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<p>'On Her Majesty's Supernatural Secret Service' pretty adequately sums up the general vibe of Daniel O'Malley's debut novel, 'The Rook'</p>

'On Her Majesty's Supernatural Secret Service' pretty adequately sums up the general vibe of Daniel O'Malley's debut novel, 'The Rook'

Credit: Hachette Book Group

One Thing I Love Today: 'The Rook' is smart contemporary spy fantasy, and wildly ambitious

For a first novel, 'The Rook' is awfully confident

Daniel O'Malley's debut novel covers some familiar ground, but the reason I'm picking it as today's OTILT is because it manages to wring something new from that familiar ground, and the result is an exciting fantasy thriller that mixes the modern espionage genre with the sort of magical world posited by the "Harry Potter" books.  It's an intriguing collision of genre, and it works far better than I would have guessed just from reading the synopsis.

From the very beginning, the book takes a fresh perspective to tell the story, with Myfanwy Thomas "waking up" inside her body, completely unaware of who she is or how she's gotten into the situation where she finds herself, surrounded by dead bodies in a park in London.  It's not quite a "Bourne Identity" situation, since the Myfanwy that wakes up is not the same person who was attacked, and she has to figure out how she ended up in this body.  Thankfully, the old Myfanwy (pronounced "Miffany," according to the narrator) knew that something cataclysmic was coming, and so she wrote herself a series of notes so her new inhabitant could pretend to be her and solve the mystery of how this identity exchange took place.

What she learns is that she is a Rook, and she works for an organization that handles any and all supernatural invasions or disturbances in England.  There are two Rooks in the organization, and a handful of other positions, and as many agendas in play as there are other employees.  The other Rook is a four-bodied identity named Gestalt, for example, and Myfanwy finds herself hard-pressed to maintain the illusion that she is this person who she never met.

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<p>Nick Offerman in &quot;Parks and Recreation.&quot;</p>

Nick Offerman in "Parks and Recreation."

Credit: NBC

'Parks and Recreation' - 'Sweet Sixteen': Signs of overwork

Leslie struggles to balance her two jobs in the first disappointing episode in a long time

A review of tonight's "Parks and Recreation" coming up just as soon as we talk minimum acceptable thread count for sheets...

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<p>Pedro Almodovar at the 2002 Academy Awards, after winning Best Original Screenplay for &quot;Talk to Her.&quot;</p>

Pedro Almodovar at the 2002 Academy Awards, after winning Best Original Screenplay for "Talk to Her."

Credit: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

My favorite Oscar win: Pedro Almodóvar for 'Talk to Her'

On final approach, we look back at some of Oscar's finer moments

When Kris asked me to contribute a piece to our mini-series on all-time favorite Oscar wins, I wasn't quite sure where to begin. However often they get it wrong, over 83 years, the Academy has made more than enough good decisions, and honored more than enough good movies -- even handing Best Picture to my favorite film of all time -- to make selecting just one a tortuous process.

How to judge the value of Robert De Niro's Best Actor win for "Raging Bull" against, say, Sven Nykvist's Best Cinematography win for "Cries and Whispers?" I'm glad both came to pass, but we're not comparing apples and oranges so much as apples and hotdogs.

I decided to limit my search to winners from 1990, the year I actually started watching the Oscars, onwards: as satisfying as it is the learn of deserved wins in the history books, nothing compares to the in-the-moment thrill of watching your favorite nominee triumph before your own eyes.

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<p>When Sam Worthington said he wanted to pay tribute to 'Ride The Lightning' in the new fantasy action film 'Wrath Of The Titans,' director Jonathan Liebesman took him literally.</p>

When Sam Worthington said he wanted to pay tribute to 'Ride The Lightning' in the new fantasy action film 'Wrath Of The Titans,' director Jonathan Liebesman took him literally.

Credit: Warner Bros/Legendary

Watch: New 'Wrath Of The Titans' trailer puts the emphasis on monsters

No one can accuse this sequel of playing it conservative when it comes to scale

I wasn't a big fan of the remake of "Clash Of The Titans," but I do like the genre that it represents.  We need more giant monsters in our movies.  I'd argue we need more giant monsters in all movies, regardless of what they're about.  "The King's Speech" without monsters, for example, might have won Best Picture of 2010, but "The King's Speech" WITH giant monsters?  That would win Best Picture of All Time.  You see the difference?

