opinion · Reviews

My not-so-violent torpedo of truth

My humble opinion as printed in the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor
My glass is always half full... until I refill that sucker.

I’m normally an upbeat, optimistic person, but recent world events have scratched and smudged my rose colored glasses. The horrific earthquake and tsunami in Japan broke my heart, and it’s true, the inevitable unrest and American involvement in Libya has rattled my equanimity, but I’m referring to the chilling event scheduled for April 28, 2011.

Charlie Sheen is coming to Denver.

Yes, the man who should have committed career suicide weeks ago with his very public gnashing of the hands that feed him, as well as a disturbing defense of his self-destructive behaviors and chemical abuses, is visiting the Mile High City. And to add injury to insult, he is actually profiting from his blatant disregard for sanity.

Sheen is not the only celebrity to crash and burn in the public eye, but he’s one of the few who brazenly flipped the bird to the industry who helped make him among the highest paid TV stars of our day. He was rightfully canned, but rather than beg stress and booze before crawling off to re-spin his image, he launched a twitter account and promptly set a Guinness world record for number of followers in the first day.


Shortly thereafter, he plotted a tour of live shows around the country, including Denver. Admittedly, I have no idea what these shows involve – the preferred nostril with which to snort coke? Which “goddess” to sleep with on Tuesdays? – and I don’t wish to know. People who are watching this doomed train wreck of a man are apparently buying the tickets. His debut in Detroit this past weekend was less than “winning” – Sheen’s self-proclaimed status – and witless audience members had the gall to demand a refund.

Explain this to me, please.

Stay in your corner, you greedy, violent narcissist!

Explain to me why a man who sleeps with multiple women while his young children are in the home, and openly brags about said women, who extols the ability to function just fine while abusing drugs and alcohol, who haughtily demands a raise from the very people who wisely fired him – explain to me why this man is profiting from his bad behavior to the nth degree?

I must know.

Could it possibly be because we are the same country who bestows high ratings (translation: dollars) on such flagrant backstabbing, conniving and immature frivolity as Big Brother, Celebrity Apprentice, Real Housewives of Wherever and Bridezillas?

My ass may not be perched on a pious, self-righteous platform, yet it’s painfully easy to see how messed up things are when we’re willing to pay good money – hard-earned, recession-era money – to see a sad, miserable man promote his own inexorable demise.

Actor and writer Wil Wheaton suggests a more sane, logical alternative for that money: donate it to a battered women’s shelter. The wife Sheen choked while in a drunken rage (ironically, not far from Denver) would probably support that.

On a similar note, I find it interesting that Japan’s looting problem in the wake of the devastating natural disasters was minimal. The Japanese people are occupied with day-to-day survival concerns amidst flooding, radiation and destruction. They have exhibited respect for each other and for their fragile neighborhoods.

I find it bizarre and sad that people in our country will trash their own neighborhoods in reaction to a favorite sports teams’ loss/win.

So I repeat, explain this to me, please. How does the most successful, powerful, benevolent country in the world allow itself to be represented by such embarrassingly abominable behavior?

I suppose I should provide a disclaimer to the aforementioned rant. Charlie Sheen’s website reportedly states that a whole dollar from every ticket sold to his “show” will be donated to the Red Cross Japanese Earthquake Relief fund.


Total cost of the ticket? Between $49.50 and $89.50. Stick that in your “violent torpedo of truth” and smoke it.

Art and Culture · beet street · Reviews · writing

He’s a Magic Man

I can already tell you, I have no idea.
Reposted with permission of beet street, Fort Collins

When you describe someone as manipulative, it’s not usually a glowing compliment, however Dan Jaspersen’s ability to manipulate what you see and believe is not only a source of pride, it’s his livelihood. This month’s Art Cafe – Mentalist, Manipulator, Magician – is presented by the man, who also answers to Dan J.

