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Top Chef All-Stars: epic battle to conclude season

We all knew this was going to be a heavyweight fight between Richard Blais and Mike Isabella on “Top Chef All-Stars.” But I think these two guys exceeded their own expectations as well as those of the viewers and judges and also their fellow chef-testants. The episode began with Richard and Mike chilling in their hotel suite–and with host Padma Lakshmi telling the eliminated chef-testants that they would be making a small bite (they call it an amuse-bouche) which would determine who the two finalists would be having as sous chefs on their respective teams. Mike wound up with Jamie (ha!), Carla and Tiffani; while Richard had Spike, Angelo and Antonia. Nicely done for Richard.

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American Idol: back down to earth

Last week, the performances on “American Idol” were among some of the best the show has ever seen. So where would they go this week, singing the songs of Elton John? They had to at least, to some degree, stumble back to earth. Right? Well some did, but some stayed on the same level they were on or even climbed higher. This is just a remarkable group of singers. Anyway, here is the recap as I saw it…….

THE AWESOME
I’m going to put one singer in this category today, and that was pimp spot lady, Haley Reinhart. Haley has been in the Bottom 3 multiple times, trying to find herself. But this time, she flew away, literally, singing a lounge version of “Bennie and the Jets.” I’m not keen on the Amy Winehouse impersonation thing, but Haley nailed the song, showing incredibly dynamics, and then just nailing the “Ben-Nay! Ben-Nay!” parts. J-Lo said “that was IT!” and that it all came together for Haley; Randy said it was the best performance of the night; and Steven said it was a well-placed chorus and added, “You sing sexy!” All of them were correct, and it was great to see Haley hit a home run in honor of baseball season starting today.

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The Biggest Loser: pampering should wait

Last night’s episode of “The Biggest Loser” was an interesting one with a lot going on. It began with Kaylee talking about how she felt bad about thinking she was ready to go home last week and throwing the weigh-in. Some of her fellow contestants, and especially her trainer Cara, were pissed. Kaylee’s dad Moses pointed out that he knew Kaylee was tired of the show’s gameplay, and that’s why she was ready to go home. Interesting.

Then they all walked into the gym and host Alison Sweeney was waiting for them. As Hannah said, that is never a good thing for them! Alison showed them all video from when they first were told they made it to the show. It was similar to “American Idol” where the contestants who made it were in a holding room in a hotel conference area, and Ali walked in to let them know if they were in or out. But while 11 teams made it, Alison spoke about the 12th team that did not—mother and son Leanne and Vance. And she showed footage where she had told the “white team” that they could earn their way onto campus in midseason. So here they were, but they had to have surpassed the person with the lowest percentage of weight loss currently on the show, who was Kaylee with 25.32% Vance weighed in first, and he had begun at 379 pounds, which meant he had to lose about 90 pounds to grab a spot on campus. He lost 30 pounds, so was way off. Leanne began at 315 and lost 45 pounds, which was great but not nearly good enough. Okay, so that was that. But both were told they were still eligible to win the “at-home” prize of $100K.

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“Mad Men” won’t be back until 2012

AMC has announced that “Mad Men” won’t return until 2012 for its fifth season. As you might expect, the delay is all about money.

In the meantime, the season 4 DVD of “Mad Men” has just been released, so you can get your fix by reliving the exploits of Don Draper, Joan and the gang from the past season.

Throughout Season Four, the center of the “Mad Men” universe continued to be Don, as we watched him variously win, temporarily alienate, and sometimes lose clients. After spending the first three seasons of the show as an enigma not only to others but to himself as well, Season Four was a voyage of exploration for Don, both in his personal life and in his career, and it was one which ended with his steadfast belief that he had finally found his future. But anyone who’s been watching this show since the beginning knows damned well that Don’s going to screw things up somehow. The excitement is in finding out how.

The biggest storyline for season 5 will likely revolve around Don’s surprise engagement to his hot young secretary, Megan (Jessica Paré), which surprised everyone in the final episode of season 4.

If you haven’t been watching this series, the season 5 delay gives you an opportunity to start at the beginning and get caught up. It’s one of the best shows on television so we highly recommend it.

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“The Lincoln Lawyer” is a pleasant surprise

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When I heard that Matthew McConaughey had the lead role, it was hard to get excited about this flick. McConaughey hasn’t exactly been challenging himself lately with the roles he chooses. Yet the rest of the cast is spectacular, with the beautiful and talented Marisa Tomei cast as the ex-wife and William H. Macy in a major role as well. Even Bryan Cranston shows up in a minor role and sexy Katherine Moennig makes an appearance and a cool prostitute.

I gave the film a shot, and I was pleasantly surprised. This legal thriller will keep you engaged throughout the film, and the chemistry between McConaughey and Tomei make this an excellent date movie as well. Their characters are divorced, but they’re still attracted to one another even if their jobs get in the way. A legal thriller might not be your first choice for a date movie, but you can do much worse. If you’re stuck at home and don’t have anyone to take to the movies, check out some free dating sites and recharge your personal life. The nice thing about a movie like “The Lincoln Lawyer” for a date flick is that there’s just enough romance and sexual tension to intrigue your date, but there plenty of excitement in the plot so that the romance and sex don’t dominate the film. Enjoy!

