Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Sorry State of Hollywood

A few people asked me why I never posted about Heath Ledger's death (or Anna Nicole Smith's death last year, for that matter). The reason why is twofold: 1) I find these things extremely depressing, especially when children are left behind, and 2) If I don't think I can say anything that hasn't already been said about a topic, I try not to post about it.

But yesterday I read something related to Heath Ledger's death that motivated me to address it. It seems that Entertainment Tonight and The Insider had both paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to procure a video tape that showed Heath at a "drug party" at that Chateau Marmont in Hollywood. They were going to broadcast it this week, but then both shows backed out at the last minute, even after running tons of promos for it. You can see the promo for The Insider, which includes some clips from the video, here.

I was shocked that these two shows had a change of heart. The celebrity gossip media is not known for caring much about who their accusations affect. Apparently this time around, however, they caved under pressure from the Ledger family. All I can figure is that they are suckers for Australian accents, because seriously, these shows NEVER take the high road. I don't even think they were threatened with lawsuits, I think they just did the right thing for once.

The damage from the video is already done, though. From the clips that have been circulating around the Internet, it is clear that Heath had a drug problem, regardless of whether or not that's what he actually died from last week. And it makes me very sad. Because for every celebrity that most people know is screwed up, there are countless others who have kept their issues well-hidden. When I heard that Heath had died, I gasped out loud. We all have a short list in our heads of famous people who we fear could meet an untimely end at any moment. Heath Ledger was not on my list. And my heart goes out to Michelle Williams and her poor daughter, who will probably not even remember her father. It is a sad, sad situation.

Speaking of sad situations... we come to the latest Britney Spears drama. I haven't posted about Britney in a while, either, because she just upsets me. And because that's all you hear about these days. However, last night, as you may have heard, she was taken to the hospital again in a parade of police cars, helicopters and whatnot. Apparently the emergency vehicles surrounding Britney's ambulance stretched the length of a football field. That is INSANE. You would think it was the Presidential motorcade or something. Anyway, this has lead many to suspect that this latest trip to the hospital was well planned out ahead of time, in order to keep the paparazzi away. It was Spears' psychiatrist who made the call to the hospital to come get her, and her parents are with her now.

For the sake of her two sons, I hope this time they get her some real help and keep her in the hospital for as long as it takes to do so (the last time she left in a matter of hours). And I hope Dr. Phil keeps his freakin' mouth shut about it all this time. And I hope they keep those two ultra-creepy dudes, Osama "Sam" Lutfi and Adnan "I'm married but obviously milking this for all it's worth" Gahlib, AWAY FROM HER. Who are these losers and why do they have any control over the situation at all? Apparently there was a fight at the UCLA Medical Center about who actually had power of attorney for Britney--this Sam reject or her PARENTS. Ummm.... should there really be a question here?

And finally, I sincerely hope that this situation does not end tragically.

Let's all be glad we're not famous. Famous people are screwed up.

- e

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Extreme Movie Opposites: Helvetica and The Bourne Ultimatum

I've been burning through Netflix rentals like there's no tomorrow, and have recently watched two movies that could not be more different: Helvetica and The Bourne Ultimatum.


I'm a fan of documentaries; I love learning about almost any subject that's foreign to me, unless it deals with violence or a topic that's too depressing. So when I read a blurb about Helvetica, a movie that is all about the FONT Helvetica, I was intrigued. How could an 80-minute movie be solely about a font?!?! I had to check it out.

Right before we watched it, a friend of my husband's raved about it, as she is a graphic designer and knew of many of the famous (in her circles) design gurus that were interviewed in the movie.
While I did find it fascinating to learn about the history of this font, and couldn't help but get a kick out of the intense love or hatred that experts in the design field had for Helvetica (trust me, there was no in-between with these people--they had strong opinions!), at many points the discussions were over my head. Miss M was visiting while we watched it, and she actually nodded off a few times. I can't blame her, because it was definitely slow on more than one occasion.

After seeing Helvetica, I now have a much greater appreciation for fonts, that's for sure. I had no idea that they were actually licensed out (that's why I couldn't write this post in Helvetica type, unfortunately) and that there are famous font designers. I also would have never realized how omnipresent Helvetica is. That was the coolest part of the movie... all of the logos and signs they showed from across the world that use that font. Another thing I learned from the film is that almost everybody in that field has CRAZY patterns of wrinkles on their faces. You just need to see it to be able to understand.

While the movie was pretty slow, it only lasted 80 minutes... so if you are even remotely interested in this kind of thing, I think it's worth watching. Though I still can't tell the difference between Helvetica and Arial!

Here is a two-minute clip from the movie to give you an idea of what the other 78 minutes are like:

The Bourne Ultimatum

A far cry from the hushed tones and comfortable pace of Helvetica was The Bourne Ultimatum. As with the other two Bourne films, the third installment sucks you in from literally the first second, and does not let up until the credits roll at the end. I really enjoyed it and would highly recommend it. He's back... or should I say, His Back.While there is a lot of action on top of the crazy fighting scenes we've come to expect from this trilogy, it didn't seem violent or bloody by any means. It was suspenseful more than anything else.

Now I really wish I had counted how many words Matt Damon/Jason Bourne even says over the course of the two hours, because I swear it's less than 20 (unless grunting while punching, kicking or jumping counts). But that's fine... we don't need Matty to speak, we just need him to rock those moves and be the bad-ass that he is in these movies. A few of the agents from the previous films were in this one again, but they're very much secondary to the plot. In fact, I say that the next time they make one of these movies (you can bet there will be more, they make too much money to stop), they really shouldn't even bother with an actual storyline. Just have Matt Damon running around and evading the FBI/CIA/KGB/Insert Agency and we'll be happy.

- e

Monday, January 28, 2008

Juno is So-So

What's that I hear? Cries of indignation echoing around the Internet? Do I actually dare criticize the latest "It" movie, especially after it just was nominated in the Best Film, Best Actress and Best Original Screenplay categories for the Oscars?