Even though I didn't really care about anyone or anything in "Clash Of The Titans," they've pretty much guaranteed that I'm excited to see the sequel, "Wrath Of The Titans" because the new trailer that just arrived appears to be wall-to-wall giant monsters, and there ain't nothing wrong with that, philosophically speaking.

We talked to Sam Worthington about what he considers a big fat do-over, and how that gives him a chance to get this one right since he feels like he didn't get it right the first time.  The same was true inside Legendary, which is a shame because I know how much the original "Clash of The Titans" meant to the executives there.  This was not a case of cynically remaking something because of some spreadsheet, but rather a case of someone intensely trying to recapture a feeling they had when they saw something and falling short.

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<p>Troy (Donald Glover)&nbsp;and the rest of the &quot;Community&quot;&nbsp;gang have reason to smile again.</p>

Troy (Donald Glover) and the rest of the "Community" gang have reason to smile again.

Credit: NBC

Why I miss 'Community': Because we're about to return to the prime timeline

With the return date announced, it's time to celebrate!

We officially have only three of these Why I Miss "Community" posts still to go, now that NBC has announced that the show will be returning to its old timeslot on Thursday, March 15. Not sure what I'll do for the other two yet, but the choice this week seemed obvious, as it's both one of the most celebratory moments(*) in the entire series and one that marks a departure from the Darkest Timeline: the final scene of "Remedial Chaos Theory."

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<p>Your &quot;American Idol&quot; judges pass... judgement</p>
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Your "American Idol" judges pass... judgement

Credit: FOX

Recap: 'American Idol' - Final Judgment, Part 2 - Live-Blog

The final 10 singers in the Top 24 are revealed

On Wednesday night, "American Idol" revealed the first 14 members of this season's Top 24. 

It took two hours.

On Thursday (Feb. 23), "American Idol" will knock out the remaining 10 singers in the Top 24 in what is sure to be a relatively brisk hour. 

Then, next week, "Idol" will finally begin the business of seeing if America cares enough to vote for a winner this season.

Click through to learn the identities of No.15-24...

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Sacha Baron Cohen addresses Oscar controversy as his 'Dictator' character
Credit: Paramount Pictures

Sacha Baron Cohen addresses Oscar controversy as his 'Dictator' character

Admiral General Aladeen takes on 'Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Zionists'

"Admiral General Aladeen will deliver a formal response tomorrow morning to being banned from the Oscars by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Zionists."

So reads the statement released today by "Aladeen" via the "Republic of Wadiya"'s official website, in response to news yesterday that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had banned the fictional Middle East despot (a.k.a. Sacha Baron Cohen) from the Oscar ceremony on Sunday in order to keep "The Dictator" star from walking the red carpet (though it turns out Deadline's original report on the matter jumped the gun a bit, as Cohen has not yet officially had his tickets pulled).

The publicity stunt is a masterstroke on the part of Cohen and distributor Paramount. By floating the proposal to have Cohen walk the red carpet as Aladeen, the studio knew they were creating a "win-win" situation for themselves. If the Academy accepted their request, the film would receive a ton of free publicity on Hollywood's biggest night. If the Academy denied their request, they would arguably benefit even more.

In any case, we look forward to seeing what shape this "formal" response will take tomorrow morning.

"The Dictator" hits theaters on March 11th.

Putting together an Oscar pool? Download our official Oscar ballot here!

Follow me on Twitter @HitFixChris

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<p>Oscars host Billy Crystal</p>
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Oscars host Billy Crystal

Credit: ABC

HitFix Interview: Writer Carol Leifer discusses Billy Crystal's Oscars return

Seven-time Oscars writer explains the advantages of comfort food
The Return of Billy Crystal is one of the biggest stories of Sunday (Feb. 26) night's Academy Awards telecast, but behind the familiar face is a familiar returning voice.
Longtime stand-up favorite and "Seinfeld" and "Larry Sanders" veteran Carol Leifer, fresh off a WGA award as part of the "Modern Family" staff, is writing for the Oscars for the seventh time, her third time writing for and with Crystal as host.
Just days away from the Oscars, I chatted with Leifer about why viewers will treat Crystal like comfort food after last year's less-than-warmly-received telecast, whether the writers are concerned about the perception "The Artist" has the night's big awards in the bag and how she wants people to discuss the show on Monday morning.
Click through for the full interview...
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Ticket company apologizes for Kraftwerk concert on-sale 'debacle'

Will buying tickets for intimate performances always suck? Probably

Kraftwerk's forthcoming retrospective eight-night residency at New York's Museum of Modern Art is a dream for fans -- partly because of the appeal of the group playing their last eight albums start to finish, and partly because of the venue. The Donald B. and Catherine C. Marron Atrium is around a 700-capacity, extremely intimate considering Kraftwerk's worldwide appeal, rare tours and the promise of a one-of-a-kind 3-D visualization for each night.