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American Idol: best reaction ever?

If you saw “American Idol” last night, you know what I mean by that subject line. But let me just say, this was one of the best episodes on the show, ever, for a few reasons. It was almost like a lite version of the season finale. Anyway, the show began with host Ryan Seacrest talking about how J-Lo’s husband, singer Marc Anthony, helped the contestants this past week by supplying in-ear monitors…and hey, they seemed to really work. Then came the group number, and with this being Motown week, they did Diana Ross’ classica “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and it wasn’t bad….but then came the best part….Stevie Wonder doing “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” with the Idols singing backup….and then Stevie wishing Steven Tyler a happy birthday and singing to him, while a cake was brought out. Way, way cool.

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Top Chef All-Stars: here we go

Okay, now in a finale that seems to be lasting a month, because it is lasting a month, we are finally down to the final two chef-testants who will battle it out for the title of Top Chef next week. But first host Padma Lakshmi started out with celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck for the quickfire challenge, which would be to do a choice of a past quickfire challenge. However, the chefs would be assigned these by a competing chef. Yikes. Mike chose first and had Antonia do the “only canned food” challenge; Antonia gave richard the hot dog challenge, which wasn’t a huge stretch; and Richard gave Mike the one-pot-only challenge. Then Padma entered the kitchen halfway through, and added one more twist–they would have to use a crutch from a previous quickfire–Richard assigned Mike the “no utensils” challenge; Antonia gave Richard the one-hand-only challenge; and Antonia had the one remaining, which was to finish the task while having recently-eliminated Carla tied to her.

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American Idol: how do you choose?

I told Mrs. Mike last night that the episode of “American Idol” that ended as she arrived home was the best episode of the show I’ve ever seen. And I mean the talent was all good…so good that trying to figure out who might go home was a major chore. Like J-Lo said, the voters are going to have to just pick their favorite and see where the chips fall. And I guess I can throw a few names out there but it’s going to be difficult. Here is how it all went down….

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SXSW 2011: A Bag of Hammers

Not every film that played at SXSW this year was fortunate enough to walk away with a distribution deal (in fact, very few did), but if there’s one movie that deserved to, it’s “A Bag of Hammers.” A relatively clichéd dramedy with all the markings of an indie film, Brian Crano’s directorial debut nonetheless manages to carve out an identity of its own thanks to a great script and an even better ensemble cast. Jason Ritter and Jake Sandvig make an excellent team as childhood best friends Ben and Alan, a pair of misfit conmen who run a bogus valet service at funerals in order to steal cars and sell them for cash. It’s not the most lucrative career, but in addition to the money they earn from renting out the house in front of their laidback bachelor pad, they get by. But when their new tenants – the recently divorced Lynette (Carrie Preston of “True Blood”) and her neglected son Kelsey (Chandler Canterbury) – begin to attract unwanted attention, Ben and Alan decide to step in and create the family they’ve always needed.

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Consider Crano incredibly lucky for getting the actors that he did, because it’s hard to imagine “A Bag of Hammers” working quite as well without them. Sandvig and Ritter are especially good in the film’s more comedic moments, while even Rebecca Hall manages to make the most of a role that requires she wear a silly waffle hat and perform an ever sillier dance. The real standout, however, is Preston, who delivers what is easily the most heartbreaking performance that I’ve seen this year as the hopelessly desperate single mother. Additionally, while the constantly shifting tone between quirky comedy and grim family drama may annoy some people, Crano actually handles it remarkably well, particularly when the movie enters some pretty dark territory midway through the story and never looks back. It’s a shame that he didn’t see that version of the film through to the end, because while there’s nothing wrong with the happy ending he opts for, “A Bag of Hammers” would have been so much more memorable with the disheartening, more realistic finale that he teases just before it.

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The Biggest Loser: addition by addition

One of the best parts of “The Biggest Loser” on NBC is that they bend the rules, often. So even when someone is eliminated, it’s not always forever. And last night they brought back one of the eliminated contestants.

The show began with host Alison Sweeney meeting the contestants in the gym, and then screwing with any remaining team chemistry again. They would be broken into four teams of three, and each would train with one of the four trainers. Each would draw randomly a color that represented a trainer, starting with the person with the highest percentage of weight loss to date, Justin. He wound up with the red team, training with Brett. And here is how it went down–Brett’s red team was Justin, Jen and Courtney; Cara’s green team was Austin, Ken and Kaylee; Bob’s blue team Moses, Irene and Olivia; and Jillian’s black team was Rulon and Hannah. Um, wait. That team was one person short, but Alison announced that Rulon and Hannah could choose from any eliminated contestant and bring them back into the game and onto their team. Would it be Arthur? Jay? Q? More on that in a bit.

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