Jaspersen taught himself to juggle – with one broken arm, no less – at an early age, then picked up a deck of cards in college, ultimately paying rent with his sleight of hand skills. After acquiring his degree in business communications, he was soon employed in Japan working in the field of international relations. But in his heart, he’s always been a performance artist, and less than two years ago his magic act became his regular gig.

“I design experiences for people,” he said, explaining his unique art form.

Unlike the glittery illusionists on television or children’s entertainers who pull rabbits out of hats, Dan has worked hard to create a new style from old school.

“What I love to do is go back into the really old books, tricks and ideas,” he said, adding that even science magazines from the 1950s provide inspiration.

Although Dan’s act is family friendly, he stresses that his primary audience is adult, setting him farther apart from the stereotype magician. His performance is classy, elegant and more thought-provoking, making him a popular draw for private parties, corporate events and education venues. His clientele includes everyone from Colorado State University, to the Rotary club, to Nonesuch Theater. The type of audience often determines what tricks he’ll pull out of his bag.

The Minnesota native now lives in Cheyenne with his family, but with wife Andi’s roots in Loveland, Dan is well-connected and sought out through the Wyoming and Northern Colorado region.

Dan Jaspersen’s program at Avo’s this Wednesday, Feb. 23, begins at 5:30 and he promises to combine some magic with a little behind-the-scenes look at the mentalist’s mindset.

Dan Jaspersen knows your card.

“I believe in magic, but I know better,” he said enigmatically. As a magician, he strives to reconcile the contradiction of magic and the laws of science. “It’s a tricky thing.”

He paraphrased his favorite magician, Banachek, saying, “I like to take five senses and make it appear there’s a sixth.” In fact, Dan admits to mixing psychology and sleight of hand, mining the secrets of mediums and charlatans from a bygone era.

Fortunately for us – his delighted marks – he uses his powers for good, not evil. Bring all of your available senses this week and enjoy Dan J., Magician@Play.

Literature · Reviews · Uncategorized

“Beautiful Darkness” illuminates

Reprinted with permission from the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor

First, a few words… Being well past my teen years and having a daughter who isn’t there yet, *shudder* I really had no interest in the YA – or young adult – literature market. Then I drank that Twilight kool-aid and the rest is history. As a result of my – er – hobby, I’ve been exposed to several other popular books in this genre and recently had the opportunity to read the first half of the “Beautiful” series for my job. Poor me – reading for a living;)

A few years ago the term “YA” would have been lost on me, but I now know it’s the fast growing genre of books geared toward teenagers – or young adults as they prefer to be called. Now this market is populated with titles such as “Twilight” and “Hunger Games” which have blurred the lines of popularity, being read and loved by all ages.
Joining the supernatural YA party last year was the novel “Beautiful Creatures.” It was followed up a few weeks ago by the highly anticipated “Beautiful Darkness.” I read both to see what all the fuss was about and was beautifully enchanted.

The magical universe found in “Creatures” and “Darkness” was conjured by two good friends, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. In the imaginary town of Gatlin, South Carolina, the biggest excitement revolves around Civil War reenactments and pie-baking contests. Sixteen-year-old Ethan Wate was biding his time at Jackson High until he could escape after graduation. The new arrival at the beginning of his sophomore year changes everything, including his perspective of the backward little southern town his family had called home for generations.

Lena Duchannes is like nothing Gatlin has ever seen. She’s beautiful and quirky, deeper and more complex than the belles who rule the school. She’s also been haunting Ethan’s dreams before they even meet. Once they do — and inevitably fall in love — he finds out Lena is a Caster, ensconced in a family of other Casters and mythical creatures. The word caster refers to spells, a good euphemism because no one wants to introduce their new girlfriend as a witch.

“Beautiful Creatures” guides the reader on Ethan and Lena’s journey into love, magic and danger as Lena approaches her penultimate sixteenth birthday. It is then that her fate as a Caster is decided – she could go Dark or Light and I don’t mean her hair color. Her fate is inexorably tied to those around her and “Creatures” leaves us with tragedy and more questions as Gatlin’s secrets are slowly revealed.

