Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Cooking & Knitting Therapy

It's been kind of a crummy week (who even uses that word? And should it be spelled crumb-y, or is that too Joss Whedon?) so last night I put my energies toward two comforting tasks: cooking and knitting. Both are calming because as long as you follow the instructions, everything will be okay. I like that sense of order and accomplishment.

First I made tiramisu, and I don't have a mixer, so I had to use a whisk by hand for the cream, which was a good way to get rid of frustration, and then I started knitting a new hat for my stitch 'n' bitch group tonight. Half the time -- okay, more than half -- we don't really knit at our meetings, and once a month we toy with changing the group's name to "We Drink on Wednesdays," but this time I'm armed and dangerous.

Anyway, the tiramisu recipe I chose is from Michael Chu's terrific Cooking For Engineers site, and it doesn't use eggs (it does, however, use rum). It's wonderfully simple and yummy-looking. I hope my friends enjoy it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mad Men 3.7: What's the Point, Really?

I have to say the show is slipping.

This Sunday's episode ranks a piddling 1.5 razor blades out of 5. That's not really even enough to kill yourself with. Sure, Don was drugged, beaten up, robbed, and left in a scary motel room face down on the floor, but that's barely a blip on the "Mad Men" chart of Bad Things That Happened to People in the '60s. I mean, the two stoners didn't even steal his car. In other subplots, Betty went furniture shopping, Peggy slept with Duck (!), and Don's kooky boss Cooper revealed that he knows all about Don's secret identity, BOO YA (emphasis mine). That scene RULED!

To sum up: Great episode, not depressing enough.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Red Alert: Do Not Read the Inside Flap Jacket of "The Magicians"


I really enjoyed reading "The Magicians" by Lev Grossman this weekend. It was extremely thought-provoking and emotional. But I bet I would have enjoyed it even more if I hadn't read the inside flap, which tells you OH I DON'T KNOW the entire plot.

My husband, a wise man indeed, never reads inside flaps, so his experience of "The Magicians" was entirely different than mine. I'm deliriously jealous.

Take my advice: Buy the book. Read the book. FOR THE LOVE OF GRYFFINDOR, DO NOT READ THE INSIDE FLAP. Learn from my mistaaaaaaaaaaake.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

CS Weekly Writing Clips

This weekend I moved some of my Creative Screenwriting clips from my old website to this blog. I've been writing reviews and conducting the occasional interview for the magazine's weekly e-zine since 2007. The print edition is a bi-monthly publication, but the e-zine, edited by the awesome David Wharton, provides updates by email each Friday afternoon, focusing on films and DVDs being released that day.

What's sometimes tricky about this gig is reviewing only the scripts. We're not supposed to comment on the acting, directing, music, or cinematography. (Okay, sometimes we do, but the main focus is always the writing.) Sometimes I'll love the movie overall, or a particular performance, but have problems with the script, so my reviews have to reflect that.

To read the review that garnered me my first piece of hate mail (every critic's...dream?), click here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bizarre Thing I Am Doing Tonight That Is Also Somehow Completely Appropriate:

A Chocolate Tasting at Compartes Chocolatier in Santa Monica.

Because this is L.A., they've apparently just finished filming something for the Food Network.

Compartes lists a variety of exotic truffle flavors on their website. I'm hoping to taste rose water and carmelized pineapple, as well as something minty. I wonder if they offer palate cleansers between bites? (I take my chocolate tasting seriously, yo. Or I like to imagine I would, if I'd ever done this before. Scarfing up free samples at Sees probably doesn't count.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"Angels & Demons" Review

To celebrate the recent release of The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown, I'm posting my May 15th screenplay review of Angels & Demons, the film based on Brown's first book in the Langdon series.

Republished with permission from Creative Screenwriting:

Langdon vs. God
Sarah Skilton

Angels & Demons

David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman
Based upon
the novel by Dan Brown

Returning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman joins David Koepp for more Vatican-baiting adventures, and their script easily surpasses 2006's
The Da Vinci Code. Despite some unintended yuks, so-so dialogue, and a few moments that insult the audience's intelligence, the story is brisk, exciting, and surprising.

