Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Movie Review: 'Wish I Was Here' is no 'Garden State'

*Note: This review was first published during the 2014 Sundance Film Festival

Wish I Was Here

Zach Braff's diretorial follow-up to "Garden State" was under scrutiny long before its premiere in Park City. The "Scrubs" actor drew the ire of many by asking his would-be audience for help through the fundraising website Kickstarter, with many feeling that it was inappropriate for an established star with Hollywood connections and several year's worth of syndicated sitcom money in the bank to be asking regular folk to turn out their pockets.

But his fans jumped on board, and now the question is whether "Wish I Was Here" delivers their money's worth.

WIWH, like Garden State before it, tells the story of a struggling actor (Braff) at a crossroads in life. In this case, Braff's Aidan Bloom is a 30-something father of two who is in a professional rut. He hasn't worked since "that dandruff commercial," leaving his wife (Kate Hudson) to shoulder the bulk of the family's financial burdens.

Aidan gets hit with another blow in the form of his ailing father (Homeland's Mandy Patinkin) whose cancer has returned and spread throughout his body. Their relationship is strained, with Patinkin's character incessantly voicing his disapproval of Aidan's career choice, but more intact than that of Aidan's brother (Josh Gad) who we presume has barely spoken to his father in years.

The movie is more mature than much of Braff's earlier work, with a surprising amount of tenderness between Aidan and his two children (played by Looper's Pierce Gagnon and White House Down's Joey King). But there is a disconnect between the characters and the material that stands in the film's way. Braff and Hudson have little, if any, chemistry onscreen and Gad has even less with Ashley Greene in a side-plot awkwardly inserted into the fray. There's also a significant portion of the film devoted to religion that never quite materializes into something impactful.

In the end, Wish I Was Here is a pleasant film with a sufficiently emotional voice. But the movie likely will not live up to the expectations of Garden State fans who waited 10 years for Braff to get back behind the camera.

Grade: B

*Wish I Was Here opens in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 25.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Treat Yo Self: European Facial with Chelsey Gensel

European Facial

Last month's Treat Yo' Self was not entirely pleasant, so as a new month rolled in I was ready to get back to an activity of a more relaxing nature. I briefly considered doing something patriotic to coincide with Independence Day, but then it occurred to me that I spend the bulk of July with a persistent sunburn and my skin could use a little TLC.

So I settled on a European Facial, which combines a deep cleansing with steam, exfoliation, and an upper body massage before culminating in a chemical mask that hydrates the skin, and I invited my friend Chelsey Gensel to come along.

Chelsey and I met in the journalism program at Utah State University, and more specifically at USU's independent student newspaper, The Utah Statesman.

When I was named editor in chief I hired Chelsey as my second-in-command, meaning that she made sure everything was spelled correctly while I engaged in ill-advised spitting contests with the school's student government and Greek Row (which were pretty much one and the same).

In 2011, we both moved to New York City and were basically neighbors in that we were separated by a couple subway stops and were two of the only seven white people in Queens. She's an extremely loyal and supportive friend and is passionate about the things she loves.

She's OK.

photo 2(8)

We checked in at Skinworks School of Advanced Skincare for our 2 p.m. appointment and had a few minutes to fill out a questionnaire in an phenomenally-aromatic lobby. The sun is really bad, guys, as our pages made clear by repeated inquiries into our regular levels of exposure and warnings against venturing out into the cruel harsh light except for the most exigent of circumstances.

From there we were taken into our private rooms, Chelsey by a woman and myself by a nice man named Mike who reminded me of Little Richard without the mustache.

My preconception of facials was largely based on television comedies, where groups of women sit together and gossip about their love lives with a green paste on their skin and cucumbers over their eyes. I assume that option is out there, but my facial was a very matter-of-fact affair, with the first 30 minutes or so consisting of the applications of various creams during a dialogue with Mike about my individual skincare needs and then 30 minutes of quiet relaxation while Mike applied a translucent mask and massaged my face, neck, shoulders, arms and back.

Mike told me I have great skin (I bet he says that to all the guys) and warned me repeatedly about wearing SPF since I'm a "Fitzpatrick II," which is skin-industry-speak for "Pasty white Irish boy."

Properly pampered, Chelsey and I headed to Oh Mai to conduct our interview over some Báhn Mì sandwiches and toasted coconut water.

Oh Mai Salt Lake City

Wood’s Stock: Who are you and what do you do?

