Please excuse the discombobulated nature of this
review. Though I won’t go so far as to label it half-ass, my heart and focus is
down in Southern California, and my usual delight in the trivial has lost its
luster for the time being…

I used to watch ER,
but more for Nurse Hathaway (Julianna Margulies) than Dr. Doug (George Clooney).
 My first real introduction to Clooney
was on The Facts of Life, when he sported that lovely mullet. I was instantly
drawn to his charisma, though I honestly never pictured him as the
old-fashioned movie star that he has become.

I am amused by the journalists who are obsessed with Clooney’s box office bankability. The man has risen far above his reign
as People’s Sexiest Man of the Year.  Yes,
he’s pretty. And yes, those Ocean’s
movies are entertaining man candy, but I don’t think that Clooney receives the
respect he has earned. The man won a Best Supporting Oscar (Syriana), for crying out loud. Out of Sight and Three Kings were damn good too. And his work behind the camera is also quite
impressive; Confessions of a Dangerous
and Good Night, and Good Luck
are very good films.

Look, I’m not saying that all Clooney films have been
golden. I did sit through Solaris and The Peacemaker. As much as he was critically panned for those
and his stint as Batman, I admit to
being drawn to a film when his name is attached.  And frankly, I don’t care who Clooney dates or
where he lives. While most admire him for his looks, I am far more interested
in his body…of work.

With that, I am happy to report that Michael Clayton is actually a great
film. This corporate/legal drama features fantastic performances by an all-star
cast and more than enough unexpected plot twists to keep your attention for two
hours. Screenwriter Tony Gilroy makes an impressive directorial debut. He is
quite familiar with and successful at creating a palatable onscreen intensity; he
penned the suspenseful Dolores Claiborne
and all 3 Bourne films.

Tilda Swinton should have been nominated for Best
Actress back in 1992 for Orlando. She
certainly deserves a Best Supporting Actress nod this year for her role in Michael Clayton.

Although British actor Tom Wilkinson entered the
American filmgoer consciousness in The
Full Monty
, he had been acting for twenty years prior (I first enjoyed him
as Mr. Dashwood in 1995’s Sense and
).  Of course he went on
to earn a Best Actor nomination for In
the Bedroom
, but I highly recommend that you rent Normal, which I consider to be his best work yet.  And I wouldn’t be surprised to see him up for
Best Supporting Actor for his memorable role in Michael Clayton.

This movie reminded me that Sydney Pollack should spend more time
in front of the camera. As much as I love the films that he has directed (Absence of Malice, Tootsie), I really like him as an actor as well.

Denis O’Hare has perfected the character actor genre.
While he is quite capable of being a lead and some may scoff at such an assessment,
I intend it as a compliment. And he has added another small yet pivotal role to
his collection in Michael Clayton. Of
course my favorite O’Hare appearance was as Albert the Ark Man in Garden State. I am also enjoying his
clash with Calista Flockhart on Brothers
and Sisters
. O’Hare is actually a Tony-award winning Broadway man (Take Me Out).

is what I would call an intelligent thriller. Though
some may prefer to watch this kind of film at home, I believe it is worth a
trip to the theater.


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I was going to post a review of Michael Clayton today, but my mind is elsewhere. Like most others in California and beyond, I am glued to the TV watching news about the insane fires burning up the southern part of the state. We have family in the San Diego area, and are awaiting updates about their homes and current whereabouts.   

My thoughts are with those who have had to evacuate and the firefighters bravely battling the blazes.  Pop culture can wait.  See you soon.

- Jo

UPDATE: Apparently my brother-in-law and sister-in-law and their families are gathered together in San Diego and both houses are safe.

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recently returned from a cruise to Alaska, where we were treated to
performances by the hilarious Michele Balan on the ship. As a huge fan of NBC’s
Last Comic Standing (she was a
finalist and the Last Woman Standing in Season 4 last year), it was great to
experience her show live.  I highly
recommend that you get tickets to see Michele the next time she comes to a town
near you!


we only met briefly during the cruise, Michele was kind enough to answer a few
questions after the trip ended.