Although Dan Brown's novel for
Angels & Demons came first, the film adaptation of the book is treated like a sequel to The Da Vinci Code, with Tom Hanks reprising his role of Professor Robert Langdon, symbols expert. When a scientific cult called the Illuminati ("Enlightened Ones") kidnaps four Cardinals and threatens to blow up the Vatican using anti-matter they've stolen from the CERN laboratory in Switzerland, Langdon is summoned from Harvard to help the Swiss Guard and Vatican Police follow "The Path of Illumination" to locate the bomb. At first, church officials give Langdon the stink-eye, as they've not forgotten his sacrilegious theories from the previous film. But since he understands more about their own history than they do, they're prepared to cede the floor. Langdon also partners with a comely, mostly believable physicist named Dr. Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer, generating better chemistry with Hanks than Audrey Tautou did in Code).

The script is marred by unintentional humor, often arising from overly expository dialogue. Early subtitles in a lab scene gone wrong suggest cartoon villains at work ("The reactor was not supposed to generate anti-matter!"), and Langdon and his team spend a large portion of their introductions telling each other things they already know. Even though nearly everyone in Rome speaks (accented) English, the script doesn't trust the audience to understand much, because Landgon ends up interpreting English into…more obvious English. For example, the Illuminati leave their seekers a message warning that neither priests nor professors are safe. "They know I'm here," Professor Langdon blurts out. Cutting to his silent, fearful reaction and letting the mention of "professors" speak for itself would have carried more weight. Even the ancient Latin and Roman texts from the super-secret Vatican archives have clues written in English in the margins. How thoughtful! To be fair, moments of intentional humor work well, too, such as the back-and-forth between Langdon and Vittoria when they're pretending to be married tourists, or a scene where reporters from different countries announce that the Cardinal from their respective region is surely the frontrunner to become Pope.

Characterization is hit-or-miss. Professor Langdon's methods of deduction remain unexplained; it's easier to just take his word for it. Mostly he mutters to himself, gestures with a marker across a map, or races around until he stumbles upon a centuries-old clue or statue that confirms his guess or refutes it. At least twice he looks down at a critical interval only to realize that he's standing on top of the clue he needs. Other times he becomes Action Symbologist!, fleeing from bullets and crawling over skulls. On the plus side, the character of Camerlengo Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor), is compelling. A complicated and passionate young Priest temporarily in charge of Vatican City until a new Pope is named, he tries to evacuate the crowds outside St. Peter's. When his efforts are met with resistance, he tries personally, and at great risk to himself, to save them from potential doom.

Despite its flaws, the film is exciting and often downright fun: murder, vengeance, cover-ups, a race against madmen, and an impending Vatican explosion keep you on the edge of your seat.
The Da Vinci Codefeatured a homicidal, self-flagellating religious nut, so it's only fair that Angels & Demons features a homicidal, self-satisfied science nut. Or does it? The twists pile on toward the last third of the film, and people who are telegraphed early and often as power-hungry creeps (such as Armin Mueller-Stahl's Cardinal Strauss) get a satisfying chance to redeem themselves. As an action-packed popcorn flick, Angels & Demons gets your heart racing, but as a semi-ridiculous, pseudo-history lesson, it also gets your eyes rolling.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Things I Learned From Mad Men 3.6

1. Even the "Previously On"s for Mad Men are super depressing. ("No one thinks you're happy. They think you're foolish.")

2. If your boss ever says he's about to give you "a reward and a challenge," RUN. It means you're being transferred to Bombay.

3. Pete will remain (co-)Head of Accounts for the present. This is deeply unsettling for Pete.

4. Lose a foot? Lose a job. (After all, you can't golf.)

5. Betty Draper's Guide to Parenting: Your little boy says, "I'm bored." How do you respond?
A) "Go bang your head against the wall."
B) "Only boring people are bored."
C) Both *

6. No 4th of July Holiday for the employees of Sterling Cooper!

Despite the lost limb, Joan's realization that she cannot, in fact, quit her job, and poor Sally's fear that her grandfather is haunting her, this episode was a relative laugh riot!! I give it a mere 2 razor blades out of 5 on the Depressing Scale.