Calm down, everybody. I didn't hate Juno. But I didn't love it, either, unlike seemingly everyone else in the world. I thought it was merely "OK." I could've loved it, but it was trying too hard. Let me break it down for you...

Here's what I didn't like:
1) The dialogue. "What?" you may be asking. I think I had extremely high expectations about the dialogue going into the movie, because I am insanely jealous of its writer, Diablo "Not her real name" Cody. If you are not aware (and if that's the case, I must pause and ask, "How can you NOT be aware... her story is EVERYWHERE!?!?!"), Brook Busey, er... Diablo Cody is an ex-stripper who wrote a blog and then a book about her time as a stripper, then wrote Juno, then became drastically over-hyped and omnipresent and landed an Entertainment Weekly column and an Oscar Nomination. So when I saw the movie after knowing all of that about her, I thought I would be blown away by insanely clever character conversations that have heretofore never been experienced. I did not find that to be the case. Instead, from the first line uttered, I was annoyed. I guesstimate that about 75% of the dialogue in the movie bugged the crap out of me. I can handle teenagers talking in mature-beyond-their-years ways, or I wouldn't have loved Dawson's Creek. But how Juno and her best friend talked (and even sometimes her father) I just couldn't swallow. It was like Diablo was trying to make every single sentence over-the-top and filled with weird phrases for different parts of the anatomy. It was too much.
2) Add to that a soundtrack that was also trying way too hard to be "hip." I think that whacked-out duo (Moldy Peaches) behind the main song, "Anyone Else But You," is the worst.
3) Similarly, Diablo had to make the title character constantly name-drop punk and indie bands, along with B-movie knowledge, to reaffirm and make sure you knew just how cool and unorthodox she was.

But many things saved the movie for me, and balanced out the annoyances listed above. The good aspects of Juno were:
1) The 25% of the dialogue that wasn't ridiculous. When the characters weren't making such a point of being supremely sarcastic, the movie was at its best.
2) Jennifer Garner as Vanessa. I never thought this day would come, but I actually loved Jennifer Garner in this movie (and I do not like her at all normally). She was absolutely perfect and totally believable in her role. I have now forgiven her for Electra.
3) Jason Bateman as the husband of Jennifer Garner. Who cares what his character's name was--he was smokin' in this movie. And so what if his character was totally creeptastic? I was digging him big-time, and I know I'm not the only one who felt this way (shout-out to Nerdy P). My crush on him from his Little House on the Prairie and Silver Spoons days is back in full effect! Dammit, now I need to go get all seasons of Arrested Development on Netflix.
4) The overall story. Despite the grating dialogue, despite the not-my-taste soundtrack, and despite my jealousy of Diablo, I have to admit that the story Juno tells is a good one. It even had a little twist that I didn't see coming. Surprisingly, I found myself crying non-stop for the last half-hour, which I very much did not expect. But DY was with me and she cried, too, so it's all good.

So I left the theater with a very mixed opinion of the movie. Loved the story, but wished that most of the characters' conversations had been different. Oh, and Michael Cera? It was like they just took his character from Superbad and plopped it in this movie. I seriously kept having to remind myself that McLovin and that Jonah Hill kid were not going to show up.

If you end up seeing this movie, I will tell you my two favorite parts, which were totally random and will not spoil anything for you:
1) The "stink-eye" girl, and
2) The photos on the wall when Juno goes up the staircase at Vanessa and Jason Bateman's house.

I will end by saying that I do think Ellen Page did an excellent job as the main character. I highly doubt she will win Best Actress, but it will be interesting to watch how her career goes after this. And if there was ever a year to be nominated for an Oscar and NOT win, this is the year... there probably won't even be a ceremony!

- e

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Eight Lives Left

This is the craziest thing I have read in a long time. The best part is the text message near the end.

There are two lessons in this story:
1) If you have small pets, be careful not to ever accidentally PACK THEM, and...
2) Make sure you're grabbing the right luggage at the airport!

- e

Thursday, January 24, 2008

An "SP" Takes on Tom Cruise!

I knew I liked this guy way back when he was in Stand By Me. Now, Jerry O'Connell has made a spoof of the infamous Tom Cruise Scientology video, in support of the Writers Guild of America. If you haven't seen the original video, check out the highlight reel here, or else this may make no sense. Huge shout-out to "Smitten" for bringing this to my attention (though now that I think about it, I saw a clip of it last night on the TV at the gym, but it had no sound so I couldn't figure out what it was)!

If Jerry suddenly disappears... we're going to know who's behind it...

- e

Reality Roundup

The Amazing Race 12 Finale

As my husband and I had hoped, TK and Rachel won The Amazing Race. Though I think they deserved it and I was happy with the outcome, during that hour there was definitely a part of me that was rooting for Nick and Gramps to pull a big upset. I wasn't a fan of Nick, but I loved me some Gramps. No one watching the show could deny that he rocked the house. But as soon as I learned what that big puzzle challenge was at the end, I knew they would lose. Nick just never seemed like the brightest guy, you know? Did anyone else get the impression that he actually NEVER finished that challenge? He and Gramps weren't shown again after that point, which makes me think that he was still there trying to figure it out when the other two teams crossed the finish line, and then the directors were like, "OK, you can stop now," and then just filmed them rejoining the bigger group at the end. At least they have their matching "FF" tattoos to commemorate the entire experience.

I was shocked that Ronald didn't slip back into his old ways and freak out at Christina when she couldn't get over the hump on the ice climbing challenge. Then again, that probably only lasted like 5 seconds and they just made it seem longer than that. He held it together pretty well over the last few episodes, and I sincerely hope for the sake of everyone he comes into contact with on a daily basis that he is truly a changed man. Because he was one freaky-deeky dude early on.

