Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Now I am a little LAMB

This is the "new friends" thing I alluded to in yesterday's first anniversary post: FMS is proud to be one of the LAMBs - the Large Association of Movie Blogs! This is a consortium of bloggers, more or less like me, whose particular obsession is movies. I am #85 in the group and more bloggers are joining up every day.

What's the point? Firstly, for those of you who like to read movie blogs, the LAMB offers a snapshot highlight of each of its members so, rather than Googling for movie sites 'til your eyes bleed, you can simply scroll through the LAMB ranks to find sites that you like. (My most recent discovery is Final Girl, an extremely funny and clever horror blog.)

Secondly, for those of us who like to write movie blogs, the LAMB offers a place to meet likeminded bloggers and get more exposure for our habits pets hobbies blogs.

So go, browse and enjoy! You can get there by clicking the cute little LAMB over there on the right.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Happy One Year Anniversary, FMS!

My gosh - has it been a year already? I had hoped to have some big faboo news for my first anniversary post - like Television Without Pity called and wants to pay me $100,000/year to recap whatever I want - or an amazing book, movie or show to review for you. Instead, I'm halfway through a review DVD of One Missed Call and, um, uck.

So I'll have to settle for a huge THANK YOU to my huge fan-base for all your hits (7,889 and counting) and all your comments (+/- 10 and counting) and all your support. I am having such a hoot doing this blog. I feel as though my writing is improving, I'm learning stuff and I'm not entirely wasting my time with vapid entertainment if I can translate my response into something somebody reads sometime. Blogging is pretty cool. I really think this Internets thing is going to catch on one of these days.

Please come back, again and again, and bring your friends, and leave your comments. I'm going to "launch" an exciting new "feature" soon and you won't want to miss that. And I'm making friends in the blogosphere and hope to connect you with them soon as well.

Anyhoo, thanks again for a grrrrrrreat! first year. Here's to many, many more with the Mouse!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Book review: Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow

In his debut novel, Sharp Teeth, Toby Barlow revisits an ages-old mythology, lycanthropy, and places it smack dab in the center of present day Los Angeles. This is no frilly urban fantasy, however: these werewolves are hip and modern, involved in gang warfare, organized crime, card playing for money, meth labs and no-kill animal shelters. What makes this book brilliant is that it’s written in blank verse. You heard me. Sharp Teeth is a three-hundred page poem about bloodthirsty noir werewolves.

There is a lot going on in this novel, with at least three main storylines to keep track of. We meet Anthony first: a young man whose new career as a city dogcatcher begins because other dogcatchers begin mysteriously disappearing. Anthony doesn’t much care for his new life, preferring the company of his quarry to that of his crass coworkers, until he meets a mysterious young woman in a bar. They connect immediately and eventually fall into real, warm, foolish love – which would be sweet except she’s actually a werewolf who is trying to extricate herself from her pack. Werebitch and dogcatcher – surely Romeo and Juliet were no more star-crossed than that.

The pack young woman belongs to (we never learn her name) is run by alpha-dog Lark. He’s been building his membership and honing some secret plan for years, the steps of which include getting a wolf on staff at the city pound as well as winning a bridge tournament. He’s a pretty good guy for a werewolf and when he is betrayed by a close friend and packmember, we feel badly for him. Retreating for a while to lick his wounds, Lark assumes his dog-form and lives comfortably with a lonely suburban woman, enjoying the ear-rubs and only changing back into man-form when she falls asleep after a bottle of wine (in the mornings, she is surprised that the tub of ice cream has been finished). Lark gathers a new pack and prepares to do battle with the rival pack that ousted him.

The third plot thread is that of Peabody, a Los Angeles detective who catches the case of the first missing dogcatcher. Following the leads, he finds a second murdered dogcatcher, and then a third who commits suicide. Prompted by suggestive telephone calls from a lisping man to investigate possible dog-fight dog trafficking, the detective surveils a houseful of blond surfers (also werewolves) and gets himself kidnapped, before witnessing the final bloody battle between the wolf packs.