Chelsey Gensel: I am Chelsey and I am a nanny in New York.

WS: Have you ever had a European facial?

CG: I’ve never had a facial of any kind before today.

WS: What did you think?

CG: I was pleasantly surprised with what a process it was. I thought you would just sit in a chair and they would put some gunk on your face and then wipe it off and moisturize you. But it was kind of like getting a massage. You’re in there for an hour, you have a bed and it was quite involved. And the mask was clear, I was not expecting that.

WS: Neither was I.

CG: You expect it to be like green or blue or mud colored or whatever.

WS: Walk me through it. What was it they did, you did, and so on.

CG: They had a lovely terry cloth dressing gown. A massage table bed. A warm toasty blanket, which was good because it may be summer and you think you’re not going to be cold but when they’re taking hot and cold washcloths off your face for an hour you get a little bit of a chill.

European Facial

They started with some kind of a cleanser, lotion-y stuff. They wiped that off. Exfoliant – wiped that off. Mask, moisturizer, whatever the last one was. Toner? I think. And then a sort of upper body massage in between. Oh and the lamp, the check-your-skin-to-make-sure-you’re-healthy lamp.

WS: With my guy, the first half was a lot of questions and conversation and then the last half was mostly massage. Is that how yours went?

CG: Actually no, she was not talkative at all at first. I explained to her that I had my freshly-inked tattoo so I couldn’t have my arm rubbing against the blankets and moved around. The questions were very business-like, just about what was going to be happening. She asked what scent I wanted. But she never asked what I did, where I was from, anything like that. It was very little conversation.

WS: Do you remember which scent you chose?

CG: Lemongrass

WS: Mine was an East Indian Patchouli Oil and he said I had good taste.

CG: Patchouli Oil is nasty.

WS: I agree, but this was apparently differently.

CG: Yeah it was that or lavender or lemongrass. It was a toss up between lemongrass and lavender but there was no way I was going Patchouli.

WS: Was there anything else that surprised you or that you didn’t expect?

CG: No I don’t think so. I’ve been to salons before. I’ve read the service menus and kind of knew what to expect from a facial. I just didn’t know that it was like an hour-long process.

WS: How does your skin feel?

CG: Refreshed and glow-y, although a little bit wet. I keep waiting for the moisturizer to all soak in but every time I touch my face it feels a little oily.

European Facial

WS: So let’s talk a little bit about New York.

CG: It’s still there.

WS: You’re a nanny there, how long have you been doing that?

CG: Three years.

WS: How do you like it?

CG: I still like it most of the time. I figure it has its challenges like any job but it’s something I generally enjoy doing and can still learn from doing and let’s me live the way I would like to and be comfortable and do the things I like to do.

WS: What was the motivation behind New York. Why that place?

CG: New York is my mistress. I’m just in love with it. I can’t explain it, it’s like it’s own little universe. I hated Salt Lake City growing up and I never would have figured myself for a city girl but I was nannying in Pennsylvania after my freshman year of college and visited New York on a weekend and just from the second I stepped off the subway I wanted to come back.

WS: I think most everybody, whether they vocalize it or not, wants to live in New York. Or they at least want to be able to. Do you ever find yourself surprised that you’re actually there?

CG: No, not really.

WS: You never have that moment where you realize “Oh right, I live in New York”

CG: I guess sometimes I do take a step back and think “aren’t I lucky to live in a place where I have all these opportunities and can do all the things I want to do, basically when I want to do them.” But that’s not happenstance, I did it on purpose, so it’s not like it’s a surprise to me. I picked New York because I wanted to be in New York for those reasons: to be able to do those things and go those places and have those experiences.

People always say “You’re so brave” or “You’re so adventurous.” It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal to me. I went where I wanted to go to do what I wanted to do.

WS: So you don’t automatically feel cooler than the rest of us because you live in the Big Apple.

CG: Oh yeah. I totally do. But it’s not for everybody and I get that. I’m not like a New York missionary.

WS: What’s the best thing and what’s the worst thing about living in New York?

CG: I’ll probably have a different answer in a few months but right now it’s the smell.

WS: Yeah, the summertime…

CG: Summer in New York, it doesn’t matter where you go, it’s smells like hot garbage and body odor. That’s just the way it is. It’s hot and you think like you’re never going to be dry again. It’s like in Harry Potter when they play that quidditch match in the rain and Fred and George say “We haven’t been properly dry since August.” That’s how I feel starting in about May in new york.

WS: What about the best thing?