Did you watch any of the first three seasons of Last Comic Standing? If so, did it inspire you to audition?


I watched some of the episodes as I knew a lot of the comics that were on it. I
think I watched more of Season 2. That season inspired me more to
audition.  I certainly would not have
waited on a line, but a lot of the more professional comics got audition times,
which I did. But that was all they gave me (a time slot), the rest was up to


What was the audition process like for the show?


It was a 3 minute audition in a large comedy club in front of 2 judges and 3
producers (who were hiding in the back). It is like doing comedy in your mirror
and waiting for a laugh…or trying jokes out on my Shitzu!


I went to a high school dance on the Queen Mary as a teenager, and I can’t
imagine that the accommodations are anything but dusty and uncomfortable – what
was it like briefly living on that ship while filming?  


Exactly how you described it.. dusty and uncomfortable! It’s also supposed to
be one of the top haunted places in the U.S…but it’s so dusty, the ghosts don’t
even want to stay!


Did you enjoy living among your competition? 


No. It was way too competitive and noisy. Comics only want to one-up each
other…it got pretty annoying.


How did the exposure from Last Comic
affect your career?


It’s been great. It has been a gift…I am now a 15 year overnight success!


Have you remained friends with anyone from the show?  


Most of us have stayed in touch and we talk from time to time. Some I don’t
really speak with at all.


If they asked, would you be a guest judge on Last Comic in the future?


I would love it. I hope they would ask.


I read that you are slated to perform on Jay
. Will that be your first visit to his show?


I am in the process of preparing to get on the show…not finalized yet…so cross
everything. But it’s certainly looking very positive.


Where is your favorite place to perform?


I like most places. I am not crazy about doing colleges; I do a few, but I
always think they are saying, “Who’s mother is that?”


Obviously you gauge your content based on your audience. But are there any
topics that you consider off-limits in your act?


I might make some adjustments to my act based on whether I play a gay cruise,
or Jewish Country club! J


You’ve performed on both Olivia and RSVP vacations. Did they each contact you
after watching Last Comic? 


I actually performed on both before the show.


I noticed that you were wearing the seasickness prevention bracelets on the
Alaska cruise. Do you prefer performing at land-based destinations? 


I love cruises, but yes, I am one that is more prone to sea sickness than most.
I very rarely get sea sick on land!


You were born and raised in New York. Have you lived there ever since? Would
you ever move out to Los Angeles or anywhere else?  


Yes, I was born and raised in NYC and still live here. I thought about moving
to LA but I have been too busy to pack. So I just go there a few times a year.


Is it true that you used to be an executive at a computer company? How did you
contain your sarcasm in that environment…or did you even have to?  


My sarcasm and humor is what made me a good sales person. I was an account
executive and sold computer packages.

What made you decide to leave the corporate world behind for the life of
stand-up comedy?


Everyone always told me I was funny and I should be a comic. I finally listened
and left my corporate job. It was a tough decision, and I had a rocky road
emotionally and financially getting here! I stuck with it, and here I am. So I
certainly have no regrets!


Before Last Comic, you were a “female
female-impersonator,” and Bette Midler was your specialty. Did she ever catch
your act?


No, she never did. At least I don’t think so…well, she never called!


Jo: Who or what has been the biggest
influence on your career?


MB: Bette was a big part of it, and a lot
of old “Borscht Belt” (a.k.a. Jewish Catskill) comics.


How often do you personally check your MySpace page and messages?


I check all my emails and answer them all. Of course, sometimes it takes awhile,
like this interview did. My apologies!


On the rare occasion that you do have down time, do you watch television? What
are some of your favorite TV shows?


I actually like a lot of the crime dramas…the Law & Order’s and CSI’s.
I like Frasier and Golden Girls reruns at night (when I am
up till 2:00 am trying to fall asleep).