I will confess to being extremely wary of this book, especially when I saw how long it was – I scarcely like to read haiku. But for all that Sharp Teeth is written in blank verse it’s no poem like I have ever read, except perhaps Christopher Logue’s amazing work on the Iliad. The author has said that he believes the writing style fits the subject matter, that “writing about altered beasts seems to marry well to an altered style of language.” I wholeheartedly agree. The language is taut, visual and visceral. Every word has a purpose and the story is propelled forward with no extraneous mush; the athletic lyricism enables the reader to readily use their imagination to fill in any blanks not expressly parsed out in verse. I found myself turning the pages faster and faster to find out what happened next, and then at a chapter break, going back to reabsorb the striking imagery.

Sharp Teeth is a gritty, grisly, romantic, supernatural thriller, gripping in its content and gorgeous in its execution. Once you are a couple of pages in, you won’t even notice that you’re reading an epic poem. And by the book’s end, I guarantee that you won’t be looking the same way at your own dog.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Movie review: Enchanted

I finally got to cross Enchanted of my list (the list of great 2007 movies that I failed to see when they came out in theaters) and now I know what everyone else knows: Enchanted is a charming and completely delightful, funny and self-referential movie, an uber-Disney flick, if you will.

Right from the start, the movie is packed to the gills with homages to former Disney classics - from the animal sidekicks, to the restaurant Bella Notte, to the apple falling from the poisoned princess's hand. I'm a big Disney cartoon fan and I lost count of all the references - it must have been so much fun to fit them in.

The musical numbers are a hoot. "The Working Song" was a technical marvel, managing live animals, CGI animals and live children all in one scene. The "How Do You Know" number is staggering in scale, meshing all sorts of NYC performers into one huge production (stiltwalkers, a mariachi band, rollerskaters, hip hop dancers and retired Broadway and movie hoofers - including two guys from West Side Story and one from Mary Poppins!).

The casting director should have won an award. Pretty Patrick Dempsey (whom I like because he's from Maine, not because he's on some soapy doctor show that I've never watched) does an excellent job playing straightman to the fabulous Amy Adams - who is just perfect as a cartoon-come-to-life Disney heroine. The real scene stealer is James Marsden as the Prince, throwing himself wholeheartedly into the silly, heroic, self-important and ultimately sweet Edward.

There's not much to critique here. Everyone's already seen this movie so I'm not going to have any big revelations. This movie is great entertainment, gently poking fun at the familiar tropes that have served Disney so long and so well and yet reminding us all why we love a happy ending.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Lost episode recap - “The Shape of Things To Come” (S4E9) airdate 04/24/08

FINALLY!! And, gods be praised, there is very little Jack and Kate in this episode, opening scene notwithstanding. No Desmond at all, however. Oh well.

On Island/Beach. Kate takes a sponge bath on the beach, flirtily watching Jack. Jack peruses the Losties' stash of medicines and takes some pills as he rubs his abdomen. Kate wants to know what he’s just taken: antibiotics for a “stomach bug.” I would think that you shouldn’t waste a limited supply of antibiotics on that sort of thing, frankly – would antibiotics even work on stomach flu? That’s a virus-type thing so, no, that’s just wasting the drugs. Oh, right, I'm supposed to be watching Lost. Kate next worries about why Sayid and Desmond aren’t back yet from the boat. Jack’s not concerned. Just then, Vincent starts barking like crazy down on the beach and Bernard shouts for help. A body has washed up on shore: it’s Ecklie and his throat has been cut. Daniel and Charlotte ‘fess up to knowing him. Now Jack’s concerned.

Barracks. Sawyer, Locke and Hurley are playing Risk (we used to play that a lot in high school - the guys all took it way too seriously). Meanwhile, her captors have dragged Alex, who is at actual risk, to the sonic killing fence. At gunpoint, they make her turn it off … and as she does, the phone rings at Locke’s cottage. When a bemused Locke answers, a mechanized voice repeats: “Code 14-J.” Locke asks Ben what that means and Ben immediately freaks out: “They’re here.” He starts grabbing loaded guns from various hiding places around the cottage, handing them to the guys.

Flash-something (I’m not even going to guess, but it’s in the Sahara Desert and Ben is wearing a Dharma initiative parka, so maybe flashback). He vomits and then turbaned men ride up on horses with guns. The men have the guns, not the horses. No one speaks anyone’s language and they frisk Ben. Suddenly, he goes all ninja on their asses and kills them both – very impressive, Mr. Linus! I have newfound respect. He takes a horse and rides away.