CG: (Takes a sip of toasted coconut water) I don’t like it. Not New York, I don’t like the coconut juice.

Bahn Mi

WS: You don’t like the coconut?

CG: It’s got chunks in it.

WS: Yeah it does! I love it. I absolutely love it.

CG: Texturally that’s not a thing that I am interested in doing. I’ll sip it. You should have told me there were chunks.

WS: You wouldn’t have gotten it if I had.

CG: That’s true.

WS: You need to be a more adventurous eater.

CG: That is totally untrue.

WS: OK I take that back, you still do like ethnic food and all sorts of things.

CG: As evidenced, I’ll try almost anything. Usually taste is not bothersome to me, it’s texture.

WS: Well I do feel like you put too much of a dealbreaker status on texture.

CG: I can’t help my brain chemistry. I’m sorry.

WS: You were born this way, is that what you’re saying?

CG: Yes I was. Actually I may have been born this way but I’m probably more adventurous than I would otherwise have been if I didn’t spend four years as a vegetarian.

WS: Yeah, that makes you experiment with food.

photo 1(10)

CG: What was the question?

WS: Best thing about New York?

CG: My head is swimming, I don’t know how to define it. If I get asked this question in a conversational setting I’ll either give a stock answer that makes no sense or I’ll wax philosophical for days because I love it so much.

It sounds super corny, but it always amazes me that as a city that is so connected to everywhere else in the world it can be so isolated. I feel like it has it’s own heartbeat. You can be isolated and find your niche and never leave or you can go 100 different directions and experience anything you want to experience and never see the same person twice for 10 years if you don’t want to.

WS: I know what you mean. I remember when I was living there I would tell people how I felt kind of alone and isolated and people would say “how is that possible?” but there’s so many people that you are just in a sea.

CG: And it can be really hard to meet people because it’s not like you just go to the park or it can be kind of an ordeal to go anywhere you’re going to go so you have to be purposeful about it. So if you’re not part of an office culture where you meet people at work or a church group where you meet people of your faith or you're going to school and you meet people in class, it can be very difficult because not everyone wants to necessarily meet the people they would meet at a bar on a night out.

WS: And without those groups there’s just millions of people…

CG: ...who never really intersect. Although you see dog walkers and dog owners pass each other on the street and strike up a conversation. I have started talking to people on the subway because I notice they’re listening to a band I like or reading a book I know.

A couple weeks ago I started hanging out with these four kids on the subway who were playing a word game where you start with the last letter of the previous person’s answer. This one kid kept using World Cup players and I caught on to it 3 or 4 rounds in so I interrupted on his turn and said “another World Cup player?” He was like “Dang, I’m caught” and I joined their game. For 20 minutes on the subway I played a game with these four strangers and will never see them again. But you can put yourself into wherever and whoever and whatever you want or remove yourself just as easily.

WS: I do miss that, that is a cool aspect of the city.

CG: And a simplistic one but I really like being in proximity to everything I want to do like concerts and stuff.

WS: Is there anything you miss about Utah?

CG: The mountains and my family and friends who are still here. When I come back it’s nice for about 3 days but everywhere I go I run into someone I know and can catch up and don’t really have to put effort into it. But then after a little while I’m over it and ready to go back to the city.
I’ve seen enough plaid cargo shorts, tank tops over t-shirts and crocs to last me a lifetime. I don’t claim to be high fashion or anything but I’ve had about enough.

European Facial

WS: Would you recommend a European facial to others?

CG: I would say “provisionally.” It’s very nice but I imagine it can be quite pricey depending on where you go and unless you have skincare needs or issues I don’t know whether it would be worth it to do often. It’s certainly worth trying once, but I’m not sure it would be cost effective to do just for fun.

WS: Anything you want to promote?

CG: Ed Sheeran’s new album just came out. Go listen to it.

WS: Are you on Twitter?

CG: Yes, @ChelseyJane

Monday, July 21, 2014

'Weird Al' IS the Internet

"Weird Al" Yankovich

I never saw the video for "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Eat It" on MTV. Or "Amish Paradise." Or "Like a Surgeon." Or "Fat" for that matter.
That's because when I was a kid, enjoying a picturesque childhood in rural Utah in the late 80s/early 90s, my family didn't have cable. And we weren't alone.

Back then subscriber television hadn't reached levels of omnipresent ubiquity. My neighbors had it, and it was always a thrill to scroll through the endless list of channels at hotels during family vacations, but once we were home I was limited to the Big 4 and PBS, assuming I could hold the antennas in the exactly right position.