The sequel opens with Ethan fervently hoping the changes in Lena’s mystical world won’t affect their strong, yet complicated bond, but of course there wouldn’t be a very long book without conflict and more danger.

Ethan’s hometown turns out to be even more cloaked in secrets than he could have imagined. People he’s known all his life have dimensions he must accept no matter how contrary they are to his long held perceptions. Even without the element of magic, this is something that teenagers struggle with every day. It’s always a shock to find out there is a person behind the name Mom or Dad – a person with loves, losses, secrets – a person with history.

The mother lost to Ethan before the series takes place is that person for him, and revelations about her and others in his family rock Ethan’s world as he fights to save Lena from herself.

The “Beautiful” series wins my praise for several reasons, one of the biggest being that it never talks down to its audience. Ethan is smart and so are many of the characters in his world, but there is nothing geeky or awkward about his intelligence. He accepts that there are bigger, better things waiting outside of Gatlin for him without a sense of arrogance.

Also, I was surprised to discover the stories – written by two women – were almost exclusively from Ethan’s perspective. They infused his voice with telltale male references without falling to stereotypes, thus making him believable and immensely likable.

One of the most interesting characters is Gatlin, the town itself. Although both authors now reside in California, there is a love of the south woven through the words of both books. Sometimes it mocks and teases, but with an underlying affection that makes me want to try fried green tomatoes.

“Beautiful Darkness” ties up some loose ends while unraveling many more. Fortunately there are two more books in the series which will publish over the next two years. There are some dark themes and violence in the books that may be too strong for sensitive, younger readers, but none of it is graphic or gratuitous. I recommend it for that coveted YA demographic as well as adults who like a good southern romance without the bodice ripping.

Besides creating a magical place with fascinating people, these books are extremely well written — never talking over or under the reader’s head. Start with “Beautiful Creatures” and you’ll soon want to add some magic to your shelf with “Beautiful Darkness.”

Reviews · Twilight · Uncategorized

“Eclipse” brings the goods

And by ‘goods’ I mean much more Edward than we saw in “New Moon”

by SuzsPetals
(Reprinted in part from The Berthoud Weekly Surveyor)
Robert Pattions stars in "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" as Edward Cullen. Oh. And there are some other people in the movie too, as well as bad wigs. (Photo courtesy of RottenTomatoes.com)

It was the day before the midnight premiere of “The Twilight Sage: Eclipse” and like a good little fan, I had my tickets purchased and picked up. But when I went online and saw that the theater was up to six sold-out screens, I had to stop and wonder, “Am I too old for this shit?!”

Fortunately, my inner 16-year-old spoke up and assured me all was well with the continuing saga of my mid-life crisis. I more or less came out of the Twi-closet with my review of “New Moon,” the second installment of the wildly popular series of movies adapted from the wildly popular series of books by Stephenie Meyer.
June 29 was a similar scene to the last time my friends and I braved the midnight showing, but the crowd was even more diverse — all ages and both sexes were well represented. We also got similarly crappy seats because we preferred to have drinks across the street, rather than stand in line for an hour. See – being old has advantages over my inner teenager.

It’s a given that you don’t get to really enjoy the whole movie with an enthusiastic, opening night crowd. I shared the theater with a surprising majority of Team Jacob fans. Teenage girls around me were channeling horny construction workers, cat-calling and hooting each time Taylor Lautner appeared onscreen sans shirt. A second — probably third — viewing would be required to thoughtfully review this film.

Before even opening to the masses, “Eclipse” had been touted as the best of the series by critics and those who had been lucky enough to pre-screen. By using a different director for each film, Summit Entertainment has ensured they all have a different look, so I’m going to go on the record and plead apples and oranges. I adore Chris Weitz, I loved “New Moon” and I refuse to denigrate either.