It's also a dream because actually acquiring tickets for any of the April shows was nothing but a nightmare. A huge percentage of people who "queued up" at exactly noon yesterday (Feb. 22) were kept there eternally. And according to MoMA's ticket seller ShowClix, only about 1.2% of those who tried got tickets.

It comes with the territory. Pretend that 700 tickets were actually made available for each night, times eight is 5,600 tickets total. Imagine that fans were going after their favorite or most popular albums -- "Autobahn," "The Man-Machine" or "Computer World," maybe -- and that's some serious competition, especially with a two-ticket maximum per customer.

That would explain the hundreds of tiresome Kraftwerk puns that erupted on Twitter and Facebook yesterday.

What was infuriating fans in this instance was not just being unable to win a lottery that seemingly lasted a minute, but dealing with a ticket-buying system that buckled under the demand, and kept interested parties in a queue for sometimes longer than an hour. I didn't try to buy Kraftwerk tickets yesterday, but I do know the frustration of not getting tickets I want, and seeing them go instantly into the hands of a secondary ticket marketplace. Ticketmaster may screw you with fees and competitive concert ticket-buying experiences, but at least they let you know you're screwed pretty quick.

ShowClix has issued an apology to fans in an open letter today, and have vowed "to work hard to prevent such a debacle from happening again in the future." Not much solace for fans today, but not scoring the tickets you want is never any fun. With all the innovations in online buying, so-called "safeguards" from scalpers and the appeal of seeing an intimate show when artists so often prefer the cash of a large venue take-in, it's another lesson learned: ticket buying still, and probably always will, suck. ShowClix probably knew their demand -- such metrics are easily had -- and should've prepared. Here is the text from the post:

Dear Kraftwerk fans,

Sorry it took me a day to write this, but it was important for me to first understand all of the facts so they could be properly communicated. First and foremost, we are deeply sorry for the frustration and massive inconvenience that yesterday's on-sale for Kraftwerk caused for many of their great fans around the world. I recognize that so many of you spent hours in front of your computer watching a spinning wheel—or watching the page go blank. Please allow me to explain what happened and what we'll do to correct this for the future:

MoMA has been a really great partner of ShowClix for over a year now, and we've worked with them to move tens of thousands of tickets successfully. They leaned on us to help them with this on-sale, which was a special event for them, and we let them (and you) down. ShowClix has successfully executed many very large, high-demand on-sales over the past five years that we've been in business. Most of these on-sales have a high demand, with a great deal of inventory to sell. Kraftwerk's eight-night performance on-sale was a very unique situation. While we're not able to disclose the number of tickets that were available for these performances, what I will say is that of the tens and tens of thousands of die-hard Kraftwerk fans from around the world that logged on at exactly noon EST yesterday to get these tickets, the venue capacity restrictions would only ever allow approximately 1.20% of them to actually be reserved. As you might imagine, this is an extremely large technical hurdle, particularly because of the tiny fraction of supply versus the demand.

Still, this is no excuse. We should have never advised MoMA to allow the tickets to be sold in the fashion in which they were, because in the end—even if everything were to go smoothly—many people would have been very disappointed. ShowClix didn't set the proper expectations from the beginning, nor did we properly prepare our load balancing servers in order to prevent the queue from timing out. Ultimately, we failed many of you.

Since yesterday, we have discovered that a single setting within one of the lower levels of our queuing system's middleware bubbled-up under the heavy load and caused frequent timeouts. There were also some issues with the broadcast system which allows us to communicate with ticket buyers while they're waiting in the queue. We should have both of these problems resolved by the end of this week. However, even with these problems resolved, it is my belief moving forward that we should not perform an on-sale all at once for an event or venue that has such small capacity restrictions versus potential demand. Instead, we will advise our clients on various alternative methods to fairly sell tickets to an event that has such a small fraction of inventory available versus the potential demand.