I was still a passionate "Weird Al" fan, resulting from my love of all things Star Wars in 2009 that led me to obtaining my own copy of the album "Running With Scissors" — which included a Star Wars-themed parody of "American Pie" along with such hits as "Pretty Fly for a Rabbi" and an 11-minute spoken word tribute to Albuquerque, New Mexico, which I memorized and would perform at family functions.

But MTV is where Yanky made his bread and butter, and the reason why is obvious.
You don't listen to "Weird Al" for the music. Nobody puts "Living with a Hernia" on the playlist for their wedding video. You listen to "Weird Al" because he has a gift for pairing clever wordplay with satirical videos shot with surprisingly impressive production quality.

His appeal — and his biggest hits — have always stemmed from a knack for multi-media showmanship, which is exactly what makes his current internet domination so interesting.
As of the writing of this post, Al was on day 5 of an ambitious strategy of 8 daily music video releases ahead of the release of his 14th album. The "project," for lack of a better word, has done gangbusters online, flooding my twitter feed and Facebook as friends and acquaintances discover "Word Crimes," "Tacky" and "Foil." ( 6 million, 2 million, and 6 million YouTube views, respectively).

He has stated in interviews that part of his digital release strategy is due to the decline of MTV and cable, and he's right. MTV's much-discussed failure as "Music" television aside, research group TDG found that cable subscriptions in the U.S. peaked in 2011 with 100.9 million households and has declined ever since (and is projected to continue keep falling).


But where most articles have suggested that Yankovich is "adapting" to the internet age, I would posit that the internet is precisely what his career has been building to. Yankovich has been here all along, he was just waiting for the rest of us to catch up.

Social media, and the "viral" sensations it creates, has fully supplanted primetime television programming as the most effective way to reach a mass audience. But consider this, A Yankovich video like "Word Crimes" is the perfect Facebook post: a funny, inoffensive video that pleases both political ranters and baby-picture-sharers with its blend of winking high-brow and low-brow comedy. Take, for example, the blink-and-you-miss-it innuendo of "a cunning linguist" tucked into a debate over the Oxford Comma in "Word Crimes" (hey-hey-hey!).

The songs are familiar, prompting us to turn up the volume to hear the differences that derive from similarity, and the videos are packed with gags that blend both sight and sound (the backup singers who materialize to croon the word "Fooooooooooil" will never not be funny).

All week long we've been stumbling upon these videos, we've had a good laugh, we've maybe re-watched to see if we missed something on our first run, and then we clicked the share button to let our friends in on the joke. From there, we went about our lives never to really think about or listen to it again.

That type of catch-and-release audience engagement has always been central to "Weird Al's" creations, but until now we've never had the appropriate mechanism to make full use of its potential. Fourteen albums later, Yankovich has seized upon the perfect storm of technology and clickbait attention spans to produce the best work of his career. Bravo.

And in case you haven't seen it yet, here's the video for "Word Crimes."

Friday, July 18, 2014

Movie Review: A 'Sex Tape' best left unseen

'sex tape'

Comedies, by nature, are built on the basis of justifiable implausibility. That's because life, by and large, isn't particularly funny, which requires a level of pseudo-fantasy to generate the big laughs movie goers expect.

That's why we allow a suspension of disbelief when, say, two 30-year-old men pose as high school students in the Jump Street films, or a crass teddy bear is brought to life by a child's wish in Ted. That lapse of reality gets us in through the door, in order to take us on a wild ride of shenanigans and tomfoolery.

It's unfortunate, then, when a movie has nowhere to go beyond its initial, unlikely premise. Such is the case with 'Sex Tape,' which manages to make an otherwise tight 90-minute running time feel like it's dragging on endlessly through a series of meandering and asinine sequences only sporadically punctuated by the rarest glimpses of comedic ingenuity.

Annie (Cameron Diaz) and Jay (Jason Segel) are suburban parents in a happy marriage that has lost the fiery passion of their younger years, which we see in flashback while Annie narrates the body of her latest mommy blog post. Because what R-Rated comedy about a sex tape is complete without a mommy blog sub-plot?

Jay is a loosely defined radio station manager, which is established solely to explain that because of his job he routinely upgrades to a new iPad and gives his old device away as a gift. He has apparently done this several times, because after a night of mommy-blog-related celebration produces an ill-advised recording of the pair recreating every pose in The Joy of Sex, the video in question is automatically synced to the tablets of his friends, family and mailman via the all-mysterious Cloud.