Overall, the finale seemed anti-climactic to me. The episode before it was much better when I feared that Nate and Jen might make it into the final three. I haven't shouted at the TV that loudly in a long time. With the final installment being filmed entirely in Alaska, it seemed kind of lame. I felt that they were just going from spot to spot without really doing anything challenging. That ice climb was a pretty big joke--you could tell that it was NOT high or steep at all.

But I did like this season and am sad that it is over. I always love seeing where they go and living vicariously through the teams' travels. And I love Phil, too. Oh my gosh, a great idea just popped into my head. Phil would make an excellent host of The Mole! He's not quite as good-looking as Anderson, but he has that snarky wit about him... and a kiwi accent to boot. I'm going to start petitioning ABC right now. Maybe CBS wouldn't let him go, though?

OK, back to TAR... if you'd like to read or hear an interview with TK and Rachel about their big win, click here.

American Idol

Last night I watched both Tuesday and Wednesday's installments of American Idol. Once again, they were just blah. I remember the dude who had the baby, and the brother-sister duo who made it through, and that's it. I think the male half of that duo is my favorite guy so far, just because he was funny and actually had a good voice. I agreed with Randy and did not think his sister should've made it. But she will get kicked out during the next round, for sure. Oh, and I just remembered that crazy dude with the long hair, disgusting fingernails and the fans--he was pretty wacky and therefore interesting to watch. Everything else over the course of those two hours was forgettable. I can't believe they still have even MORE audition episodes next week???

Real World/Road Rules Challenge: The Gauntlet Season Premiere

Yes, I know I am too old to still watch these shows on MTV. But I was reminded about it by someone else who I think is at least my age, so I know I'm not the only thirty-something tuning in. Plus, CT is on it again, and therefore I had to watch it. If you want to see if you recognize anyone in the cast this time around, check out the bios here.

Amazingly, I still knew the majority of competitors this time around... they brought back a lot of the best people. But, I'm sorry--aren't Coral and Beth at least 40 at this point? I am pretty sure Beth is. So I'm not going to feel bad watching this show since they obviously still feel like they can be on it! (OK, I checked, Beth is 38.)

The two teams, Rookies and Veterans, seem drastically mismatched. The guys on the Veterans team are HUGE. The Rookies have all these teeny guys--it just doesn't even seem fair. But of course, no one watching this show is watching it for the actual challenges... they're watching it for the drama that ensues once all of these crazy people are back from a day's "work" and living in the awesome house together (this time in Mexico). And the premiere definitely did not disappoint in that area: CT got drunk, Diem (who looks totally different, and is still with him, which I found unbelievable) was upset, and everyone else was hooking up with each other. Coral picked fights unnecessarily, and Beth shared her scheming plans with the camera.

At the end, they showed a preview of the rest of the season and it definitely looks good. The Beth/Coral Gauntlet is going to be awesome!

While I will continue to watch all this reality crap because nothing else is on and I need to unwind before I go to sleep, in exactly one week from tonight, a REAL show is returning, albeit for only 8 episodes: Lost. Hooray!

- e

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The First Landing in Antarctica: Aitcho Island

(clicking on any of the pictures will enlarge them)

Let's see, where were we? Ahhh, right. We had just crossed the Drake Passage and were recovering from seasickness.

By the afternoon of November 22nd, we were finally in calmer waters and it was time for our first landing. How it worked was that we would all get off the ship in shifts and take zodiacs over to the shore in groups of 10 or 12. (I'll show pictures of the zodiacs in later posts.) Our initial taste of Antarctica was Aitcho Island. "Aitcho" is a phonetic spelling of "H.O.," which is what this group of islands had been called for so long that the name just stuck (H.O. stands for hydrographic office).

I have to say that it was quite a dramatic introduction to the White Continent. We explored the island for about 3 hours, and over every hill was a totally different breathtaking landscape. And the amount of penguins there did not disappoint... there were a few Weddell seals in the mix as well.

The rules are that you cannot come within 15 feet of the wildlife. However, the penguins often walk right by you, and if that happens, you are supposed to slowly drop down in the snow so that you are more at their level and don't scare them. They are pretty unbothered by humans... they're all on missions to build their nests with rocks, so they just march by you with rocks in their beaks and are undeterred if you are in their way.

As you may have gathered over the course of the time I've been writing my blogs, I am a big-time animal-lover. It is an indescribable feeling to see certain animals in their natural habitats. On my honeymoon in South Africa, when I saw a baby giraffe running through the bush, I literally started crying. I've seen many giraffes before, but to observe one running at full speed with no enclosure holding it back was amazing. While not quite as dramatic, it was very cool to be among hundreds of penguins with a vast snow-covered island laid out before them. To watch these little guys navigating up and down huge hills and jumping in and out of the water was well worth the queasiness we all suffered to get to that spot!

Above: A Gentoo penguin (larger white patches around its eyes) makes his way down a hill with our ship in the background.

Above: A chinstrap penguin (obviously easy to tell apart from the Gentoos) taking a rest.

Below: A skua with a stolen egg.

There would be one skua that would watch over each major group of penguin nests, waiting for an opportune time to swoop in and steal an egg. Anywhere we went for the rest of the trip, if there were penguins, there were also skuas.

Below: A Weddell sea in the typical seal position (on its back, sleeping or resting).

I'll end with a few pictures of the scenery, but these still can't convey the vastness and other-worldliness of the area. And it was only 30 degrees the entire time (and daylight all the time as well)! That's warmer than it's been here in Chicago now for weeks...

- e

Monday, January 21, 2008

Happier from Here on Out...

So, did you hear the news? Today is officially "the most depressing day of the year," according to a new research report. I have to agree, as today is my birthday, and it is indeed depressing to turn yet another year older.

But then I read JB's latest post about her trip to Rwanda, and it really lifted my spirits. I highly suggest you check it out for some inspiring stories and cool pictures. But then again, you may still end up depressed when you realize that your job will never be as cool as hers is!

