Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ipod Baby!!

My brand new, very first, ipod classic just arrived today. YIPPEE!!!!

I've already synced it up with my computer's itunes, corrected the gross error of transferring only Act I of Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog, and may have even squeed once or twice. In a professional capacity, natch.

Now I realize that in today's electronic global marketplace, this is probably like saying I've just discovered that there's this new mechanical thing and when you pick it up and dial a number, it allows you to speak to other people clear across town - across the world even! While my writing friends and colleagues are debating the merits of Kindle versus the Sony Reader, I'm just giddy over my run-of-the-mill ipod.

Understand that while I am Gadget Girl, I am not the sort of woman who eagerly plops down hundreds of hard earned dollars on the Next New Thing. Mostly because there's always a better version of That Thing mere months down the road. But really because there always seems to be exponentially better things to plop that money on - like rent and food and petrol. There are easily a dozen different internal justifications I have to endure to allow an indulgence of this level. Imagine what subconscious machinations it took for me to purchase my laptop!

It helps that I (effectively) didn't pay for the ipod.

Thanks to a gift card from my company for my 5 year anniversary, my Christmas gift from my Dad and Judy, my old friend's apple discount, and my sister's Christmas gift generosity - possibly fueled by a latent desire to shut me up and just get the damn thing already! - it's a done deal. (See - self-justification in just four easy steps!)

The snazzy darling finally arrived this morning along with my dark red (but of course!) iskin and complete with personal engraving, which reads "Your Name Is Music. And I Will Sing." I'm listening to my man Van crooned down the electronic pathways this very moment. Yes indeed, it is a very Sweet Thing.

What's something you finally allowed yourself to indulge in? Do you have personal hoops to jump through before you allow yourself (or your SO) to purchase something special?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Appointment Television - Chuck and Burn Notice

I'm a little behind the ball on the return of Burn Notice to the schedule this January. Really, it's just the remaining episodes from the summer rotation split, a la BSG, into two sections to stretch throughout the calendar year. But I have no complaints when such scheduling shenanigans result in more hot spy stuff.

Burn Notice chronicles the continuing quest for defrocked spy Michael Weston (Jeffrey Donovan) to uncover who "burned" him, i.e. fired with extreme prejudice, effectively re-writing his life in a single instant. Now he's stuck in his hometown of Miami where he performs A-team like rescues for underdogs with no one else to turn to. Fortunately, he does so in a classic Dodge Charger and not a souped up black and red van. And his team has more spunk with ex-girlfriend and former IRA terrorist Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) and ex-CIA best friend Sam (the delectable Bruce Campbell) lending their expertise while bickering through every job. There's also his mom, Madeline (Sharon Glesss), who smokes incessantly, drags Michael to therapy (a spy in therapy - think of it), calls him from a spy set up to change a light bulb, ropes him into "helping out a friend",
and regularly provides a safe house for whomever Michael is protecting at the moment.

In the first season, either Sam or Madeline would bring a potential client to Michael who were either friends or old buddies in need. Michael would reluctantly get involved, mostly because he needed to earn a living while uncovering who was trying to erase/control him. But now in the second season, Michael rarely even quibbles and in fact is ready to help from the start. This evolution of character is part of what makes it such a good show and what makes Jeffrey Donovan so good of an actor that the audience believe both the recalcitrant Michael and the accommodating Michael as the same man without him loosing any points off his suave bad ass edge.

As Michael is weekly swept up into a new A-plot, he explains various spy techniques for rigging home made bombs, or defrauding bad guys, or blowing up his own car to escape an assassin, usually accomplished with whatever materials are around him or that can be found in a local hardware store. (The producers insist that they always keep back a crucial ingredient so that no one could actually make an explosive from what they see on the show. That's what the Internet is for, right?)

It's like Macgyver on speed. With guns. And cool explosions. And fabulous snarky dialogue. And an intriguing mythology.

Did I mention Bruce Campbell?

For a good, fun, exciting, intriguing, entertaining ride, t
une into Burn Notice.