That said, I give huge props to “Eclipse” director David Slade, and possibly chow down on a little crow. Slade helmed another vampire flick, “30 Days of Night,” and I was terrified after viewing it. Not of the movie itself, although it was dark, suspenseful and very gory, but that raised my fears of what kind of vision he would bring to the sparkly ones.

Yes, in case you weren’t aware, Twilight vampires sparkle in the sun. They also don’t have fangs or sleep in coffins. The main character — as well as his family — also doesn’t drink human blood, making him much easier for heroine Bella Swan to fall head over heels in love with. Her relationship with Edward, the gorgeous teenage vampire, has matured by “Eclipse” as they affectionately bicker about his reluctance to turn her into an immortal. Arguing his case for her prolonged humanity is Bella’s best friend — and werewolf — Jacob.

If a love triangle among mythical creatures wasn’t enough for a girl to deal with, an army of evil vampires is being created for the sole purpose of eliminating her from the population. Oh, and she’s about to graduate high school and we all remember how stressful that can be. (Or maybe that was just me and my inability to pass Advanced Yarn & Needle Arts.)

All of this potential conflict is probably the reason it’s the book in the series favored by most fans, and the movie promotes lots of action “for the guys” in hopes of broadening its audience. It definitely delivered in that arena. The battle scenes were exciting led by a much more animated Jackson Rathbone as Jasper.

I, however, preferred the more personal conflict in the story. The three main actors — Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner — have been together since the beginning of the saga, and their chemistry is probably the driving force behind its success. They play off each other so well that the relationships are as comfortable as the stories are to loyal Twilight fans.

I probably confessed this before, but I’m a hopeless romantic. Edward’s unwavering devotion to Bella — even when she inexplicably considers a life with her best friend, the mutt — never fails to elicit wistful sighs throughout the movie. Did I mention I’m Team Edward?

As much as I loved “Eclipse” there were, of course, a few things with which I took issue. First of all, these movies now boast huge budgets. Why are the wigs so hideous? Why are there wigs at all? Aren’t these actors paid enough to endure a little time in the chair for dye jobs or extensions? Just a thought, Summit.

Luckily for the fans, the cast has stayed almost completely intact since the first movie, so there was quite the uproar when the character of Victoria (Bella-hating, vengeful vamp) was recast for “Eclipse” with Bryce Dallas Howard. I like Howard fine, but I have to band with the die-hard Rachelle LeFevre fans and agree that the role should have stayed hers. She brought a feral intensity to “New Moon” that would have the made the final showdown with Edward all the better.

I had a whole paragraph planned here about how Robert Pattinson has fully realized the character of Edward and his scenes were nuanced with emotion and depth, whether sharing a tender moment with Stewart or angry confrontation with Lautner. Let’s just say there are a slew of other people milling about for two hours and then there’s Rob. (Insert inner 16-year-old fangirl sigh here.)

Now for the bad news for Saga fans — and let’s face it, the movies are made for the fans — the final installment “Breaking Dawn” won’t start filming until this fall and won’t release until November, 2011. Part one, that is, since the decision’s also been made to split the book into two films, ala “Harry Potter.” I disagree with this, but producers failed to ask my opinion.

What does this mean for this zealous, middle-aged fan? It means I have another two years, minimum, to blithely ignore the mocking and ribbing from friends, family and co-workers. And to watch the DVDs a lot.
“The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” is rated PG-13 for some violence, mild language and lots of smooches.

Reviews · Twilight

“Remember Me” breaks the vampire out of his coffin

Robert Pattinson shines — not sparkles — as the very human Tyler Hawkins in “Remember Me.” Photo courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes.

by SuzsPetals

(Reprinted with permission from the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor)

“Remember Me” is a poignant little film never intending to be major box office fodder, much less to bump a giant like “Alice in Wonderland” out of first place. So why all the scrutiny and pressure?