Also, the Conrad Hilton subplot returned. Very curious to see where that will go.

*The answer is of course C.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Mad Women

Haven't seen Sunday's new episode of Mad Men yet -- I was too busy watching the show win Best Drama at the Emmys. (FROM MY COUCH. Don't get excited. Although I did randomly attend the Daytime Emmys about ten years ago, ha ha!) The show also won Best Writing, and I was pleased to see that the non-Matthew Weiner of the writing duo was a young woman. Yay for Kater Gordon! Mad Men's writing staff is packed with women, actually -- 7 out of 9, which is still pretty rare in TV, and of course ironic given the show's, well, entire subject matter.

My only disappointment was that Elisabeth Moss didn't take home a Best Actress Emmy. But she was up against Glenn Close, Holly Hunter, Sally Field and Kyra Sedgwick. That is insane!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Pop Art

Instead of trying to figure out why the NCIS: Los Angeles billboards appear to provide a disturbing glimpse into what you might see upon being murdered (and possibly moved to a prettier, palm trees-framed location), feast your eyes on the The Hollywood Reporter's cool article about the TV billboards they liked best this fall.

Also: Happy Emmy Awards Weekend!

How Did This Happen?

Right now I have 7 books from the library, 1 book waiting for me at the library, 2 books I just bought at Borders, 1 book I bought with a friend, and another book that's being loaned to me this weekend.

Let's see (math was never a strong point) -- 12 books -- with the library ones seemingly getting first priority since they'll be due soon, and the loaner getting second priority (it's a signed copy, too) -- but the Borders ones screaming for attention because I'm already half-way through one of them and my husband wants my opinion on the other one.

Just got an alert for 3 more "request pending"s from the library. And I need to find a copy of the book for my book club meeting next month.

*head explodes*

I believe there's an opportunity here for a "Hoarders"-type spin-off show. It could be for bookworms who overextend by creating impossible reading lists for impossible time frames. I need someone to save me from myself, and from the paralyzing realization that there are millions of books I want to read and never enough time.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Project Interrupted

When I got The Call from Sara Megibow, I was in the middle of working on a new project. (Literally. I was at the computer, typing away.) I was absolutely thrilled to hear from her and displayed my delight by babbling incoherently. (She was very patient and kind.) I of course put aside the new project to shift my focus back to the one she signed me for.

But now she's doing her agent thing (and doing it very well) and I'm supposed to be doing my writer thing again, so it's back to Project Interrupted. And you know what? I'm excited every single morning -- well, after my coffee -- to work on it and spend time with the new characters. I thought for sure I would take a break from writing for a few weeks and...

A) sleep in
B) watch more TV (speaking of, did last night's AMNTM really happen? Did Tyra really dress up as a heroine name Super Smize? (at least, that's how the Closed Captioning at my apartment gym spelled it))
C) finish reading all the books that are due at the library

...but after a weekend off, I felt antsy. So I booted up the computer. I guess I'm addicted.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Comedy Magic Done Well

On Sunday at the Castle, I had the pleasure of seeing Dana Daniels in the Palace of Mystery. Usually the Palace shows are divided into three acts with at least three different magicians, plus an MC who binds the show together and also performs shorter bits of his own magic. But Dana got the entire 45-minute slot to himself.

There's a reason: his show is brilliantly scripted and serves the same function as the more standard Palace structure. He plays a non-magician who's forced to perform when none of the (three) scheduled acts show up. It's tough to blend comedy and magic -- most magicians are better at one than the other -- but Dana's show is hysterically funny and magical, and his various magician characters all stand out.

(For a glimpse at what happens when a comedy-magician gets angry, PLEASE check out Patton Oswalt's "My Weakness is Strong" special on Comedy Central. You won't regret it.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Does it Bother Anyone Else...