In the same spy category but world's away from Michael Weston's smooth successes is Chuck. Another keeper for me, this show is finally finding its solid legs in the middle of its second season. I've been hooked from the start, but can see the show's rhythm finally becoming consistent and reliable as it heads towards the final season two stretch. Cut short by last year's writers strike, the show elected not to come back on the schedule until fall 2008, setting itself up for a reboot.

Here's the gist: Once an up-and-coming computer whiz kid at Stamford, Chuck was set up for cheating by his roommate and was summarily expelled. He now works with his childhood friend Morgan (Joshua Gomez) at the Buy More (a Best Buy-like electronics store) as part of the Nerd Herd (read Geek Squad) and shares an apartment with his sister Ellie (Sarah Lancaster, lately of the beloved Everwood) and her fiancee, the aptly named Captain Awesome (Ryan McPartlin who did such an incredible job as an a-hole on Mad Men that I didn't even realize it was the same guy). Alls boring day in and day out for Chuck until that same former roommate - now a CIA spy - sends a classified database called The Intersect that's full of - well - spy stuff - to Chuck via an e-mail that downloads the information directly into Chuck's brain.

Stay with me.

Now Chuck lives his days at the Buy More amongst his fellow geeks and his nights (and lunch hours) fumbling around the spy world hither and thither with his subconsciously accessed database to quell the Big Bad every week. He has two handlers - Casey, (the fantabulous Adam Baldwin [no relation]) representing the military and CIA spy Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) - who
do most of the heavy spy lifting and are meant to protect Chuck and The Intersect - and rarely in that order. Casey stays close by as a neighbor and co-worker, Sarah poses incongruously as Chuck's girlfriend - a true pairing of Beauty and the Geek. Chuck himself doesn't really belong in either world and when not indulging his inner 007 or running for his life, he's trying to figure out just where he does fit - and with who.

What makes this show great? Oh, how about everything. Let's start with the Short Skirt and Long Jacket theme song by Cake, to which I do the great spy dance every week. Then there's Adam Baldwin's pitch perfect deadpan deliveries, the totally awesome 80s homages that pop up in every episode if you know to look for them,
Yvonne Strahovski kicking butt in nearly every episode (she's no Sidney Bristow, but that's not really a mark against her). Or is it the clear Die Hard hero worship that creators/producers/writers Josh Swartz and Chris Fedak float through every episode, the sometimes disgusting but always hysterical antics of the Buy More minions, or the multiple ways Chuck has saved the day either with some last-minute geektastic knowledge or just by finally being himself. Which is really how we like him best.

If you have fond memories of Gotcha then Chuck is the show for you. Go ahead.

Indulge your inner spy.

Burn Notice fires up
Thursday nights at 10pm on the USA channel.
Get out of the car with Chuck on NBC (channel 4 ET) Monday nights at 8pm.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Give Me Some Sugar!

A Virgin Rail station in Britain has prohibited kissing at the drop off point to try and keep foot traffic from clogging up. Mills & Boon Publishers, the British arm of Harlequin Books and the great-grandmommy of romance novels everywhere (recently celebrating their 100th anniversary in 2008) has devised several rebuttal posters encouraging loved ones - and I think they'd be just as happy with non-loved ones - to kiss and kiss again in protest. I think these posters are brilliant, but find these two here to be particularly worthy of a good guffaw.

Kiss, kiss darling.

Thanks to the Smart Bitches for the heads up.