On Island/Barracks. Ben wants them all to hunker down in his cottage but Sawyer insists on fetching Claire first. Ben and Locke start pushing furniture around to block the doorways and when Hurley, holding baby Aaron (who somehow seems younger than when we last saw him) protests – “How’s Sawyer going to get back in?” – Ben snaps, “He’s not.” Meanwhile, Sawyer is searching for Claire. He speaks briefly to some red shirt Losties who immediately get shot by the invaders who have crept up on the Barracks. There is some serious gunplay and Sawyer takes cover behind a picnic table and then a gas grill. There is no way that he is not getting shot – come on. Sawyer shouts for Claire and runs for her cottage … just as the invaders shoot it with some sort of missile. The cottage explodes into a fireball. That can’t be good.

On the beach, Captain Obvious (Jack) notes that Ecklie’s throat has been cut. Because we couldn't figure that out from the teaser shot where they showed us that his throat had been cut. The Losties convince Daniel to try to jury-rig the busted sat phone.

Flash-?/Tunisia: Ben is looking a little ragged as he checks into a hotel. He registers as a “preferred guest, Dean Moriarty.” He has a passport to prove it. The desk clerk gets a little wigged out at his identity but checks him in. He asks her to confirm the date: October 21, 2005. He’s most unsure about the 2005 bit (which she thinks is very strange) but seems happy about it. As Ben goes upstairs, a clip of Sayid is on the television, hounded by reporters, saying [in English, conveniently] “I just want to bury my wife in peace.” So, if it’s 2005, this is a flashforward from Island-time. This show is so confusing.

On Island/Barracks. Gunfire is raging all around Ben's cottage. Aaron is screaming; Locke is shouting, wanting to know what is going on. “Shock and awe,” snarls Ben. He tells Locke that the only person who can help them now is Jacob and they all have to go together. Locke protests that he doesn’t remember how to get to the cabin but Ben says that Hurley does. Outside, Sawyer digs through the rubble of the cottage and finds Claire, alive but dazed. He carries her to Ben’s cottage; Ben refuses to let them in the door so Hurley breaks a window and lets them in that way. Hilariously, the doorbell then rings. Sawyer opens the door and yanks Miles inside. He’s got a walkie and says the invaders want to talk. Ben bugs his eyes out more than normal.

Flashforward/Iraq. People are wailing and holding photographs of Nadia – aww, Sayid married her after all! An incognito (hat and sunglasses) Ben arrives and finds a perch on a rooftop where he starts taking pictures of (1) a bald man and (2) Sayid carrying a coffin. But Sayid sees him and, shortly thereafter, accosts him: “How did you get off the Island?” (So this is post-Island but before the episode where we learn Sayid is working for Ben.) Ben reminds Sayid that Desmond had a boat: he sailed out on a heading to Fiji and then chartered a plane. But why is Ben here in Takrit and what does it have to do with Nadia? Ben says that the bald man he just photographed at Nadia’s processional, Ishmael Bakir, was recently seen speeding away from the intersection of Santa Monica and La Brea in Los Angeles. This has some meaning to Sayid. Oh: that’s three blocks from where Nadia was killed. Sayid wants to know why “these people,” apparently Charles Widmore’s people, would want to murder his wife. If he knows, Ben isn’t telling, but he gets a knowing look on his face as Sayid processes this new information.

On Island. Miles mentions that the invaders have taken Alex hostage and Ben immediately takes the walkie from him. Kimi is on the other end. When Ben looks out the window, Kimi waves to him. He tells Ben to come out with his hands up and no one else will be hurt. Ben thinks this is bullshit and, to prove it, recites a whole bunch of Kimi’s backstory: mercenary, in Uganda. To up the ante Kimi brings Alex out and forces her to her knees, sticking a pistol into the back of her head. Ben is not swayed: he tells Kimi and his wild bunch are to leave the Island and never come back. Even when Alex gets on the walkie and begs, Ben stands strong, refusing to surrender. He tells Kimi that Alex isn’t really his daughter (“I stole her from an insane woman”) and means nothing to him. Then Kimi totally calls his bluff AND SHOOTS ALEX IN THE HEAD. "Whoa!" shouts Friend Mouse. Wow. Ben did not see that coming.