...that the one-sheet ads for NCIS: Los Angeles that I see everywhere are presented from the POV of a corpse?! Seriously, they are looking down at your body on the ground and sort of smirking at it. Unless they're looking at a perp they've tripped or something, but I don't think so.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Mad Men 3.5 - A Feast of Awkwardness

I'm giving last night's episode of Mad Men 3 razor blades out of 5. It was more awkward / enraging than it was depressing, although of course it was also depressing. It was beautifully shot, from the opening scene at the elementary school to Betty's Demerol-induced twilight sleep visions, and the dialogue was killer. Let's face it -- the show is almost always terrific. It's also terrific at making me thank my lucky stars I'm not any of the characters.

But anyway, first off, we had Lisa Simpson as a nurse at the hospital where Betty was giving birth. She was totally fine and all, but it was a bit odd!

Next was the fact that the men weren't expected / allowed (??) to be anywhere NEAR their screaming-in-agony, labor-having wives. They spent the entire day in the waiting room watching TV, smoking, and drinking nearly an entire bottle of booze. Enraging!

Guy in Waiting Room, to Don: You done this before?
Don: Three times.
Me: YOU haven't done anything.

Pete and the African American doorman participated in the most awkward elevator ride in the history of ever.

Betty's late father told her, "You're a housecat. You're very important but you don't have anything to do," (or something like that) and when Betty's shoulders lifted in the tiniest of sighs as she went to calm the baby her first night home, my heart broke for her.

Lastly, Don and Sally's teacher are totally going to hook up. Why else would he have lied to Betty about who had called? I'm only surprised they didn't make out at the school when Betty left to use the ladies' room. Whenever Don is alone in a room with any woman, I pretty much assume they'll start having an affair.

Oh wait! Not lastly! I completely forgot Peggy's plea for equal pay, and its dismissal. GAH. Possibly the most depressing subplot of the evening. I must have blocked it out. Peggy's sparks of rebellion and realization and awakening are always...defeated. I'm officially rooting for her Emmy win.

Friday, September 11, 2009

More Book-to-TV News

A few weeks ago I blogged about Harlan Coben's foray into television. Now it's Augusten Burroughs' turn. Variety reports that Burroughs' novel "Sellevision" is being adapting for a TV series by Bryan Singer. The novel -- a departure from Burroughs' memoirs -- takes place at a "retail broadcasting network" (aka home shopping channel) and depicts the scandal-ridden lives of the program hosts.

Singer is best known for his film directing work (The Usual Suspects, X-Men, Superman, Valkrie) but he's also a powerful TV player, as an executive producer for Fox's "House" and the short-lived "Dirty Sexy Money."

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Konnichiwa, Or Something

Happy News: Just found out that "To Japan With Love," the Japanese travel anthology edited by the amazing Celeste Heiter, comes out October 24th from ThingsAsian Press. I contributed a restaurant review to the book. Woo hoo! Isn't it pretty?

The ThingsAsian collection has covered Thailand, Vietnam, Shanghai, Nepal, North India, Cambodia and Myanmar so far -- and now they can add Japan to the list.

My husband and I honeymooned in Tokyo and Kyoto back in 2004, and we had a blast in the Pachinko parlour photo booths, though we didn't hold a candle to the mad skillz of the Japanese kids who were like creating works of art.

I remain obsessed with green tea ice cream, Pocky, sushi, and sake.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A New Season of Guilty Pleasures

Tonight marks the start of the Fall TV season for me. Although I don't watch nearly the amount of TV that I used to (that's what happens when you read scripts for a living), I can't resist certain guilty pleasures. Over the summer it was "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" and DVDs of "True Blood." So naturally I'll be tuning into "Vampire Diaries" on Thursday. Be warned, though: if the vampire doesn't use a ridiculous quill pen for his journaling, I'm out.

As for tonight, I fully intend to indulge in the 2-hour season premiere of "America's Next Top Model," as well as the first episode of "Glee."

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Best Nights For Magic

Whenever I have guests visiting from out of town, I like to take them to the Magic Castle. But weekend nights are actually not the best. On Fridays and Saturdays, the place can be overcrowded and rowdy, which makes it difficult to see all the shows you want to see. Sometimes the crowds, people watching, and costume gazing is a fun atmosphere, of course, but only if you've had the chance to explore the Castle before. For first-timers, weeknights are definitely better.