There were certainly technical problems around this event. Contrary to some reports, however, our servers never crashed or went offline, and none of our other clients or their events experienced a problem during the Kraftwerk on-sale. We always keep high-demand on-sales separate from all of the other activity happening on our server. It's also important to note that there were online sales successfully processing the entire time, and all eight of the events sold-out in approximately 60 minutes.

In closing, regardless of what the technical problem was—or how we plan to solve it in the future—we haven't overlooked the incredible amount of frustration many people felt from the on-sale. We take full responsibility. This company was founded and continues to be run by a big team of live entertainment and technology addicts. We feel for you, the fans, and our partner, MoMA, and vow to work hard to prevent such a debacle from happening again in the future.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Joshua Dziabiak
ShowClix, Inc.

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<p>Natalie Portman</p>

Natalie Portman

Credit: AP Photo

Natalie Portman and last year's acting winners to present at Oscars

Christian Bale, Colin Firth and Melissa Leo get to re-live Oscar glory

Last year's Oscar-winning performers -- Natalie Portman, Colin Firth, Melissa Leo and Christian Bale -- are returning to this year's Academy Awards as presenters.

In the lead categories, Firth took home the Oscar for Best Picture winner "The King's Speech," while Portman danced away with the Best Actress trophy for Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan." In the supporting sections, both Bale and Leo won for their work in David O. Russell's acclaimed "The Fighter."

The quartet join such previously announced presenters as Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie, Bradley Cooper, Halle Berry, Ben Stiller, Jennifer Lopez, Tina Fey, Penelope Cruz, "The Muppets'" Kermit and Piggy, "Campaign" co-stars Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, and the cast of "Bridesmaids."

Portman and Bale will co-star in two upcoming films from "Tree of Life" director Terrence Malick. Before that, Bale will reprise his role as Batman in this summer's "The Dark Knight Rises."

Meanwhile, Leo will star alongside Denzel Washington in Robert Zemeckis' "Flight," and Firth will be seen opposite Cameron Diaz in the art heist comedy "Gambit," written by the Coen Brothers.

The 84th Academy Awards telecast airs live on ABC this Sunday, February 26 at 7 pm ET/4 pm PT.

Think you can predict the winners? Prove it here and win big.

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<p>Rooney Mara in &quot;The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.&quot;</p>

Rooney Mara in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."

Credit: Columbia Pictures

Oscar Guide 2011: Best Actress

Glenn Close, Viola Davis, Rooney Mara, Meryl Streep and Michelle Williams square off

(The Oscar Guide will be your chaperone through the Academy's 24 categories awarding excellence in film. A new installment will hit every weekday in the run-up to the Oscars on February 26, with the Best Picture finale on Saturday, February 25.)

After last year's banner field of nominees, which included five peak-form performances from actresses in a range of risky, stimulating projects, this year's Best Actress category wasn't ever likely to live up to those standards. True enough, it hasn't, though the problem lies less with the ladies nominated than the vehicles surrounding them: "Good performance, shame about the movie," has been the recurring critical chorus around this race.

That's not to say it was a year short of challenging, substantial vehicles for women. But with many of them falling in the less illuminated corners of the arthouse, the Academy inevitably favored the softer, more middlebrow prestige vehicles, few of which had any worthwhile cinematic ambitions beyond showcasing their established stars for maximum vote-grabbiness. (It may or may not mean something to you that this is the category's first all-American lineup in 20 years.) The exception, a relatively untested ingenue in a hard-edged genre piece, is both the only first-time nominee in the field and the only one unapproved by the Screen Actors' Guild.

The nominees are...

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<p>Helen&nbsp;Hunt and Jack&nbsp;Nicholson at the 1998 Academy&nbsp;Awards</p>

Helen Hunt and Jack Nicholson at the 1998 Academy Awards

Credit: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Women and Oscar

And other things rich white men like

Earlier this week the LA Times unveiled the fruit of 20 researchers’ labor: old, rich, white men dominate the AMPAS. I was as shocked as you are.

I kid. I do. There’s nothing wrong with the article as such, and the structural dynamics of the Academy do bear looking at.

One of the strange, self-devouring aspects of the internet is that it is now common practice for critics to reflect on, riff off, add to or otherwise deconstruct one another’s work. A positive element of the trend is that a conversation develops in our virtual realm. Of course, levels of discourse are, as ever, varied. We’ve not yet weighed in on the matter and I do so now with a grain of salt, and a bit more sass than I had originally intended. Is it earth shattering news? Clearly not. Does it seem to be indicative of an overindulgence of the paper’s resources? Ish.

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