- e

Saturday, January 19, 2008

I Don't Care if They Get Eaten by a Monster, or, My Reaction to Cloverfield

(There will be no spoilers in this write-up)

My friend Miss M is flying in from NYC as I type this (good timing, since it's -3 degrees here right now... we're not leaving the condo 'til Tuesday), and I've still got a lot of straightening up to do around my messy place, so this will be short and to the point.

As always (for opening nights), I arrived 2 hours early for the 8:30 showing of Cloverfield last night. The line was absolutely HUGE--for the 7:30 show. I had to wait until that group went in before they set up the line for my showing. I realized that the 7:30 show was in the hugest theater they had in the building, but the show I had tickets for was going to be in the smaller, digital theater. However, by the time they let us in 40 minutes prior to its start time, there was a big line, and all shows had sold out for the night.

The most notable trailer (only because I had seen all the others) was for The Ruins. I read that book while in New Zealand in the winter of 2006 and it scared the crap out of me. I couldn't sleep the night I finished it, even though I was far, far away from any evil Mayan ruins. It was a best-seller, and I heard that Ben Stiller bought the movie rights immediately. I had no idea how they were going to make it into a movie, and if you've read the book, you might understand why. But, they did, and here is the trailer:

My husband said he thought the movie looked exactly how he'd pictured everything when he read it. I will not be seeing it, no need to get freaked out all over again...

As for Cloverfield... well, I hate to tell you this, and I hate that it's the case, but I didn't like it. I know exactly why I didn't like it, too. It's because I didn't give a damn about the characters. It is very hard to get riled up in a movie about some "monster" attacking NYC when the group of people the action revolves around is a bunch of blah, generic twenty-somethings. My second reason for not liking it, which I realized when I got home and was thinking things over, is that I can have sympathy for people/characters who try to do something brave or heroic. But I can NOT identify with people who do something in the name of bravery when it's actually very stupid. I'm not giving anything away by saying that, if there was an unknown thing, possibly an alien or a monster or a coordinated large-scale terrorist attack, wreaking havoc on my city, and the National Guard was brought in and I saw people being killed and everyone was running AWAY from this thing... I would not go toward it, probably no matter what. Perhaps I would've felt differently if the characters had been developed better, but they really jumped right into the action after very little set up, so I just never got connected to anyone in the story. That being said, here are the good things about the movie:

1) Because they jumped right into it, it was really short. Less than 1.5 hours!
2) I was glued to the screen the entire time... despite not caring about the main characters, there was almost non-stop action, and that part of it was riveting.
3) It makes you wonder what you would do in the same situation.
4) There were Lost references in it (once again, not ruining anything by saying that "the numbers" show up in a few spots)

My husband and I had a talk about what we would do, should a similar situation ever befall our dear city of Chicago. I cannot tell you what we agreed we'd do without giving something away in the movie, but if you've seen the movie (our "plan" will only make sense if you've seen the movie), email me through my profile page on this site and I will tell you. Luckily, even I, with my huge imagination, do not think anything like the events in Cloverfield will ever happen.

For what it's worth, my husband liked it. I think guys like "action" movies more than women do in general, anyway. But if you are on the fence about seeing it, the worst that can happen is that you waste 1.5 hours. It is by no means BAD, I just didn't like it as much as I thought I would.

Finally, the bouncy/shaky camera didn't bother me at all, but it was really bad at parts. There was actually a sign in the movie theater forewarning people about motion sickness. I get very bad motion sickness most of the time, and I was not affected at all (which did surprise me).

There you have it! If anyone else has seen it, leave me a comment with your thoughts...

- e

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Note to Amazing Race fans--check your Tivos...

Just a quick note to let you know that my Tivo did NOT have The Amazing Race finale set to tape this Sunday, despite the fact that I have a season pass. So I thought I should warn any of you in the same situation--definitely check to make sure it's on your system's "To Do List" for this weekend. I would've absolutely lost it had it not recorded.

My final comments before the season ends:

1) YAY that Nate and Jen got kicked off. Karma, as they say, is a bitch. I hope they have watched the show and have realized how ridiculous they are together. And I hope she gets some anger management counseling. I was literally SCREAMING at the TV and pounding my fists in despair when I thought they might beat Nick and Gramps. That, my friends, was a great episode.
2) I really hope TJ and Rachel win, but I actually would be OK with any of the three teams winning, which is nice. I love "Gramps," so I hope they come in second. Ronald has redeemed himself a bit and I feel that his daughter is a saint, but I still don't want to see them in first place because of his past bad behavior.

It's going to be an awesome finale!

- e

I Am Your Bruh-thuuur - Or, American Idol's Season Premiere, Part 2

So, I tuned in again for American Idol last night, this time without any ice cream. I had just enjoyed a big sushi dinner and couldn't bring myself to eat anything else, which is really saying something when ice cream is involved. Anyway, I didn't think last night's installment was as cringe-worthy as Tuesday's show had been. However, this morning, only 12 hours later, I can't remember anything that happened except for the final few minutes. As Simon would say, it was "utterly forgettable."

But what about that last guy in the crazy all-white pimped-out suit with the cape and "Simon" hat? That guy rocked. Maybe I was just completely slap-happy by that time, but I was loving how the judges and Ryan got all goofy along with him (and Paula busted out with some moves that I swear were from that video with the cartoon cat). And I can still sing that song, word for word... so it probably is going to be on iTunes soon, if it isn't already. If you didn't see it, here it is below... though it may get pulled down at any moment. His actual audition starts at 1:48, but I kept the pre-audition stuff with Ryan on there because I thought that was hilarious, too.

The "homage to Simon" at the end was awesome as well (final 30 seconds).

And, you know, I have to admit something... Ryan Seacrest has grown on me. Some of you may remember that when I didn't watch the show, I questioned the appeal of Ryan. Now I kind of get it. He does have some funny comments and seems like he's just being himself and I don't mind him at all.