Thus begins a long and increasingly desperate attempt to retrieve all of the digital copies, which have found themselves in the hands of Annie's potential employer (a surreal and unhinged Rob Lowe) and a teenage extortionist (naturally). And along the way Jay and Annie take stock of their dwindling physical relationship providing some sort of emotional undertone for a movie whose audience will be largely comprised of teenage boys who came for the promise of seeing Diaz naked (sorry boys, backside only).

It's a bizarre amalgamation of disparate elements: part wandering heist film, part softcore skin-flick, part heart-happy love story, part mildly amusing and several parts endlessly boring. When the final evidence of their tawdry misdead is recovered and beaten with a hammer, it's an all-too-fitting end.

Grade: C+

*Sex Tape opens nationwide on Friday, July 17.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Photo Shoot: Midnight Train to Denver


Utah occupies a rather prominent role in the history of U.S. rail travel. On May 10, 1869, the First Transcontinental Railroad was completed with the driving of the Golden Spike at Promontory Summit in the then-Utah Territory, linking the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads and forming a continues line from east to west.

It's a scene that is depicted on the state's official quarter, along with the phrase "Crossroads Of The West," and yet despite residing in Utah for 91 percent of my life I've never really participated in long-distance rail travel (subways and a quick trip on the Long Island Rail Road excluded).

But a few months ago I was at a journalism conference where the invited speaker was Tom Zoellner, a former Utah journalist who authored the book "Train," which is about, as it turns out, trains.

At the end of his speech, the mediator asked him what one what piece of advice he would give a roomful of professional journalists. I was suspecting some bit of industry parlance like "work your beat" or "write tight" but instead Zoellner said to get on the California Zephyr and ride to San Francisco.


Until he said that it hadn't even occurred to me that Amtrak stopped in Salt Lake City. We're westerners after all, we have cars. But then I remember that of course you can get on a train in Utah. We're the Crossroads of the West!

I've been to San Francisco, and most of the points west along the Zephyr's route, but in 27 years of Utah living I had never visited Denver, our intermountain sister-city to the East, so when a 3-day weekend availed itself to me I packed a back and headed for the tracks.

Obviously there's a lot of drawbacks when comparing travel by rail to travel by air. A nonstop flight on Delta from SLC to DEN takes 90 minutes, compared to the 16 hour churn of the Zephyr. And because the Zephyr runs a single route on repeat, ad infinitum, there's not a lot of options for departure times. In Salt Lake, that means boarding at 3 a.m. if everything runs on time (more on that later).


But it has its advantages as well. The cost is typically lower, the seating is considerably more comfortable, you can stretch your legs with a trip to the lounge car or catch a full-service meal in the diner. And security is scant, with almost no limits on your luggage and the ability, if you choose, to snuggle with your dog. Let's see you do that on Delta.


Speaking of the lounge. On both my departure and return trains there was a family of – what I presume to be – Amish people. At first I thought "Oh, we're all coming back together" but then it occurred to me that these were not the same people. Turns out the Amish don't ride planes, with the more orthodox seeing them as an unnecessary worldly luxury and thus necessitating the use of trains for long-distance travel. Who knew!

The other way that trains have planes beat is the scenery, which particularly through the Glenwood Canyon was just incredible.


Our first stop in Colorado was Grand Junction, a rather dilapidated relic of the railway golden years. You can almost imagine old scenes of men in trench coats, puffing on cigars in the moonlight while the steam from an arriving trains billows along the platform, or enlisted men leaning out of windows for one last kiss as their girls wave and dab at tears with frayed handkerchiefs.

Now it's just boarded windows and chain link fences, with a metallic Amtrak Sign lending support to the cracked and faded lettering on the junction's facade.


We arrived at Denver's Union Station a little before 7 p.m. The building was closed for a private party celebrating the end of a renovation project so we travelers wrapped around the perimeter and headed up the 16th Street pedestrian mall.


16th Street is a charming feature of the city's downtown, with through-traffic relegated to the cross streets and only public transit and rickshaws allowed down the main drag. The street itself is largely dominated by Starbucks shops and chain restaurants like Cheesecake Factory and Chili's, making it something of a pedestrian mecca for those friends of yours who like to go out but don't have particularly refined taste.