Monday, February 23, 2009

"Don't Fall in Love With Me" - The Oscars

Something in my DNA will combust if I don't make some comment on the Oscars, but I'm pressed for time so I will revert to bullet points to speed things up.
  • Hugh: awesome, of course. You were expecting something else from me? The opening rocked and I can't decide if I want to kill Anne Hathaway or become her, but that segment was delightful and I was laughing a ton throughout the whole number. Still, I'll agree with many other critics that his extended absence from the stage in the later half of the show was disappointing. Some of those same critics accrue this to his lack of comedy improv chops, but I'd refer them to Hugh's performance in THE BOY FROM OZ; he worked plenty of improv into that puppy night after night.
  • The length: It's the Oscars, it's always going to be long. I may be glad I'm not enduring this in person sometimes, but I admit that I'd be disappointed for a shorter, less fulfilling program. Take Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix for example. Though I've watched the film to death, I still feel cheated by it's demonstrably shorter length and am justifiably worried about what this means for the remaining movies in the franchise that will be made by OOTP's same director. I'm sure I'd feel similarly if they so cut the Oscars. So buck up baby.
  • The five masters' presentations of the acting awards: I liked it a lot and yet the first thing I said when they began with the Supporting Actress category was "They are never going to be finished on time if they keep this up." (Yes, I said it out loud, to myself, because that's what I do.) If I were one of those nominees, I would be in a puddle on the floor to be addressed with such familiarity and grace, and to be given such praise by someone with acting heft like Shirley MacLaine (I'm looking at you again, Hathaway!) So I was moved and touched by the tributes and by the look on the nominees' faces, for the most part they were too. Still, I don't see them repeating it any time soon.
  • The multiple-awards presenters: By far, Fey and Martin were the best. I read one review that likened their banter to a soap opera spoof, but I thought it was meant more to twiddle the Jane Austen motif. I thought Tina Fey made a reference to Austen herself and the look she gave Steve Martin before his priceless delivery (quoted above in the headline) struck me as being more lost-in-unrequited-love-while-bound-in-a-corset related than anything else.
  • The Copacabana set atmosphere: I confess to really enjoying the staging of the night and the efforts that were made to instill a more intimate feeling in the room than the cavernous setting that is the Kodak Theater. It may have been elitist to wall off the top runners in the front gaggle of rows, but visually, it worked. Not having the cameras pan out to the middling crowd helped to maintain it too.
  • The sound awards and whatnot: How are these not technical and thus part of that separate event? Please don't give me the real reason why - I don't really care; I just want to move the ceremony along. Granted, it didn't grate as much as it could have, most due to a self-awareness and brevity (for the most part) among the winners. And to sign off with "Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto" shows a man who knows how to play his audience. But please, can we move these off the main ticket?
  • The second Big Number: When you've got a triple threat like Hugh Jackman, you've gotta milk him for all he's worth (Ahem). And I'm not going to complain about something that gives me more Hugh, but I viewed this second song and dance number with puzzled brow and a general feeling of "Oh - Kay." Then I heard that Baz Luhrmann choreographed/arranged it and it made a little more sense. Some of it. It was like a schizophrenic medley up there. Sure it was an amazing technical feat and everyone performed it incredibly well, but, eh. Still, God bless those poor High School Musical and Mamma Mia kids though as they experienced the joys of live theatre complete with torn stockings, missing hats, and entangled bow ties and microphones to finish the number with joie and poise.
  • What was Peter Gabriel's problem?: Look, I understand wanting your Oscar nominated theme song to be heard by itself, in its entirety, on awards night. But I thought the medley of the three nominated numbers was very well done and the blending of the three at the end an act of music wizardry and talent that is very difficult to nail as well as they did. Kudos to John Legend and company for pulling that all off. Honestly it just made PG look like an asshat for refusing to participate. Apparently, they didn't need him after all.
  • Brevity of musical choices: What the hell is up with only three nominated songs? I seem to remember Beyoncé crooning more songs than that back when Jay-Z produced the show and gave his girlfriend nearly all the performances. This only emphasizes the crime that is the lack of a nomination for Bruce Springsteen's The Wrestler.
  • The acting wins - men: Sean Penn - you betcha. He made be a prick of a perfectionist, but the man can act extraordinarily well. After years of getting passed over for damn good work, it's nice to see him picking up an heir and a spare. I did have a hope for Mickey Rourke, but the man has yet to learn from his mistakes as his behavior in the last few weeks demonstrates. You can be weird and odd and out there when you have the talent, backlist of work, and damn good looks of a Johnny Depp. But when you're crawling your way out from the bottom of the heap after deep-sixing your promising career, you have to shut up (and please God, clean up) and play the game. And he didn't. And he lost. Of course Heath Ledger won for Supporting Actor. How can you compete against a dead man who gave the performance of his career? I thought his family's acceptance was very classy and well done. Good on ya.
  • The acting wins - women: You rock Kate Winslet! I was scared to death La Streep would pull it out in the end. Also, I admit I secretly hoped to see Melissa Leo force an upset because she is awesome and undersold, but it was Kate's night and I could not be more pleased. Many people first met her in Titanic - I first saw her in Sense and Sensibility and while that movie has its flaws, she was never one of them. Kate is at the top of her game, one of the most talented, unbelievably skilled, focused and exceptional actresses of her generation (I'd add Rachel Weisz to that group too, but right now can't think of any others). It should never take that stuffy academy six nominations to give this goddess the big baldy, but at least now they pulled their heads from their butts and done the right thing. Huzzah! As for Supporting Actress? Shut up Penelope Cruz. I do not get the obsession with this woman, nor do I care to. She won. Whatever.
  • Not playing off the winners: About bloody time. Again, there's the time constraints to be considered. But these people just achieved the professional pinnacle of their careers. Let 'em talk, for crying out loud.
  • The rest of the awards: It was a Slumdog night and really there isn't much else to say about that. You couldn't find more appreciative, star-struck, is-this-really-happening-to-me? people than the cast and crew present last night from Slumdog Millionaire. 'Nuff said.
  • The fashions: Nobody was horribly attired - at least none of the people that I saw. I thought Kate might be a bit too bronze, but she was stunning otherwise. Angelina's emeralds were so big I wondered if they were glass (shows what kind of eye for jewelry I have). But in general, everyone was very classy (I'm not looking at you Rourke!) I loved, absolutely LOVED, having Tim Gunn of Project Runway fame interviewing on the red carpet. He's a class act, he knows his fashion and his stars and he's just a darling. Perfect choice.
Halfway though the ceremony, I texted my sister and said "this is my favorite Oscar show in a while and I don't mean the award winners. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't but I had a great time watching nonetheless, which is the point, after all, of tuning in in the first place.