After the commercial, Ben is still standing at the window, staring out at Alex’s body. Kimi and his crew have faded back into the jungle. Sawyer wants to hand Ben over to the invaders; Locke thinks that Kimi won’t let any of them live regardless. Suddenly, Ben stands up, muttering, “This changes the rules.” He scurries into his secret room of fancy suits before they can stop him and dives into a secret passageway.

Flashforward/Iraq. Ben sips tea out of a pretty glass teacup and sneakily watches Bakir in a mirror. When Bakir leaves, Ben follows him through the bazaar but soon loses him in the crowd, allowing Bakir to get around behind him. Thus cornered, Ben says he wants Bakir to take a message to Widmore but before he can give him the message, Sayid has shot and killed Bakir, emptying the gun's clip into the body. Ben tells Sayid to go home, it’s over - “Once you let your grief become anger it will never go away. I speak from experience.” Sayid is devastated from having lost Nadia, however, and quickly decides that Ben’s war is his war. “Benjamin, who is next?” “I’ll be in touch,” says Ben.

On Island/Barracks. Claire comes to just as Ben, filthy-dirty from wherever he’s been in the tunnel, comes back. He tells them to listen up: Run from this house and head for the tree line. Then, the earth starts shaking: it’s the Black Smoke Monster, super-large, super-fast, and tearing the shit out of Kimi’s crew. Awesome. Ben summoned it somehow. Miles is losing his mind, having never seen this shit before. Ben sends the Losties on ahead and goes to say goodbye to Alex who is still lying where Kimi left her. It’s very sad. I don’t think Ben really thought Kimi would call his bluff.

Beach. Daniel has rigged the sat phone as some sort of a telegraph machine to contact the ship. He asks the ship what happened to Ecklie. The ship responds and Daniel says that they’re sending the ‘copter back in the morning. However, Bernard knows Morse code (ooh! secret skill – how fun!) and says that Daniel is lying. What the ship actually said was: “What are you talking about? The doctor is fine.” Oops. Everyone stares at Daniel like he just kicked a puppy. Jack wants to know why Daniel lied and gets all up in his face. “Are you ever going to take us off this Island?” Daniel squirms a little but admits: no. Charlotte is like, “Oh shit.” God, I wish Kate would cut her hair. She still looks ridiculous.

Barracks. The survivors (Locke, Sawyer, Hurley, Claire, Aaron, Miles and Ben) gather in the jungle. Ben and Locke are ready to head off to Jacob’s cabin. But who the hell is Jacob? Sawyer wants to know. He thinks Ben and Locke are nuts. Claire and Miles agree and they head back to the beach; Sawyer wants Hurley to go with them. Locke draws his gun (Hurley is with me!); Sawyer draws his (no, he’s with me!); Hurley is completely uncomfortable with all the attention and says he’ll go with Locke to keep the peace. Wow – Sawyer being loyal to a friend? Weird.

Flashforward/London. A dapper Ben gets out of a cab and goes into a swanky apartment building. I think he’s there to kill someone. He locks the elevator off at the penthouse. It’s Widmore’s flat – I can tell by the painting of the Black Rock ship. Ben wakes Widmore up; Widmore pours himself a drink of scotch. “Have you come to kill me?” “We both know I can’t do that.” Ben says he’s here because Widmore killed his daughter. “Don’t stand there with those horrible eyes of yours [nice!] and blame me for the death of that poor girl.” Widmore is not intimidated, saying that he knows who and what Ben is and that everything Ben has Ben took from him. Okay, says Ben, but he’s going to kill Penelope, tit for tat. As Ben leaves, Widmore says that the Island is his, was his and will be again. Game on, says Ben.