Mondays signify the first night of the scheduled magicians' one-week runs. The mansion is usually uncrowded, which is fantastic for seeing all the showrooms, the piano bar with Irma the invisible ghost, the parlours, hidden hallways and magic acts. However, some magicians are a bit nervous that night and still finding their stride, especially if they're from another country or have never worked the Castle before.

Wednesdays are Magician Member nights (special deals on restaurant fare for magicians), which means the Castle will be filled with more magicians per square foot than most other nights. If you've ever wanted to see a bunch of magicians scrutinize a bunch of other magicians, Wednesdays are the perfect opportunity. Also you'll get some bonus magic from impromptu shows pretty much wherever you are. Fun!!

Thursdays are great because the place is a bit more crowded but not as crowded as Friday or Saturday. You'll be able to see any show you want, usually with supportive audiences.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Mad Men 3.4 - A Depression Fest!

You know it's a bad sign when an episode of Dexter provides the yuks of the evening.

As for Sunday's Mad Men, I'm rating it 3.5 razor blades out of 5.

Is it because of a death in the family? The disintegration of Sal's marriage? Don's elementary school-aged daughter driving a car and having a (understandable) meltdown? Perhaps it's because of Betty's deplorable parenting skills? Or the client lamenting his grown son's existence ("We didn't know what kind of person we were making")? Or wait, maybe it's because Peggy's mom told her with contempt, "You belong in the city (where people are assaulted)"? Either way, the episode was heavy.

It's entirely possible it deserved a 4 on the Depressing Scale, but I was happy to see my friend Danny, who had a co-starring role in the Ann Margaret-type ad scene. Hooray for Danny. Also the prank call to Peggy was pretty funny (or, viewed in another light, also depressing, actually).

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Linkie Loos

I recommend the October issue of Writer magazine, which includes a helpful article by theater critic Todd Wallinger. He explains how he got his first reviewing gig and how you can, too.

Speaking of reviews... For the last few weeks I've been rating Mad Men episodes on a scale of one to five razor blades. (Um, as you may have guessed, I'm rating them not on quality, which tends to be uniformly high, but on how depressing they are.) However, my ratings are at least partially informed by the fact that the show airs on Sunday nights at 10 pm, which is an inherently depressing time slot, probably somehow related to residual guilt/fear/dread about Monday mornings and unfinished homework. Or maybe that's just me. But anyway, since it's a holiday weekend and I don't have to be at work tomorrow, I've decided to watch the show Monday night in an attempt to keep alive the irrational, soul-crushing fear in which I normally view the program. That way I won't skew the results.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

To Buy or Not To Buy?

My bookshelves are overflowing and I'll be moving soon -- hopefully -- so I don't want to add to my collection too much right now. I'm also a library addict, so every once in a while I suffer from Bad Reader guilt for not buying more books.

That's why the upcoming holiday season is the perfect fix. I can buy up a bunch of books I love, or that I think my friends and family will love, and give them as gifts. No clutter, no guilt.

This month is crazy. A ton of big name authors are coming out with fresh material: Margaret Atwood, Alexander McCall Smith, Dan Brown, Nicholas Sparks, Anita Shreve, Nick Hornby and Mitch Albom all have new books being released. (Thanks to for the scoop.)

For the holiday weekend, I'm curling up with Admission by Jean Hanff Koreltiz and Kim by Rudyard Kipling, as well as a friend's manuscript.

Happy reading!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

I Don't Think This Happens in Other Cities

I came home the other night and these were taped to both entrances of my apartment building:

In case you can't read the description, here's the gist: from 12am to 7am over the next few days, my street will basically turn into Armageddon.

I may see people throwing grenades into and out of FBI cars, see cars on fire, or hear "full load gunfire activity" and witness an explosion. But! I shouldn't be alarmed. Because what would possibly be alarming about that?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Obsessions Merge: Books and TV Together at Last

The Hollywood Reporter, er, reports that CBS just bought a pilot for an ensemble comedy show set in the publishing world.

It's called "Open Books," (at least, as a working title), and depicts the life and times of a book editor and her friends.