Are you auditioning for movies or television, in addition to performing as a
headliner at comedy clubs and benefits across the country?


Yes, on all. I’ve been doing so many things, and glad to have all the
opportunities. You never know when any of this comes to a screeching halt! I
could go from Last Comic Standing to
the other reality show, Where Are They Now?


What are you currently working on/aiming for? 


I have a few tour projects and possible TV projects in the works…so maybe one,
or all will come through (then I will need an understudy!)


thanks to Michele for taking the time out of her busy schedule for this


can order her DVD (“Live…Just Barely”) and CD (“Neurotic by Nature”) directly
by visiting:
Or become one of her MySpace friends:

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I see the name J.J. Abrams attached to any television or film project, I am on
board immediately. Very few creative minds in the industry inspire such blind
faith, but to me, his track record speaks volumes.


Abrams only entered my personal entertainment radar with Felicity, his career really took off in the early 90’s. Though many
know him as the mastermind behind Lost,
he has had an interesting and impressive ride to the top. Let’s take a look…


1990: Co-wrote the film
Taking Care of Business, a Jim
Belushi/Charles Grodin comedy


1991: Wrote &
co-produced the film Regarding Henry,
the Harrison Ford/Annette Bening drama (Abrams appeared in the movie as a
delivery boy)


1992: Wrote & produced
the film Forever Young, the Mel
Gibson drama


1993: Had a small role
in the film Six Degrees of Separation,
the Will Smith drama


1996: Had a small role
in the film Diabolique, the Sharon
Stone thriller


1996: Produced the film
The Pallbearer, the David
Schwimmer/Gwyneth Paltrow comedy written by Felicity
writer Matt Reeves and Bionic Woman/Friday Night Lights writer Jason Katims


1997: Co-wrote the film
Gone Fishin’, the Danny Glover/Joe
Pesci comedy


1998: Co-wrote the film
Armageddon, the Bruce Willis/Ben
Affleck drama


1998 – 2002: Created & wrote
the television series Felicity (Abrams
also composed the main theme song)


1999: Produced the film
The Suburbans, a little-seen Jennifer
Love Hewitt comedy co-starring Will Ferrell


2001 – 2006: Created, wrote
& produced the television series Alias
(Abrams also composed the main theme song)


2001: Received an Emmy
nomination for writing the pilot episode of Alias


2001: Formed the
production company Bad Robot


2001: Wrote &
produced the film Joy Ride, the Paul
Walker thriller


2001- 2004: Wrote screenplay
for revamped Superman, was in
contention to direct; Superman Returns
debuted in 2006 with Bryan Singer at the helm and a script by Michael Dougherty
and Dan Harris


2004: Developed sitcom
with ex-SNL star Cheri Oteri; not
sure what ever happened to this


2004 – Present: Co-creator,
executive producer & writer on the television series Lost


2005: Created, wrote
& produced the television series The
, a pilot that was not picked up starring Abrams’ go-to guy
(Felicity, Alias, Lost) Greg
Grunberg from Heroes


2005: Won two Emmys, one
for Outstanding Drama Series and one for directing the pilot episode (Lost)


2005 & 2006: Won ASCAP Film
and Television Awards (for Lost, along
with composer Michael Giacchino)


2006: Won Television
Producer of the Year at the Producers Guild Awards (Lost)


2006: Won a Writers Guild
of America award for Dramatic Series (Lost)

2006: Directed an episode of the talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live

2006: Directed & wrote
the film Mission: Impossible III, the
third installment of the Tom Cruise franchise (Abrams also composed 2 songs for
the soundtrack)


2006: Inked 6-year deal
between Bad Robot and Warner Bros. TV


2006: Inked 5-year deal
with Paramount Pictures


2006: Produced the
television series What About Brian, the
Barry Watson drama


2006: Produced the
television series Six Degrees, the Campbell
Scott/Hope Davis drama


2006: Co-wrote an
episode of the animated television show Avatar:
The Last Airbender