Pretty good episode. They faked us out into thinking that this was when Claire died and then killing innocent Alex instead, which seems to be the turning point for Ben's vengeful retribution. We find out why Sayid would ever join with Ben - knew it had to be something huge, like the murder of the love of his life - and yet Ben is manipulating their relationship right from the start. Sawyer is getting some character development, becoming actual friends with Hurley (who must be lonely without Charlie); I wonder how this may factor into his not being one of the Oceanic Six. And Jack is finally waking up to the fact that the Boaties are not frakkin' there to rescue the Losties - and this may push him in a more desperate direction. Plus Vincent!

Previously on Lost.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Movie review: The King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters

The King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters, directed by Seth Gordon, is a fairly brief, surprisingly poignant documentary about - wait for it - the quest to achieve the world record high score in Donkey Kong. Even growing up in the 1980s I never got into video games, having no hand/eye coordination and the reflexes of a spastic chicken, but many of my friends loved them: Space Invaders, PacMan, Ms. PacMan, Centipede, Q-bert, Frogger and, of course Donkey Kong. This film is about the guys who have never let go of that love.

The documentary focuses on the two erstwhile competitors, Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe. Billy was the reigning world champion, attaining the Donkey Kong record high score in 1982 and who pretty much kept the same rad hairstyle since then as well. Steve, on the other hand, is a regular (albeit OCD with a slight inferiority complex) guy who discovered Billy's 20+ year old record after he lost his job and set off after it as a means to accomplish something - anything - in his life.

Drama and controversy abound: Steve breaks the record but the governing body is suspicious; Steve travels across the country to break the record AGAIN, live and in person; just minutes after Steve savors his victory, one of Billy's lackey's presents a videotape on which Mitchell has shattered Steve's attempt. Nearly a year later, Steve flies across the country again, this time with wife and children in tow, to challenge Billy in a live head-to-head competition. But, despite his avowals that a live record is the best record, not to mention only living ten miles from the competition site, Billy Mitchell refuses to compete against a heartbroken Steve. I'm telling you - you can't make this stuff up.

Director Gordon makes no bones about for whom we're supposed to root. Billy Mitchell is smug, successful (he not only runs a booming hot wings franchise but married himself a tarty-looking wife with booming bazooms) and has surrounded himself with panting gamer sycophants. Steve, on the other hand, plays the game obsessively in his garage while his wife bites her nails, worried about whether they'll make the mortgage payment. I'm a sucker for an underdog story and I was soon shouting at the television screen ("Come on, you blowhard! Play him! Billy Mitchell's a chicken!") - much to Mr. Mouse's dismay as he was trying to sleep next to me on the couch. Mr. Mouse doesn't find Donkey Kong competition all that exciting, apparently.

Frankly I don't either but The King of Kong is not ultimately about the video game. It's about believing in yourself, about connecting with other people (perhaps not dating other people, but making connections nonetheless), about passion and obsession. It's about chasing dreams. I think we could all use a little more dream-chasing.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Book review: Children of God by Mary Doria Russell

Gosh - sorry about the incommunicado-nicity of late. Mr. Mouse and I were having a most excellent weekend of spring skiing (sunshine and soft snow) and therefore nowhere near a computer. Plus, the Lost hiatus has really thrown me off recap-wise; I'm all askew. But it's back! This week! Lost returns Thursday night! And I'll be up 'til frackin' 1:00 a.m. Friday morning finishing the recap ... I'm not complaining, mind. It just better be a good episode.

Anyhow, I finally finished Children of God by Mary Doria Russell, the sequel to The Sparrow. In this sequel, we return to the planet Rakhat a full generation after the Jesuit expedition of the first book. Russell again puts into play the dual narrative device, following Emilio Sandoz, who has quit the Church and is subsequently kidnapped and taken to Rakhat against his will; and also Sofia Mendes, a member of the first expedition who was abandoned on the alien planet, thought dead. When Sandoz finally lands on Rakhat, he finds the planet in complete turmoil, the sophisticated and predatory ruling class having been overthrown by their serfs. Sofia is at the center of the revolution, using her decidedly human ideas to enlighten and free the masses.

As before, I feel Russell rushed through the last few pages to finish things up. She did spend more time on the planet with Sofia, as the stranded woman had to learn to adapt and live in a completely alien environment, but even if this book is supposed to be about the journey rather than the destination, but I felt shortchanged by the time the book ended.