Finally, I have to ask, has Simon lost his snarkiness, or what? He hardly made any mean comments last night at all! He even hugged that dude at the end?!?! Amazing.

You may have seen a few headlines about American Idol's ratings being its lowest ever. Um, don't let them fool you--it's still extraordinarily successful, way more so than most shows could ever dream of being. It's not going anywhere.

Thanks to those of you who wrote me to give me some background on how the auditions work. As I suspected, only a subset of the tens of thousands of hopefuls actually make it to Simon, Randy and Paula. They seem to be looking specifically for people with an interesting "back-story," good-looking people, and total freaks. Apparently in the first round of auditions, people only sing for about 12 seconds and they're in a huge stadium with several other people next to them, singing at the same time. So obviously someone would really have to stand out in that environment.

I'm not excited about anyone I saw who got a golden ticket, but I have hope since we didn't see everyone who got through to Hollywood yet. I will at least keep watching until they get to the actual competitions. OK, who am I kidding, I'll probably watch it all the way until the finale. Even if the writers' strike ended tomorrow, it will be months before new shows get on the air. I need my escapism, and one hour of Lost a week for 8 weeks isn't going to be enough.

- e

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What Should We As A Nation Do About Tom Cruise?

You seriously need to watch this before it gets pulled down (again)... Go Go GO! NOW!

If you can't spare nine minutes (though you really should), watch the 2-minute highlight clip (once again, before it gets taken down).

Props to Uncle Grambo for having the guts to post it...

- e

American Idol Returns... e is Left Unsettled

As some of you may remember, I didn't start watching American Idol until last season, which was apparently its worst season. I had been wearing the "I've never seen American Idol" badge with quite some honor for five years up until that point. It was just a fluke that I ended up tuning into it last year--my Tivo had been recording it as a "Suggestion," and I turned the TV on at that same time and was drawn in by the auditions. Remember that older gentleman who petitioned to audition in order to keep a promise to his wife who had just passed away, and then sang a beautiful song that made Paula (and me) cry? That was good stuff.

A few weeks went by, and once it got to the actual competition part of the show, my husband and I would forward through most of the singing and just listen to what the judges had to say, because we always got a kick out of how Randy kept saying "dawg" and "pitchy," and how awesome Simon was overall. I even went out and bought the American Idol ice cream (because, you must trust me, the birthday cake flavor ROCKED).

Despite the fact that last season ended up being total poop, I found myself growing increasingly excited yesterday about its seventh season premiere. So, with a big bowl of ice cream in my lap, I settled in last night, ready to be entertained. I dare say I nearly teared up when the opening credits started playing... this writers' strike has thrown off my normal nightly routine of unwinding with a recorded show, so I think I was just so thankful to have a smidgen of normalcy back in my life or something. Either that, or I unknowingly had foreseen that the premiere was largely going to be a bunch of crap.

I have a feeling a lot of people will disagree with me, but I was fairly turned off by last night's show. Someone who has been watching it since 2002 needs to explain a few things to me:

1) Does EVERYONE in the audition line actually get through to Simon, Paula and Randy? From the size of the crowd (thousands upon thousands), that would seem impossible. So have they ever explained the process--that perhaps only certain people make it to the three judges after an earlier screening? If that's the case, then they are clearly letting some people through who are just total freaks, solely to spice up the audition episodes.

2) When exactly do they go take videos of some of the spotlighted contestants' homes? They went into that wannabe Janis Joplin's studio apartment--so did they do that AFTER she knew she had been kicked off? It seems like the only way, right? Because, like with that girl who came from Oregon (I think) who they showed with her horses, clearly they couldn't have known about her before she auditioned, so they must have filmed it after they decided who they would spotlight. Which is fine for the people who moved ahead in the competition, but it makes the rant of the Glittery Girl seem less powerful when you know she then let them film her house after she had been rejected, solely to get more air-time.

I seriously cannot even comment any further on some of the people they spotlighted, for fear that I will offend someone. I will, however, say that I feel like a lot of people they spent time on seemed staged. Are you serious that that Egyptian dude really talked like that? He was totally trying to be like Borat, come on! And that guy who got waxed and wore the Princess-Leia-in-Jabba's-Lair bikini? Are you telling me that wasn't planned out with the producers in advance? Then, did you catch the really suspicious editing at one point? There was a girl who auditioned who had one huge hoop earring. But during the different clips of her singing and her responding to the judges, it flipped between her having one and then BOTH earrings! I replayed it on Tivo to be sure, and saw one person comment on it on a message board. I don't like when I'm watching "reality TV" and it appears to be fake. I only accept that on The Hills, thank you very much.

I'm attempting to think of some parts I actually enjoyed last night... Oh, I thought of one: when that blond chick belted out "HOW DO I GET YOU ALOONNNNNE," and Simon muttered, "You wouldn't."

Having said all of that, I will still watch the next 2-hour installment of the auditions tonight. There's nothing else on, and I want an excuse to eat more ice cream! Plus, they're going to be in Texas, so you know there will be some drama. I just hope that it is real drama this time around, and not staged.

Two decent reviews I read, in case you're hungry for more Idol news, are here (Washington Post) and here (Entertainment Weekly).

Let's all pray that Simon gets his groove back tonight.
- e

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

e Swoons Over the New Vanity Fair Cover

Be still my heart! More pics, and the article, can be found here. Is it May yet?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A Movie I'll Not Be Seeing... And One I Will

Lately I've been reading a lot about The Orphanage. The hype for this movie came out of the blue, and now, everywhere I turn there is a clip or raving review. But I won't be seeing it. Why? Because it appears to deal with evil little kids. And you know that if there's one thing I can't handle, it's evil little kids.

Produced by the same guy who made Pan's Labyrinth, The Orphanage is also in Spanish and has English subtitles. It's been out for a while overseas, but now "the creepy" has arrived stateside.