There are exceptions of course and the ritzy Larimer Square is nearby, where I got some killer sushi and potstickers at Tag. And since this is Colorado, I moseyed into a recreational marijuana store. I didn't take any pictures though, because I didn't want to be that guy who walks in with a Utah ID and a camera starts snapping photos like some puritanical narc.


Saturday was my main day to explore the city. I watched the Rockies lose to the Twins while eating a footlong bratwurst at Coor's Field and stopped by Tatterred Cover bookstore to pick up my own copy of A Tale of Two Cities (which was fitting, because my king bed at the Grand Hyatt allowed me to end the night with one of the better rests that I have ever known).


I also headed over to Commons Park, which runs along the South Platte River, and happened upon a skateboarding tournament, which made for a nice distraction. I'm not a skater, I've never been a skater, but it's incredible what they're able to do.


From there I headed back to my hotel with a quick detour to the Colorado State Capitol and Civic Center Park, where most of the city's government buildings (and the Denver Post) are located. Colorado has a great capitol, with a blue-ish rotunda that makes it stand out from the relatively identical nature of those buildings.


Nearby are the public library and Denver Art Museam, two great modernist buildings surrounded by sculptures and pop art. I'm a sucker pop art, always have been.


I was supposed to leave Sunday morning at 8 a.m., but around 6:30 I woke up to a message that my train had been delayed four hours to 11:50. When a 16-hour ride is delayed four hours, it puts a bit of wrinkle in your plans. What puts an even larger wrinkle in your plans is when that train is delayed again until 12:15, and then again until 12:30, and then finally leaves around 1:15.
But on the bright side, I finally got a chance to explore the union station.


I admit that some of the romance had worn off by my return trip, during which I spent less time gazing out the lounge windows and more time with headphones in my ears binge-watching the first season of The Americans on my laptop.

But even while I tried to resist, the scenery at times was just too much to ignore.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

2014 Emmy Nominsations

Orange is the New Black

As I read through this mornings Emmy nominations list there were two thoughts that immediately popped into my head:

1) Broadcast television is truly dead
2) Emmy voters like what they like and if they do change it will be slowly thank you very much.

For years it's been accepted that the drama categories are the domain of the flashier pay-cable networks, with traditional broadcasters left to scramble over the comedic offerings. But with this year's Outstanding Comedy Series noms including Netflix' Orange is the New Black, HBO's Silicon Valley and Veep and FX's Louie, that leaves just perennial nominees Big Bang Theory (CBS) and Modern Family (ABC) representing the big four.

And that OK, since OITNB, Silicon Valley, Veep and Louie are all outstanding comedies well-deserving of the honor. But it's unfortunate that if broadcast TV only has two slots to fill, the Emmy Voters chose to waste them on the most overrated show on television (BBT) and a once-great sitcom in decline (MF).

In fact, the Modern Family situation is emblematic of the overall Emmy nominations list, which is basically a lukewarm dish of leftovers peppered with a few justified fresh faces. True Detective and Fargo got the love they deserve, but another nomination for Jim Parsons? A repeat for The Newsroom's Jeff Daniels? And why are we still nominating Downton Abbey for best drama when the show is a shadow of its former self?

HBO again reigned supreme in total nominations and Netflix expanded it's footprint with OITNB, offering a glimpse of what the dystopian hellscape of television's future will look like. Adapt or die, broadcast, adapt or die.

The Good:

• A lot has been written about the importance of Orange is the New Black – its character diversity, socio-political subject matter, female-centric storylines, etc – and it's great to see the Emmy voters throw a nod to not only lead actress Taylor Schilling, but also Kate Mulgrew's as supporting character Red and guest actress nods (more on that later) for Laverne Cox, Natasha Lyonne and "Crazy Eyes" Uzo Aduba.

• I, for one, am glad that True Detective went for the top prize of Outstanding Drama rather than play the miniseries game a la American Horror Story. I love me some AHS but when 75 percent of your cast returns every year the argument that you're not a series can be kind of sneaky. Ironically, the leads of True Detective will not return next year, meaning it could actually justify it's existence as a miniseries but why sell yourself short, eh?

• Another nomination for Veep's Tony Hale, because the world can never have enough Tony Hale.

• [UPDATE] I am absolutely thrilled that Reg E. Cathey scored a guest actor nod for his work as Freddy on House of Cards. It's weird how much I found myself caring about the fate of Freddy during season 2 considering the show deals with murder and corruption at the highest levels of American government, but I just want him to get his barbeque back.