Where The Sparrow explored the nature of God, man and faith, Children of God deals with the aftermath of disaster - physical, emotional, societal - and the role family plays in the rebuilding. Sandoz leaves behind his Jesuit brethren and finds some comfort with a traditional family when he meets a woman he nearly marries. Sofia and her autistic son are adopted by a Runa clan on Rakhat. At the beginning of the book, Sandoz has a physical aversion to children, a guilt-ridden reaction to his unintended murder of Askana, and by the end he not only meets but gladly holds his infant grandson.

My friend Kevin C. thinks that this is a better book than the first one. That may be - I think I may have done Children of God a disservice in that I read it piecemeal over the last six weeks or so and I suspect it is a better read when read more cohesively. My recommendation is that if you enjoyed The Sparrow you will enjoy Children of God and should read both books to get the full story.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Mysterious Mr. Mouse

I realize that there's been something plaguing you, my faithful readers: "We know what you like book-, television- and movie-wise, FM, but what about Mr. Mouse? What does he like to read and watch?" Well, wonder no longer, my friends. I'm about to let you know.

With a few notable exceptions, Mr. Mouse and I have completely divergent entertainment tastes. He is a strictly non-fiction kind of guy with a strong preference for biography, American history and outdoor adventure. Currently, he's put aside a Kit Carson biography to pounce upon my copy of Dark Summit; other books in his to-be-read stack include Plan of Attack (by Bob Woodward), that dog book I reviewed way back when, and All Hell Broke Loose (an account of the deadly November 11, 1940, blizzard in Minnesota).

His current favorite television shows are Jeopardy, Ax Men, Mythbusters and pretty much anything on the History channel - I swear his eyes lit up tonight when he saw Modern Marvels: the Story of Saws. He also likes The Office, Earl, Scrubs and How I Met Your Mother ... if there's a lot of Barney in the episode.

He hates horror movies or anything with too much blood; he's fallen asleep twice during Little Miss Sunshine, once at the theater and once at home on the couch. He loved Superbad; we watch Snatch and Ocean's Eleven over and over; he has a fondness for the Coen brothers' film and an inexplicable love for What About Bob? that I just can't explain.

The cliche is that opposites attract. Oh, I can certainly get sucked into a Mythbusters or Dirty Jobs episode without much coaxing; I totally converted him to Pushing Daisies and he's still stubbornly sticking with Lost (although he'd like more answers than he's getting). But generally speaking, in the case of our entertainment preferences opposites are the rule rather than the exception. Anybody else have a case of duelling interests?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Book review: Dark Summit: The True Story of Everest’s Most Controversial Season by Nick Heil

Mount Everest is Earth’s highest point: 29,028 feet at the summit. It is a brutal place where temperatures at –50F are common; where fingers, toes and noses can quickly freeze solid; where there is only one-third of breathable oxygen available as there is at sea-level; where the cold and hypoxia can lead to madness, coma and death. It takes months to acclimate your body to attempt the climb; it can cost tens of thousands of dollars to hire the right guides to help you survive a summit attempt. But despite the danger and the hardship, climbers flock to Everest from around the world, determined for whatever reason to reach “the roof of the world.”

In 2006, Mount Everest claimed the lives of eleven people, the highest number of on-mountain fatalities since 1996: three Sherpas, Tuk Bahadur (a Sherpa kitchen boy) Vitor Negrete (Brazil), Tomas Olsson (Sweden), Sri Kishan (India), Jacques-Hughes Letrange (France), Thomas Weber (Germany), Igor Plyushkin (Russia) and David Sharp (England). A twelfth, Australian Lincoln Hall, was left for dead but managed to survive overnight at 28,200 feet with no shelter or food.

Some of these deaths were immediately recognized as accidents – falls or people succumbing to pulmonary or cerebral edema. Others were viewed more suspiciously: some other climbers near Thomas Weber at the time of his death, for example, believed that his guide took too long to respond to Weber’s distress; later investigations suggested that Weber may have climbed Everest as a means to commit suicide.