I have decided that I will be going to see another somewhat-scary movie, however, even though I initially wasn't planning on it. The reviews are rolling in, folks, and Cloverfield (from beloved Lost creator J.J. Abrams) is living up to its hype. So that's where I'll be next Friday, its official opening night--at the theater with all the other geeks waiting in line to see it before the mystery of what exactly it's about inevitably gets spoiled. But I'm still pretty sure I'll throw up on the poor person seated in front of me because of the shaky hand-held footage of which the entire movie is comprised...

- e

Friday, January 11, 2008

They Really DO Try Harder...

So... I'm still sick. In fact, I think I'm worse--now I can't even talk because my voice is so hoarse and my throat is so sore. But I must soldier on and write a post, dammit!

Today I thought I would write about surprisingly great service I received recently from Avis (rental cars). Over the holidays, we needed to rent an SUV (we do not have a car) in order to go back to Michigan before flying to North Dakota. We always have to get an SUV so that we can fit my dog's crate in the back, along with all of his paraphernalia and of our suitcases and whatnot.

In past years I have kept the SUV over the course of 1.5 weeks, just leaving it at my parents' in Michigan while we flew to North Dakota. This would usually run me $300 for the SUV (and you can imagine how much for fuel). Prices have risen and depending on when you book, the car could be upwards of $500 to keep for that long.

So I got a brilliant idea--I would make two "one-way" rentals that were one-day each. $60 to go from Chicago to Michigan at the beginning of our trip, and around the same price to come back at the end (not counting fuel, once again). I was very pleased with myself and my cleverness (although it actually should've been really obvious to me to do this for the past several years, but I digress).

The first day of our trip came. We made it to Michigan, slept at my parents' house, left our doggy behind and then drove to the Detroit airport in the wee hours the next morning. Imagine my shock when the Avis woman handed me my receipt for $250!!! You know what I said next... "Saaaaaaayyyyy whhhhaaaaaaaa?"

I told the woman in the parking lot who checked us in that the charges were way off. She said I would have to go into the building to have them straighten it out (the parking lot attendants had hand-held devices that allowed them to check people in and print receipts, but the on-premises office handled anything else). Since we were already nearing our flight time and still had to take the shuttle bus to the airport and go through security, we decided to call the 1-800 number later and get the bill corrected.

On the shuttle bus, I reviewed the receipt more carefully. I had been charged for mileage (366 miles, to be exact). I dug out the reservation page that I had printed when I first booked the car months ago... it did indeed say in small print that NO miles were included. My heart sank--I had been fooled! I have booked with Avis countless times, and unlimited miles were always included in the listed price, so I never gave it a second thought. I now realized that for one-way rentals it must be different.

I tried to cheer myself up by reasoning that the $250 for each of two one-way rentals was going to be the same price it would've been had I just kept the car the entire time we were in North Dakota... so at least I wasn't out any money. But I was still bitter.

When we got back to Michigan five days later, my dad insisted that I call Avis to see if they could give me a rate than included unlimited miles for our journey back to Chicago. So I called them, and they did indeed switch my rate from $60 plus a charge for every mile to $119 total with unlimited miles. Yay! I was happy.

Once I got back to Chicago and saw the $250 come through for the first rental on my credit card's web site, I got frustrated all over again. So, I called Avis and explained the situation. I told them that obviously it was my fault that I didn't read the agreement closely, but that, at the same time, I always used the web site to book rentals and had never been given a rate that didn't include unlimited miles. I also pointed out that no other options were given to me when booking online, so I didn't know there were multiple types of rates until I called about the one-way rental for our return trip.

To my absolutely amazement, the woman explained why the "no miles included" rate showed up for me, and then REFUNDED $116 from the $250!!! I was in shock--she was totally nice and didn't squabble about it at all. All this--and it had been MY fault essentially! If you're interested, the reason why I was given the "no miles included" rate in the first place was because my profile was linked to a company code, and Avis negotiated really low rates for "normal" rentals with its institutional clients, but for one-ways they essentially charged them up the wazoo (which the companies agreed to because it happens so rarely that someone makes a one-way trip). Mystery solved. She said that if I wanted to make another one-way trip in the future, to call instead of using the web site to book a car.

So the lesson in all of this is: Call if you have an issue with any company... you may be pleasantly surprised with their reaction.

I have one more example of excellent customer service that transpired over the holidays, but I will save that one for later. For now I need to concentrate on drinking my tea and returning to full strength...

- e

Thursday, January 10, 2008

KISS off

I am still fighting a cold, so I only have the energy to post a quick note to see whether or not anyone out there has been watching Celebrity Apprentice? I am intrigued by the preview I saw for tonight's episode, where Gene Simmons apparently insults Trump's daughter, but I'm not sure if in my weakened state I can handle a reunion with Omarosa.


Oh, and I'm over American Gladiators already. I watched Monday's show last night and it just gets really old, really quickly. The dialogue between the hosts and the contestants is just way too canned and cheesy. It was fun while it lasted. And Wolf still rocks.

Send "get healthy" vibes my way, please...

- e

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Ay Ay, Captain!

Time for another Antarctica trip installment.

When I last left off, our ship had set sail and was crossing the turbulent Drake Passage. I popped Bonine to keep from getting sick... and for the most part, it worked. I still was often queasy and felt best when I was horizontal in my mini-bed, but I never threw up. Which, believe me, is saying a lot. The entire ship was pretty much bedridden for the first day because of the intense rocking. You know it's bad when they string large ropes all around the ship so that people can hold on to them just to make it across a small room. In addition, I found it humorous that all of the chairs in the dining room were chained to the floor:

I did brave the dining room for every meal (a girl's gotta eat!) and, at one point, was astonished to see the entire starboard (right) side of the ship get enveloped by a wave, which then sent silverware, glasses, dishes and the poor waiters sailing across the floor. Trust me, it is very scary to see nothing but water against the sides of the windows! But at that point, the other ship in the area had not sunk, so I don't think anyone was truly worried that anything could happen to our ship.