The Bad:

• I try not to play the snub game because it's petty and unproductive, but having said that I'm surprised to see James Spader miss out on a nomination for his quasi-performance-art scenery chewing on The Blacklist. The NBC procedural is mostly melodramatic cheese, but Spader is delicious as antihero Red Reddington and the person solely responsible for Blacklist being the success that it was.

• TBBT and Jim Parsons

• The Best Actor in a Comedy category includes Don Cheadle for House of Lies. I don't watch House of Lies and as a vocal fan of Community I understand that viewership and buzz ≠ quality, but really House of Lies? or Ricky Gervaise in Derek? Basically, what I'm trying to say is Joel McHale deserves a lead actor Emmy.

• [UPDATE] Again, I don't like the snub game but Hannibal's second season was incredible. Darren Franich at EW devoted an entire Entertainment Geekly post to how Bryan Fuller's NBC serial is a better version of both True Detective and Fargo. And particularly considering the decline of broadcast television, what Hannibal manages to pull off every week is nothing short of astounding. I won't say it was snubbed, but it is some of the finest television I've ever seen.

The Interesting:

• I understand the strategy of not having your cast compete with itself, but can we really call Martin Freeman's Watson a "supporting" character to Cumberbatch's Sherlock?

• When the Golden Globes decided to name freshman comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine and its star Andy Sandberg as best comedy and best comedy actor, it was a little bit of a surprise but also in line with the boozy antics of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Funny, then, that the elder statesmen at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences gave only a supporting actor nod to the very funny (who knew?) Andre Braugher.

• Viewers may be surprised to see three prominent Orange is the New Black characters listed as "guest" roles, but as explained by TIME, that distinction is due is due to wonky contract legalize. BUT since all three actresses were bumped up to series regulars for the show's second season, it will be even more competitive for them to receive repeat nods next year.

Here's the list of the major categories. Are you surprised? Shocked? Infuriated? Talk about it in the comments.

Outstanding Drama Series
Breaking Bad
Downton Abbey
Game of Thrones
House of Cards
Mad Men
True Detective

Outstanding Comedy Series
The Big Bang Theory
Modern Family
Orange Is the New Black
Silicon Valley

Outstanding Miniseries
American Horror Story: Coven
Bonnie & Clyde
The White Queen

Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Matthew McConaughey, True Detective
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Woody Harrelson, True Detective
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards

Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Lizzie Caplan, Masters of Sex
Claire Danes, Homeland
Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Kerry Washington, Scandal
Robin Wright, House of Cards

Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie
Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Dancing on the Edge
Idris Elba, Luthor
Martin Freeman, Fargo
Mark Ruffalo, The Normal Heart
Billy Bob Thornton, Fargo

Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie
Helena Bonham Carter, Burton and Taylor
Minnie Driver, Return to Zero
Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Coven
Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story: Coven
Cicely Tyson, The Trip to Bountiful
Kristen Wiig, The Spoils of Babylon

Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Louis CK, Louie
Don Cheadle, House of Lies
Ricky Gervais, Derek
Matt LeBlanc, Episodes
William H. Macy, Shameless
Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Lena Dunham, Girls
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Melissa McCarthy, Mike & Molly
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation
Taylor Schilling, Orange Is the New Black

Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
Jon Voight, Ray Donovan
Jim Carter, Downton Abbey
Mandy Patinkin, Homeland
Josh Charles, The Good Wife

Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad
Joanne Froggatt, Downton Abbey
Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
Lena Headey, Game of Thrones
Christine Baranski, The Good Wife

Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie
Colin Hanks, Fargo
Jim Parsons, The Normal Heart
Alfred Molina, The Normal Heart
Martin Freeman, Sherlock
Joe Mantello, The Normal Heart
Matt Bomer, The Normal Heart

Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie
Frances Conroy, American Horror Story: Coven
Angela Bassett, American Horror Story: Coven
Ellen Burstyn, Flowers in the Attic
Kathy Bates, American Horror Story: Coven
Allison Tolman, Fargo
Julia Roberts, The Normal Heart

Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Fred Armisen, Portlandia
Adam Driver, Girls
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family
Tony Hale, Veep

Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Julie Bowen, Modern Family
Kate Mulgrew, Orange Is the New Black
Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory
Allison Janney, Mom
Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live
Anna Chlumsky, Veep

Outstanding Variety Series
The Colbert Report
The Daily Show
Jimmy Kimmel Live
Real Time with Bill Maher
Saturday Night Live
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

Outstanding Reality Competition Program
The Amazing Race
Dancing With the Stars
Project Runway
So You Think You Can Dance
Top Chef
The Voice

Monday, July 7, 2014

'Committing' review by Megan Bowen

Committing by Benjamin Wood

My friend and colleague Megan Bowen graciously agreed to review my book in exchange for a free copy (a deal I would consider making to other book-oriented bloggers under the right circumstances) which is great, because promoting my book always makes me feel a little uncomfortable and because I've always been able to trust Megan to speak her mind.