2007: Directed an
episode of the television show The Office


2007: Currently
directing & producing an untitled new series for HBO about the lives of
cancer patients


2008: Producing the
film Cloverfield (a.k.a. 1-18-08 or the Untitled J.J. Abrams Project), the sci-fi thriller with a LOT of buzz, written by Drew Goddard (Lost) and directed by Matt Reeves (Felicity)


2008: Directing &
producing the new Star Trek film,
with a screenplay by Felicity vets
Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci (who are apparently slated to write the sequel to


2008: Will produce &
write Fringe, a new sci-fi
television series for FOX that sounds like a cross between Alias & The X-Files


2008: Will produce Boundaries, a new television comedy
series for ABC written by Six Feet Under
alum Jill Soloway


2009: Will direct &
produce the film currently labeled the Untitled
Hunter Scott Project
, with a script by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Robert Nelson
Jacobs (Chocolat)


Future projects/dates

  • Will be producing
    the film Morning Glory, directed by
    Roger Michell (Notting Hill) and written
    by The Devil Wears Prada scribe Aline
    Brosh McKenna

  • Will be producing
    the film Voices, directed by Joy Ride writer Clay Tarver

  • Will be producing
    an untitled film by writer/director Josh Marston (Maria Full of Grace)


fan boys and girls, am I missing anything? I did my homework but let me know if
any of the above dates or facts are incorrect.

So, what is your favorite Abrams production?

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Am I the only one who thinks it is slightly creepy/odd that Claire’s new boyfriend (West) has the exact same ability as her father (Nathan Petrelli)? You’d think she would recognize West’s gift as familiar/familial, and hesitate to hook up with someone who might be related. I know, I know, Heroes wouldn’t go there. And even though I overanalyzed the moment, I did enjoy the Superman homage.

Look, many of our Heroes have major Daddy Issues…

Claire Bennet/Butler
Adopted and raised by the Bennets, she discovered that Nathan Petrelli was her absentee biological dad. To complicate matters, Mr. Bennet (a.k.a. HRG or Horn Rimmed Glasses) is working underground to help defeat/destroy the evil Heroes…but Claire doesn’t necessarily trust that he’s on her side.

Hiro Nakamura
Hiro’s main goal was always to please his father. Mr. Nakamura finally encouraged Hiro to follow his destiny and save the world, but Hiro is unaware of his dad’s role in the major scheme of things (that he forced Mr. Bennet to adopt Claire, etc.). SPOILER ALERT…at this point in Season 2, Hiro also does not know that his dad (supposedly) died.

Nathan & Peter Petrelli
Daddy Petrelli served in the Vietnam War with mob boss Mr. Linderman. The Petrelli boys think that Linderman had something to do with their father’s death, which remains unresolved.

Micah Sanders
His ex-con dad D.L. may or may not have met his demise at the end of last season. Meanwhile, Micah is dealing with his multiple/lethal personality mother, and it looks like she’s about to abandon him too.

Mohinder Suresh
After the sudden death of his father Chandra, Mohinder went on a mission to see if it was related to his dad’s genetics research. Turns out that daddy Suresh played a large role discovering the Heroes, and now Mohinder has taken on the challenge to help save them.

As for Season 2 thus far, I have mixed opinions. On one hand, I am impatient to unite the new twin Heroes with the ones we’re already familiar with. While I’m not quite ready to label them Nikki & Paulo (Lost fans will understand that reference), I am a tad bored by their individual storyline thus far. I have also lost interest in Hiro’s Japan adventures, and look forward to Takezo Kensei’s appearance in modern day NY. 

I continue to love both Claire and Peter’s sagas…except for the WORST ACCENTS EVER that totally distract from Peter’s story. Seriously, there weren’t any real Irish character actors available for those roles?

Overall, I have great faith in the show and have no plans to ever abandon the series. I feel like we were spoiled by an almost perfect first season and perhaps my expectations were far too high for this one. But it’s early, so I will try to be more patient.


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