And Hugh, of course.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Boys Are Back in Town - U2 Mania

I've been listening to the new U2 album No Line On the Horizon on and off all weekend thanks to the wondrous peoples at 107.1 FM The Peak. On Friday, they played the entire album, a new track at the top of every hour, and they've continued to sample tracks all weekend. Already I have favorites and the album doesn't even release until March 3rd! Though Get On Your Boots, the first single released on the radio waves, was a tad disappointing, it was fun and catchy. But the stuff I've been hearing this weekend blows that gimlet away as the meatier, more resonating songs lurk deeper in bowels of the album. Already, I am haunting the airwaves for snippets of Magnificent, title track No Line on the Horizon, White As Snow, and Breathe. I feel echoes of Achtung Baby! in the new tunes while new sounds and influences weave around to create something completely new. And in White as Snow, I swear I hear parts of the Christmas anthem O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

Big thank you to The Peak! I'm vibrating with excitement. This is going to be something amazing.

Can't freaking wait. Perfect way to break in my new ipod!

Now I'm off to watch my fantasy lover blow us away as he hosts the Oscars.

All in all, not a bad way to start the week.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

101 Ways to Cook Manna

I found myself with a somewhat unfamiliar feeling this past week. I had a wonky glitch in my belly and my puzzler was puzzling to figure it out until I uncovered its source.

I felt - good. Downright giddy.


I wondered if I should quickly knock on wood, or wish on a star, or twirl around three times and spit widdershins a la The Scottish Play curse just in case.

See, I made the mistake on Saturday of opening my renewal policy for the auto insurance. While I've long since determined that I will not be afraid of opening potentially dodgy envelopes, I've learned this can be self-defeating on the weekends as whatever may be found lurking in the depths of such envelopes cannot be sorted out until Monday morning. That leaves two full nights of worry and sleeplessness to surmount where a happy ignorance would have allowed peaceful rest - theoretically.