Especially after checking out "the bridge," or, "the place where the Captain hangs out." The expedition company that partners with National Geographic for these trips, Lindblad Expeditions, has an "open bridge" policy--meaning that guests are allowed in the bridge at almost any time. After my husband and I found our sea legs, we ventured up there to get a chance to check it out while everyone else was most likely asleep or wallowing in misery.

It is a very cool room that is filled with all sorts of tracking gadgets, maps and controls. If you're the kind of person who worries that if you accidentally press the wrong button on your computer, DVD player or PDA it might blow up, you would NOT want to be in the bridge. I found it fascinating, but stayed far away from all of the controls. One of our fellow guests was a pilot with Southwest, so I learned a lot listening to him talk to the navigators about all of the different machines.

We were told early on that nobody better sit in the Captain's favorite leather chair, but I snuck onto it while no one was looking - hee hee.

There was a ton of radar and sonar equipment that showed icebergs underwater and around the ship. However, our course was plotted by hand as well, and it was neat to look at the maps they had and see exactly where we were. It doesn't really hit you that you're at the bottom of the world until you look at a map and realize, "Holy crap, we ARE at the bottom of the world!"

I particularly liked two things I saw posted in the bridge. One was the "Beaufort wind scale," which I've pasted in below, but you may need to actually click on the picture to enlarge it and be able to read it. The far right column describes the effects of increasingly powerful winds. Gotta love that last line...

But my absolute favorite thing (at the time) I saw in that room was a small clip that was hung on a bulletin board near the kitchenette. On that second day of our trip, I thought it was funny. I asked our expedition leader where they got it, and he said it had been in a trade magazine, touting some sort of crew insurance. The next morning, as we watched the Explorer sinking, I couldn't help but think back to this small cutout and consider it in a much different light.

- e

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

TV Updates: My take on AG, TAR and the return of The Mole

American Gladiators

Let's just get the big question out of the way first, shall we? Did I like American Gladiators after being so excited that it was returning to the airwaves? Yes, I did. I was debating whether or not I should admit this, since my husband said that he overheard a bunch of people talking about how bad it was on his way to work, but I gots ta keep it real!

Here is what I liked about it:
1) As I hoped, there was minimal time spent on the hosts--Hulk Hogan and Laila Ali. The time that they were on screen was indeed annoying, but bearable.
2) The show moved extremely fast--they really kept the action going and went from challenge to challenge quickly.
3) Speaking of the challenges, they were awesome--just like I remembered them, and some were even better. The Eliminator at the end just kills people--I felt so badly for everyone during it.
4) One word: WOLF! Hands down, the best Gladiator of all time. At first I was too scared to look at him because he reminded me of BOB from Twin Peaks. Just seeing that pic of him above again freaked me out. Wolf is less scary than BOB, actually. But he still rocks.

What I didn't like:
1) The cheese-o-meter straight up broke because it was cranked up so high on this show. The hosts' interviews were canned, as were the contestants' responses. So much so that I began to wonder if the show was actually real or completely faked. I hope it's not staged.
2) Choppy flow. Sure, they moved the show along quickly, but there were way too many breaks and commercials.
3) Too much time spent on showing the stats of the Gladiators and interviewing contestants after lame efforts. If someone gets pushed off of a platform within 2 seconds, you do NOT need to interview them. There's really not much they can say. "Uh, I fell." Similarly, once we know who all the Gladiators are, we don't need to be reminded of their stats before every challenge.
4) Titan. As Jon Stewart commented on The Daily Show last night, it looks like they just "unfroze him" from the original show. Titan is the worst--he's like a living Ken doll on steroids. He may look macho, but once he flashes that blindingly white smile and you realize his hair doesn't move, he becomes more laughable than scary.

I didn't realize that the premiere on Sunday was 2 hours, so I just finished it last night and still have Monday's show to get through. The only contestant I wanted to root for so far was the fireman from New York... so if I don't like any of the contestants in the next installment, it may be hard for me to continue watching, even though I did like it a lot overall. It will simply get old quickly if there's no one you really want to win. If anyone else watched it, let me know what you think. Somebody else liked this show, as it did very well in the ratings...

The Amazing Race

I'll write more on this when the season is over, but for now I just wanted to say this: I cannot STAND Ronald. I don't care if he actually didn't berate his daughter for once in the last episode, I seriously don't know what I'll do if they win the whole thing. He is completely ridiculous and needs some counseling. Some of the things he freaks out about are bizarre and always unwarranted. What I am really, really hoping will happen is that either his daughter or one of the other racers just hauls off and smacks him. Wouldn't that be great? Oh, and one more thing--enough with the "Who's Your Daddy?" shirts! He must have had 30 of those puppies made for the show?!?!

OK, I lied. One more thing. I had really wanted the Goths to win--I loved them despite fearing during the premiere that they would be really obnoxious. They weren't at all and were incredible athletes. Too bad they're in a dark closet listening to depressing music now. My hope is that either TK and Rachel or Nicolas (Chicago, represent!) and Donald win. Nate and Jen are actually worse than Ronald and Christina--they just need to go AWAY.

The Return of The Mole

As I scanned my daily media industry e-newsletter this morning, I could hardly believe my eyes. "ABC bringing back 'The Mole'" screamed the headline from Vanity Fair. I clicked on the link and held my breath... searching, searching, searching for one word and one word only. Anderson. For those of you who never watched this show, it was how Anderson Cooper and I met, so to speak. I fell in love with him instantly. This morning, a new hope sprung alive in me--would there be a way I could be reunited with Anderson that would be a little more uplifting than watching his news program (which is often thoroughly depressing)? Could they possibly have gotten him to come back and host The Mole again?

