'm okay with it. But just to twist the knife, 30 Rock and the glorious, gorgeous Tina Fey are giving us near perfection on screen. It's a perfect match with The Office, which has become a bit uneven this year. Because, for all purposes, 30 Rock really isn't a show about a TV show. It's a show about an office. The fact that the office is in a TV studio is generally secondary. But what's primary about this show is how it careens along a zany path from cutting edge witty to slapstick silly in a matter of minutes and yet never strays off course.

And, if you're not watching it, you're missing Alec Baldwin. I'm sure you've read it in other places, from other sources, but it really is true. He IS the funniest guy on television. He can deliver deadpan lines like "I'll be at home listening to Schubert and, ironically, viewing Canadian pornography," and then turn around and try to bitch-slap David Schwimmer. Just as when he'd host SNL, it seems like nothing is out of bounds for him. Whether he's channeling Redd Foxx or looking like this:

Alec and Jack McBrayer are consistently stealing this show with their performances, but Tina's fine hand and hilarious sensibilities give them great material. I mean, Pop Tarts as a sex toy? Blerg, Lemon, Blerg! Low ratings, the fucking strike to throw it off-stride, it's all balls. But hey, look on the bright side! Maybe people will use the impending scripted black-out to catch up with past episodes for free online! It's for promotion, after all. You only have to sit through some streaming commercials between each segment, just like on TV.

So keep your chin up, Tina. Er, at least as long as Carrie Ann isn't judging you, that is.

Friday, November 09, 2007

He's no hero, that's understood

I had the pleasure of going to a Springsteen show as he and the E Street Band are touring to support their new release, Magic. It was, I'm told -- and I believe, particularly rockin' on a tour where the band has been playing very well in general.

The last time I caught a Springsteen & E Street Band concert was back in 2000, when he and the Band played Vegas for the first time and pulled out all the stops, with Bruce coming out in a sequined cape, opening and closing the show with "Viva Las Vegas," tossing in nearly every gambling-themed song he'd ever penned, serenading us with Elvis's "Can't Help Falling in Love," and nearly exploding the MGM Grand with a "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" tour-de-force celebration of rock-n-roll that was, in a word, transcendent.

That was a different time, a different tour. On that tour, it was --- even by Vegas standards -- a rollicking good time of screaming, shouting, writhing, and unabashed joy.

This time, the hard-rockin', heart-stoppin', earth-shockin', heart-breakin', love-makin', viagra-takin', legendary E Steet Band is a little darker, and the Boss is a bit gloomier in his current lyrics on Magic. They're still weaving in some unexpected old-school tunes, representing nearly all their albums with a tune or two. I got treated to "Saint in the City" and "She's the One" among other unexpected oldies. But they're also playing nearly the entire new album.

It's not a bad mix, as Magic is a great album. It's a searing commentary on the political and social climate today, a heartfelt shudder and weep over the loss of lives in Iraq, and some personal emotions which Bruce has never shied away from. Most surprising about it is the rock-pop feel that's musically almost a bookend to his most commercially successful album, Born in the USA. At first listen, some of the tracks are undeniably catchy, and you'd be tempted to say it's a breezy and loose album based on the melodies and arrangements.

Bruce and the Band stick close to their garage-band leanings to bang the numbers out, but the juxtaposition of the lilty, ultra-hooky music in songs such as "Livin' in the Future" with the still-poetic yet heartbreaking lyrics is, well, startling. "Future" is perhaps the most contradictory of the songs on the album because it sounds so damn upbeat, reminscent of "Hungry Heart" in style. It's got Clarence in fine form showcasing his horn and Steven doing backing vocals. And I guess the dreamy chorus justifies the tone. Offset against ghoulish verses about election day gunpowder, boot heels, bloody horizons and wild dogs is the wishful refrain of "Don't worry darlin', now baby don't you fret. We're livin' in the future and none of this has happened yet."

Bruce has been called a blue-collar poet, but lyrically, this album is his most poetic. For a long time, Springsteen's stock in trade was as a storyteller. His songs breathed life into particular characters and wove a narrative around their troubles and triumphs. Now though, he's more invested in conjuring atmosphere and using startling imagery to communicate, which is what sets this album apart from its E Street predecessors. There's no mistaking the rumbling build-up in the composition of "Devil's Arcade," nor its lament for the loss of life in Iraq. It's clearly pulled from the pages of Springsteen's past and his penchant for the epic, and though it's specific to one soldier dying, the song resonates and comes to life more because of the haunting language than the character. It's a place where "heroes are needed, so heroes get made."