The saddest story was that of David Sharp: a solo climber, not affiliated with any of the big outfitters and purposely attempting the ascent without oxygen, Sharp died alongside the trail as reportedly forty other climbers trudged past him on their way to the top. While the rest of the world erupted in outrage that no one rescued Sharp, the reaction of most high altitude climbers was that it was all most of the other climbers could do to keep from dying themselves, much less drag another sick climber down to safety.

Lincoln Hall should have been another tragedy. After failing to reach the summit, Hall became very sick, delusional and exhausted. His team of Sherpas tried for nine hours to bring him safely down to camp, finally leaving him where he lay on the snow, completely unresponsive (the Sherpas were snow-blind and nearly dead themselves when they returned to camp, having been above 28,000 for more than twenty-two hours). By some miracle, Hall was found the next morning – alive but crazy and badly frostbitten - by a team of ascending climbers.

A climber himself, author Nick Heil first wrote about the devastating 2006 Everest season for Men’s Journal. After the article was published, however, it was evident that there was much more to the story; this book is the product of his investigation. While not quite as compelling as Into Thin Air (Heil was not a first person observer/participant as Jon Krakauer had been in 1996), Dark Summit is a fascinating and horrifying read.

I do not in any way share the compulsion these high altitude mountaineers have to struggle and suffer so in reaching such great heights; I do not understand why it is worth nearly killing yourself to stand for twenty minutes at the top of the world. At the end of Dark Summit, the author confesses that he doesn’t understand it either - but his own compulsion, to bring the stories of the people who survived and who perished on Everest in one of its harshest seasons, is well worth reading.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

DVD review: Greek – Chapter One

ABC Family’s Greek (rated TV-14 for language and suggestive dialogue) is a surprisingly good television dramedy series, focusing on the social lives of a group of college students at the fictional Cyprus-Rhodes University. The show centers on the Cartwright siblings: Casey, a very social junior who is poised to become the next president of her Zeta Beta Zeta sorority; and Rusty, a bright and geeky freshman hoping to wring all he can out of the college experience, including – to his older sister’s dismay - rushing a fraternity, but soon becomes more than a sibling rivalry story, morphing into a saga about the extended family of college Greek brothers and sisters.

The storylines are straightforward: college kids finding their ways through the morass of Greek social life; the characters are hardly ever shown to go to class, as book learnin’ ain’t what this show is about. In the pilot, Rusty arrives on campus and begins the rush process, ending up at Kappa Tau Delta (an Animal House knock-off) which is headed by his sister’s first college boyfriend, Cappie. Casey is in charge of the new pledges at her sorority, soon discovering that a senator’s power-hungry daughter will be giving her no end of grief. Episode 2, “Hazed and Confused,” has the pledges undergoing several kinds of hazing: Rusty gets intimidated by his physics professor; Casey must address the fallout of her B.M.O.C. boyfriend cheating on her; Rusty wins the hearts of Kappa Tau when he wins the beer-pong tournament.

“The Rusty Nail,” episode 3, is all about sex. More racy than I expected from an ABC Family show, the issues are presented without much moralizing. Rusty’s roommate Dale is a member of a religious virginity-pledge club; Casey and her boyfriend Evan use condoms; Casey’s best friend Ashleigh remains faithful to her long-distance boyfriend even in the face of temptation; and Rusty decides that while losing his virginity is important to him he doesn’t want to knock boots with just anyone to get the deed done. I appreciated that Greek didn’t shy away from the fact that sex is a big issue for college kids and that the characters recognized the consequences connected with it. This was one of the best episodes of the season: funny, sincere, awkward and honest.

In Episode 4 (“Picking Teams”), the kids learn to use their respective strengths to overcome their particular weaknesses; in episode 7 (“Multiple Choice”) everyone embarks upon their own heroic journey. Episode 10 (“Black and White and Read All Over”) is the final episode of the season and everything falls apart as Rusty’s new girlfriend, a Zeta Beta pledge, writes a tell-all article for the university newspaper, exposing all the scandal behind the Greek houses’ doors. Friendships and romantic relationships shatter and everyone will be faced with picking up the pieces next semester.