You can find her full review here (which links back to Wood's Stock, like an M.C. Escher painting) but she also gave me permission to re-post the relevant text.

*And as a reminder, you can find all the information on 'Committing' you need – including an excerpt from the second chapter – by clicking here*

Take it away Megan:Have you ever known the author of a book? This was my first time, and it changed the way I read it. I kept thinking of what Ben would mean by this certain character and/or trying to draw connections in a way I usually don't with books. I know Ben likes girls who wear sundresses so I wasn't surprised when the hottie of the story seemed to frequent a dress. Honestly a few chapters in I thought, is Ben depressed? Is this a cry for help? It's crazy because a book with a depressed character has never brought that thought into my mind about the author before.

As for the story itself it had a few twists I wasn't expecting and even though I wasn't really surprised by the ending, I did put the book down and thought Whaaa?? (which is always a good thing). There were a few parts of the booked I skimmed through. I found the dialog between the group of friends boring and a bit over my head so I just skipped over it. Ben is an incredible writer and it shines through with this book. Sometimes I felt like the description he used to set the scene was a bit much, and I found myself wanting to just "get to the point" of that chapter/section. I couldn't decide how I felt about the main character and I liked that I cared enough to notice. I was invested in that character which made the reading more fun.

All in all, it's a short, easy read (took me about a day to finish) and you should get it and read it. The end.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Movie Review: 'Tammy' runs on fumes


Melissa McCarthy is a tough one.

On the one hand, she’s a bold performer who commits wholeheartedly to often brutal physical comedy and challenges Hollywood stereotypes of what an A-list actress looks, acts and sounds like.

But on the other hand, her filmography is largely populated by one-note juvenile comedies in which she is forced to stumble over herself while muttering asinine attempts at humor. It may be intentional, but it doesn’t change the fact that McCarthy has been reduced to a career of being laughed at while audiences pat themselves on the back for promoting body diversity.

So it was with some trepidation that I walked into my screening of Tammy, which McCarthy co-wrote with her husband Ben Falcone (a very funny and underrated actor in his own right), who also makes his directorial debut on the film. I wanted to like Tammy, but the pre-conceived stereotypes of a “Melissa McCarthy movie” weren’t helped by the horrendous trailer, which starts with an unkempt McCarthy robbing a fast food chain with a greasy paper sack over her head and goes downhill from there.

The trailer is bad, the movie is worse.

After the one-two punch of losing her job and her man, Tammy (McCarthy) hops in an old Cadillac with her boozy, irreverent grandmother Pearl (an unnervingly unglamorous Susan Sarandon) and heads into the sunset, ostensibly in the direction of Niagra Falls.

They don’t make it very far, instead getting caught up in road-trip comedy hijinks that are neither inventive nor particularly exciting. For an R-rated comedy starring an actress known for crass (Bridesmaids, anyone?) Tammy pulls its punches, never quite deciding whether it wants to be a bawdy romp or a sentimental heart-puller about family or life or who even knows.

The story changes lanes so many times, throwing plot points out the window with as little circumstance as roadside litter, that the destination feels irrelevant. It meanders along with so little urgency, arriving at laughs that are too few are far between, that the audience would be forgiven for loudly asking “are we there yet?”

Tammy gets a welcome injection midway through from Kathy Bates, who plays Pearl’s explosion-loving dog-store entrepreneur cousin Lenore. Our cast gathers at Lenore’s home for a lively fourth of July celebration and for a brief period it feels like an actual movie with character evolution and purpose.

That dream is short-lived, however, as the bizarre attempts to inject themes into the malaise throw the vehicle into a downward slope toward a welcome finish line.

One would hope that working from her own script, McCarthy would finally have found a project that allows her to flex her range and be more than a discount bin Three Stooges punch line. Sadly, Tammy is not that project, meaning we’ll have to wait a little longer to see something that surprises us.

Grade: C-

*Tammy opens nationwide on Wednesday, July 2.