It happens to be the indy drama Robert Pattinson chose to shoot between New Moon and Eclipse; Twilight Saga movies two and three for the uninformed or uninterested. I personally am way more informed and interested than I care to admit, but that’s a story for another time. Pattinson plays the intense and devoted vampire Edward in the Twilight series, and the critics have been rubbing their hands in anticipation of skewering his ability to do anything that involves less pancake make-up.

Directed by Allen Coulter — best known for his work on cable shows like “Sex and the City” and “The Sopranos” — “Remember Me” is the story of two young people who have been broken and altered by tragedies in their individual lives. Ally, played by Emilie de Ravin, has risen above her loss but is still shackled to an overprotective father who’s not ready for her to grow up. Pattinson plays Tyler Hawkins, whose personal tragedy still haunts him, manifesting itself in anger, sexy brooding and reckless behavior.

The rest of the cast is skillfully filled out with the likes of Chris Cooper as Ally’s cop dad, Pierce Brosnan as Tyler’s rich and repressed father, and Ruby Jerins as Tyler’s adored little sister Caroline. The strained relationship between Tyler and Charles Hawkins is almost as gripping as the blossoming love story in the film. I don’t think I exhaled once during their climactic confrontation scene, and I was almost as invested in them working things out as I was the lovers. Brosnan fans will relish his significant supporting role.

Caroline is the little dinghy, being tossed around on the family’s sea of grief and Tyler protects and loves her with such ferocity I left the theater yearning for a big brother. Jerins is a child actress we will probably see mature on-screen, such is the depth and vulnerability of her performance.

Lena Olin — who kicked ass literally and figuratively on the series “Alias” — is visibly fragile as Tyler and Caroline’s mother. A lesser-known standout in this film is Tate Ellington who plays Tyler’s roommate Aidan. His character alternates between obnoxious and endearing, providing a buffer and comic relief where needed.

The centerpiece of this story is the relationship between Tyler and Ally, and although it’s built on a shaky foundation, the chemistry and evolution is both believable and watchable. Their passion and humor evoke memories of being 20-something when everyone is brave with the knowledge they have their whole lives ahead of them. Emilie de Ravin, who is best known for her role on “Lost,” does a lovely job conveying Ally’s old soul wrapped in a free spirit who helps Tyler knock down his walls.

And it’s Tyler who the characters seem to orbit around. Pattinson infuses the half-hearted college student with all of the flaws and attitude you would expect a rich, intelligent, yet damaged young man to have. He plays Tyler with honesty and emotion, and I found it hard to look away. Okay, I admit I may be biased, but I’m still convinced the critics can find someone else to hang their one-trick-pony expectations on. I hear Zac Efron is available.

The ending of this movie was somewhat spoiled for me in a press interview (thanks a lot, Matt Lauer) and it has been described as controversial in many reviews. I have no desire to ruin it for anyone, but I definitely had mixed feelings. The filmmakers obviously wished to convey the message to live each moment fully and I got that. But after such an authentic story of intertwining lives, they awkwardly tried to tie up each package with a pat bow that didn’t feel as real.

This may have normally been a movie I’d wait to see on DVD, but I’m glad I enjoyed it on the big screen. It had no impressive CGI, no epic battle scenes, just people learningto live and love in a complicated, unpredictable world. Oh, and it had Robert Pattinson.

The romantic drama is rated PG-13 for some violence, sexual content, language and smoking.

Reviews · Twilight

Sacred “Moon”

Reveling in the Twilight phenomenon

(Also published in the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor and at Heiditown.com)