"Are you kidding me? Hell to the no," is probably what he said when they approached him about it. He's way past slumming it on reality TV now. But it was fun to have that hope, if only for just a millisecond, that he may be back. They actually don't have a host lined up yet, but they are looking for someone with that "Anderson quality." Good luck, peeps, it doesn't exist--he is one of a kind.

But I'll still watch the show because it really was a great show. If you never saw it, then get the DVD and read up on its premise and you will see what I mean. It was successful in over 40 countries as well (each ran its own version under the same format).

I'm assuming it may be a while before it is ready to go since they don't even have a host, but rest assured I will let you all know when I hear any concrete details. In the meantime, look at Anderson on the DVD cover--look at him, love him, bow down to him.

- e

This Baby Better Not Have Any Wrinkles

Last week, I was going through the latest "blind items" on the Internet and came across this one from the New York Post on January 2nd: Which 40ish actress has finally gotten pregnant for the first time? Her rep is denying it because she's only a month into it, and has suffered miscarriages in the past. Said our source: "Watch for her to get bangs and start wearing hats to hide her sagging face because you can't be on Botox when you are pregnant."

The consensus was that this must be Nicole Kidman, and sure enough, yesterday her rep confirmed Nicole's pregnancy to People magazine. I couldn't get past the fact that her rep said, "The couple are thrilled." Shouldn't it be "the couple is thrilled?" I think this may be some strange Aussie twist to the English language. I've noticed that sometimes the British will treat a band name as plural, saying something like "Radiohead are touring," whereas I would've thought it should be, "Radiohead is touring." And before you Brits out there jump all over me about how the Americans have ruined your language... I am not trying to pick a fight! But I am curious to know if anyone knows the background of the is/are discrepancy between Americans and British/Australians.

But back to the main subject of this post... Nicole Kidman is pregnant, and although I do not like her movies and her forehead scares the living bejeezus out of me and I think her husband looks like a girl, I wish her the best. If she has had miscarriages in the past it seems odd that they would be officially confirming her pregnancy this early, but perhaps if the effects of no Botox are going to be that hideous, they want to warn the public? It will be interesting to see if she goes into hiding or not.

- e

Monday, January 07, 2008

Pet Peeve of the Week: Email Forwards

As always seems to happen around this time of the year, I've come down with some sort of illness and am feeling a bit under the weather. So because I am all nasty and sick, this post will be especially bitter!

What prompted the subject of today's tirade was a message I received from a friend this morning, asking me to check into an email she had been forwarded that was "heartbreaking." However, she had a feeling that it was a scam, and had remembered that years ago I sent a diatribe against forwarded emails to all of my close friends, informing them of how the vast majority of these sorts of messages are bogus. The one my friend had received yesterday was entitled, "Please read for my daughter" and included a bunch of sappy sayings like, "Just for this afternoon, I will unplug the telephone and keep the computer off, and sit with you in the backyard and blow bubbles." At the end of the list of "Just for todays" was a plea from a 29-year-old father (a policeman) whose daughter Rachel has brain cancer. They didn't have enough money for an operation she needed, so for some unknown reason, AOL and ZDNet were going to pledge 32 cents for every three people the message was forwarded to in order to raise money for Rachel's urgent procedure.

Now, before I go any further... what is wrong with this picture? Why would AOL and ZDNet do this? (My point being, there are several people in need of help in the world and in this country--why would these firms open themselves to a barrage of sob stories by agreeing to help this one particular child?) How exactly would they track the email forwards? Why aren't they promoting their good deed? Wouldn't it get some sort of news coverage, if only locally? If they were going to help, is this really the most efficient and effective way to raise money--to forward around emails and give 32 cents for every three people reached? Why wouldn't the father include his phone number and address in case someone wanted to do more for Rachel's cause?

Because the entire situation is completely made up. I found that out in about 2 seconds by typing "brain cancer" into Snopes' Urban Legend Search Engine. This particular email about Rachel's brain cancer had been circulating in some way, shape or form since the year 2000! If you're curious about it's history, here's the link. To be extremely clear - Rachel DOES NOT EXIST.'s main page has a category listing of urban legends and forwarded emails... most that I have received fall under the "Inboxer Rebellion" section. Even things as innocuous as the pictures circulating of Tiger Woods' supposed house are not real.

Along the same lines, I hate those emails that end with asking you to forward the message to ten million other people. It is the year 2008, people!!! STOP THE MADNESS! These emails have been around since 1996, and anyone sending them at this point is just screaming to the world that he or she is an amateur and completely new to the Internet and/or email. I have yet to find a person who actually likes to receive these types of messages. I promise you, nothing bad will befall you if you don't forward a chain email on. In fact, I will go so far as to guarantee that good karma will come your way if you do NOT forward the message any further! If you are just too superstitious to believe that you will not forever be cursed for refusing to follow the demands of some anonymous spammer, then you may want to download the "Chain Letter Nullification" certificate that can be found in this hilarious post by a guy who seems even more fed up than I am about the proliferation of chain emails.

I will admit that it is indeed sad that there are still people out there who knowingly create these types of scams. I'm not really sure what they get out of it. And I fully realize that most people just hit "forward" without thinking through whether or not the subject of the email is plausible--they're not meaning any harm. But if you want to actually help children who are sick--give to a legitimate charity. Forwarding an email initiated by some crazy bastard is NOT going to help anyone, all it's going to do is give the creep who came up with the idea a cheap thrill when he sees it's made its way onto Urban Legend trackers.

So the lesson of the day is... if you get a forwarded email, use (or's Urban Legend Netlore page) to investigate its validity, and then send the link proving its falsehood back to the sender so that they get the hint. You may have to do this a few times to the same person, forwarding seems to be an addiction of sorts for some people!

Alright, I have gotta go wire transfer some money to this guy in Nigeria who really needs my help... I'm pretty sure that one's not a scam, right?

- e