Lurking in this particular package was a substantial and wholly unexpected increase to our premium. Our car insurance was blessedly significantly reduced when we moved last August, but two outstanding accidents from 2007 and early 2008 (I feel compelled here to caveat that these were not my accidents) have only now been accrued to the policy. Hence the increase, I thought.

When contacted on Monday, my agent confirmed this assumption on my part and added that our Tier level had correspondingly been raised, which never portends good things. He offered to write a new policy with a different company and see if our numbers improved, but though I agreed, I had little hope for success. So I set to figuring out how we'd counter the increase;
it's in my nature to immediately search for ways to solve a problem. A freelance gig a month would nearly make up the difference, but there's no regularity to how and when those jobs roll in. I also thought of my delayed potential promotion and how a resolution there might smooth this financial hiccup. But though grateful for these options, both of which are beyond my control, I was frustrated to think how the funds I'd been anticipating for so long would now simply plug another hole, not repave the entire lot.


This seems to be par for the course in my life. My family and I have always been provided for in one way or another from big things to small. A random check in the mail when the bank account is empty, a timely invitation to dinner, a kind car repossesser who agrees to look the other way for the weekend, $10.02 in my wallet when $10.01 was needed for the bill, a job beyond expectation after months of unemployment. Whatever shape or form, Jehovah Jireh has paved the way with exactly what was needed. It's an amazing thing to witness and to benefit from. But in my human failing, I've often wondered why it's only ever just what I need. Why it's never more.

How ungrateful of me, I know. It's a bit like the Israelites in the wilderness when the Lord provided manna for their hungry bellies. At first it was Food From the Sky! Hallelujah! Right? Then after a few weeks, I imagine there were more than a few wry glances at the sky asking "You got any butter with that?"

Sidebar: Fun fact: man-na actually translates literally into "What is it?" That nugget of knowledge is courtesy of Old Testament Theology at Gordon College. Go Doc Wilson!

I feel for the Israelites in this. When fleeing from Egypt, I doubt they thought to pack the 101 Ways to Cook Manna cookbook. And, to be fair, over time the palate gets bored. I'm guessing it's hard enough to lighten up unleavened bread as it is. But the lesson taught is one of ungratefulness, of a people who complained and strayed from the Lord because they were unsatisfied with food falling from the sky. It's that pesky human failing, that ingrained ingratitude, the compulsion to demand more from a miracle that always trips us up. Even today, if we had food fall on us from above, we'd likely be looking for a leaky airliner or dodgy weather and having News at 11 reports for a week on the lax regulations for airline food transportation or the newest natural disaster. We probably wouldn't immediately lean towards divine provision. We wouldn't automatically think to be grateful.

But isn't that exactly what we need? In today's climate, when a secure position is an anathema and each day bears witness to another casualty of unprecedented greed, we need to appreciate what we have and what the Lord continues to provide more than ever. A hundred and one ways to be grateful, a hundred and one ways to be thankful, a hundred and one ways to appreciate our families and our lives and our communities and just how much work and faith have been put into it all. A hundred and one ways to use God's provision abundantly regardless of a wonky somewhat petulant spirit (that would be me BTW). A hundred and one ways to cook manna.

And then He gave me more.

On Thursday, my agent sent me the rewritten auto insurance policy. It's a financial boon for us without sacrificing a bit of coverage. O
ther things beyond just a company switch offset the addition of the accidents and actually work to our advantage. I'm still amazed at the vast difference (it's staggering) and am speechlessly grateful that my wonky spirit was proved wrong - again. This was the source of my good feeling, my near giddy, gun shy contentment. Ready for the best part? The money I already have in hand for the original policy renewal is more than enough for the premium on the new one.

More than enough.

Guess what's back on the menu now?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

From the "Some People Are So Bloody Clever" File

This link that re-envisions movies as book jackets.

Pick your favorites.

Mine? Not too surprisingly I'm tickled by Highlander, Shaun of the Dead, Batman Returns, Back to the Future and Labyrinth.