I'm not the least bit prescient. But a friend leaned over during the first set and asked if we should get fresh drinks and catch a smoke, expecting the set to be finishing. And I said no, and without even thinking about it answered that he'd probably be closing the set with "Badlands." I knew it just because that song somehow exactly fits his entire mood of these concerts. And, I wouldn't be telling you this nugget of personal trivia if it weren't for the fact that I was right. He's been closing nearly every first set with the song, not only because it makes everyone stand up, scream, hum along, and raise their fists, but also because the sentiment so closely matches Magic, or if not Magic exactly, the hope for what the climate will be in the days after Magic.

Bruce, he's always been a bit of a paradox, able to sing about the bleakest of circumstances and yet balance that against hard-won hope. There are exceptions of course. The stark and desolate Nebraska being a particular example. But as his career -- and his life -- has arced, it's always been this juxtapositioning and contradiction that's raised him above rock-n-roll grist, and also cast him as a bit of an outcast if not an outright pariah for some of the rock faithful.

In his early years, he wasn't the quintessential rebel without a cause. He lacked the surly disposition and wayward temperament in his music. Instead, though he was most definitely rebelling, it was against sometimes very specific things, and sometimes more existential. But his preponderance for restless seeking never tipped over into a nihilistic gloom. There was always an undercurrent -- an instinctive truth that his heart was beating wildly -- that even if dreams were crushed, that maybe there wasn't exactly the thunder of imminent release or hope, but there was at least a far-distant possibility and potential for redemption from despair.

It's that seemingly quixotic mix that gets me every time. He understands the heaviness of circumstance, and indeed, how some are utterly trapped and destroyed by it. And yet he sometimes sees escape through choice. There are fates that befall the heroes-turned-losers in Springsteen songs, but some of us, we can also suffer or thrive based on our own free-will. And it's exactly this dual understanding of our nature that makes his lyrics such an easy touchstone for so many as they mature and make the same climb -- and mistakes -- he has.

Even his face has always been a contradiction. At first glance, that too-big nose and bow-tie mouth, and what can easily be mistaken for vacant eyes. They just don't have that glint or intensity one expects, so when the thick lyrics start pouring out, it's unexpected. He just didn't look like rock royalty, he looked like a common punk from the streets. But, fittingly, that's just as he'd prefer it. Which is another reason why I think he's offhandedly shunned by some. Long before Cobain make grunge cool, Springsteen was the gamy and somewhat dirty kid on the playground when everyone else -- even the supposedly "raunchy" Stones -- were glimmering in designer clothes and hanging out at Studio 54.

After incredible, icon-making success, he fell into the personal trappings and an almost scripted "Behind the Music" couple of years. But he didn't record the expected saptastic love songs. Instead, when he eventually broke up the marriage -- and the band -- he wrote poignant-yet-gentle stories about love gone bad. Not about blame and revenge, just quiet questioning.

Now, long after the wake of The Rising, again he taps into a collective consciousness with an album that has all the earmarks of being just as easily misinterpreted as his greatest commercial success, USA, did. While the lyrics of USA were fairly straightforward and yet still wildly misconstrued (and sometimes misused), he's turned somewhat more cryptic. While the imagery is still unmistakable for those who listen, it's wrapped in such audacious E Street revelry it's almost as deceptive as the "Magic" he sings about on the title track.

It's clear in the album and from the show that the band is still heartily in love, not just with making music together, but with each other. Springsteen has said that one of the things he's proud about and grateful for is that they're all still together, and that they're all still alive.

It seems like a simple enough thing to be thankful for, but try to come up with another band as long in the tooth as these guys who haven't suffered loss. He credits, as would be expected, not just luck, but the band members themselves for their collective health, noting that it made a big difference that over the years they took care of each other.

And that's what he's still doing with his audience. It's what some people won't ever understand, why the love runs so deep for him. Oh, it is the music. It's definitely a lot about the music and that raunchy, barroom sound. And though even some of those who aren't fans often recognize his ability as a songwriter, I sometimes wonder if anyone alive out there other than fans realizes just how good a musician Bruce is. He can still blister out a solo like nobody's business.

But it's also about the man, The Boss. Time and again, he's spilled his guts onto the vinyl and for those who've been there, it didn't just speak to us, it spoke for us.

His music and his success was the incarnation of that potential and possibility of hope to drag ourselves out of the circumstances if we made the right choices. If we didn't leave it to chance or fate, but, like "Badlands" says, "believed in the hope and prayed that it could raise us" above it all, then it could happen. And for many, it did.

And once again, that's what he's out there banging on about again. It is the "Badlands" out there, but we don't need heroes. Good men are enough, and they can help raise us. And Bruce isn't just a gifted musician with a kick-ass band. He's one of those good men.