I considered whether or not to review “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” this week because, well, it would mean coming completely out of the closet. Yes, I’m one of those sane, rational women who woke up one day inexplicably obsessed with a series of books about teenagers, supernatural and otherwise. By the way, Stephenie Meyer didn’t actually write them for teenagers but the publishers marketed them that way, ergo the stigma. Fortunately, in the past nine months I’ve discovered I’m in good company with millions of other women — women of all ages, cultures, incomes and reasons for drinking the “Twilight” kool-aid.
Now that my confession is out of the way, I’ll admit I was underwhelmed by the first movie, “Twilight,” which was directed by Catherine Hardwick. But the cast was great and by time I saw it, I already knew I had the sequel to look forward to. “New Moon” was my favorite book of the series and I followed the production of the movie — this time helmed by Chris Weitz — like a seasoned industry insider.
After months of anticipation I decided to embrace the frenzy and actually attend the midnight showing on November 19. Sure, I was a little terrified of being surrounded by screaming teenagers whose mothers irresponsibly allowed to skip school the following day. But I realized this was a cult phenomenon like none other and damn it, I didn’t want to miss it! Surprisingly, I found a few other friends who were just as brave and curious and we purchased our tickets to the seventh showing of the evening. Seventh, because the previous six were sold out. Oh, what had I gotten myself into?
The date finally arrived and we celebrated the event — and curbed the panic — with a few pre-screening drinks. Then we were ready for the lines, the hordes, the teenage Twi-hards, even the rioting. Bring it on. A little after 11 p.m. we walked straight into the theater, handed our tickets to the pimply-faced usher who was probably in an estrogen-induced coma, and took our seats. Seriously. It was that anti-climactic and I found myself looking around in disappointment for a glimmer of fan mania.
The theater was packed with mostly college-aged girls and older, and even several guys. Once the movie got under way there were a few gasps at the beefcake, lots of laughing in the appropriate places, and enthusiastic applause at the end. This movie was for the fans and they (we) knew it.
If you’re not familiar with the saga, it centers around an average teenage girl named Bella who moves to a small town and falls head over heels (literally falls, because clumsy is one of her stronger character traits) for Edward, a beautiful, brooding vampire who will be 17 forever. “Twilight” is about their blossoming love and “New Moon” is about their break-up and the ensuing drama and pain felt by all involved. But Bella reconnects with her childhood friend Jacob and pulls out of her deep depression only to find out he’s a werewolf. It must be something in the water.
Chris Weitz spent months assuring fans that he was working closely with Meyer on bringing

Fellow Twitards get ready for the big event. Mini-Edward puts up with us.

the book to life as faithfully as possible. He had to have been intimidated because there are those (not me, of course) who could quote all their favorite parts and insist each and every word and nuance make it to the final cut. I knew that wouldn’t happen but what he did include — or even added — was pretty close to perfect.
It’s hard not to review this show without comparisons to the first one, and in fact when I asked a couple of people at the theater what they thought, the common theme was “way better than the first one.” Sorry Catherine, but you drowned “Twilight” in a blue wash and now that’s all I can see. That — and Kristen Stewart’s excessive blinking and twitching. Stewart apparently read the criticisms and left her tics and stutters for the promotional interviews. This Bella was much more dimensional for me and I could start to appreciate what all the boys saw in her. Sort of.
Robert Pattinson, who plays Edward, also seemed to embody his immortal hunk much more comfortably this time around, although dressing him in suits and wing tips made him look closer to my age than 17 — oh, wait, that’s a good thing. Taylor Lautner as Jacob was more of the star in this film and although I’m 100 percent Team Edward, I admit Lautner really delivered. Much has been said about his impressive physical transformation for the role, but his emotional investment brought it home.
I didn’t cry like I was hoping to, but I laughed much more than I thought I would. The human classmates of Bella’s got all the best lines, and as in “Twilight,” Billy Burke (Bella’s father) chewed up each scene he was in no matter how few words he uttered. There were additions to the story and more action but it all fit well and the cinematography was vivid and rich.
When it was over, my non-Twi-hard friend speculated that someone who hadn’t read the book would be totally lost. I can’t be objective because I have read it — several times. When I thought about it, I didn’t really care. And with a record-breaking weekend haul of $142 million, I’m clearly not alone.
Whatever addictive drug Stephenie Meyer infused the pages of her series with, Chris Weitz did likewise with film. Thanks anyway, but I don’t want rehab — I’m holding out for a hit of “Eclipse” which opens in June.