I was concerned during the pilot that the characters seemed to be one-note stereotypes: preppy rich jerk, brainy geek, flighty party girl, drunken slacker. Fortunately, by the end of the season nearly all the main characters had decent character development. When Evan cheats on her in the pilot, Casey is forced to realize that her ex, Cappie, may not be the loser she thought; in fact, Cappie is set up as the sympathetic romantic hero throughout the season. What was surprising for a show like this is that Evan was not then turned into the bad guy: he made a bad decision but subsequently showed remorse and regret and worked hard to regain Casey’s trust. The viewer is put in the unusual position of having to like both of Casey’s erstwhile suitors, thus identifying with her dilemma.

The acting is not fabulous although the pretty cast definitely improves as the season progresses; I suspect that the second season will show continued improvement from all comers. While the only cast member whose name is at all recognizable is Spencer Grammer (Kelsey’s daughter, who plays Casey), there are some notable guest cameos: Dan Castellaneta (reprising his Veronica Mars S3 grumpy psychology professor role) as a grumpy physics professor; Alan Ruck (Cameron from Ferris Bueller's Day Off) as Dean of Students; and sassy Charisma Carpenter as a representative for Zeta Beta Zeta’s national organization.

There are not much by way of extras in the 3-disc DVD set: a typical behind-the-scenes featurette; three deleted scenes; a brief look ahead at Season 2; and an extended version of a scene from Episode 8 with Dale’s hilarious Christian rock band, Darwin Lied.

I was pleasantly surprised at the first chapter of Greek. While the writing is not as sharp as some of its preceding second cousins (Veronica Mars, Buffy, Undeclared), this show has a lot of heart, simultaneously skewering and revering the collegiate Greek system.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Not enough hours in the day

I've got a lot of stuff coming down the pike (or down the pipeline?) for all y'all: I'm reading a book about the disastrous 2006 season on Mt. Everest; I'm watching the first season of Greek on DVD; and my friend Kevin C. just gave me two Hal Hartley movies, The Unbelievable Truth (1989) and Amateur (1994) - all of which will be making its way here just as soon as I can consume it all. I'm also greedily devouring S3 of BSG on DVD (and am recording S4 on the trusty DVR), and picking off episodes of Eli Stone, Torchwood and Biggest Loser as they come - and tonight Earl and The Office are back! Whee!

Seriously, I could blog so much more were it not for that pesky job. And by "pesky" I mean "paying."

So in the meantime, here are some silly and thematically-related links for your persual:

Postcards From Yo Momma - compliments of AnnaB

PostSecret - a community art project where people mailin their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard

Overheard in New York - self-explanatory. Click the Random Quote link for potential hilarity

And a completely unrelated thing: this is not a celebrity gossip site and never will be but I was just so surprised when I recently read that Dominic Monaghan (most recently Charlie, late of Lost) has been dating Evangeline Lilly (currently Kate of Lost) for 3+ years. I had no idea. He's a frickin' hobbit! Ex-hobbit, sorry.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Yo ho ho and a bottle of screech!

Rum. The very word conjures up visions of sandy beaches, warm salt breezes, coconut-laden palm trees, frothy blender drinks. What it does not generally bring to mind is Newfoundland. Of late, I find it should.

I was wandering the booze aisle of my local supermarket, as I am wont to do, browsing for something new. Since it’s still too cold (43° F) and snowy (nearly two feet yet in my backyard) for gin and tonics, I lingered wistfully in the rum section until a bottle caught my eye: Famous Newfoundland Screech Rum/Rhum. A lovely deep maple-brown color, it glowed bourbon-like amid its white and pale golden neighbors. I had to have it and brought it home with me.

According to the folklore, true “screech” was first developed in the 18th century when the same wooden barrels transported both rum and molasses from the West Indies to points north. These barrels were almost never cleaned and quickly built up a thick, sticky coating which was melted out with boiling water and either itself fermented or added to grain alcohol (the quick and dirty route). The end product was crazy-strong and incredibly harsh, and can apparently still be purchased under the table in Newfoundland.

The Screech Rum available for legitimate sale by the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation has a slightly different background, being true rum distilled in Jamaica. While it may not have the hardcore pedigree of its moonshine-esque predecessor, Famous Newfoundland Screech Rum/Rhum does continue to lay claim to the legend behind the name: In WWII, the commanding officer of the first U.S. detachment in Newfoundland and was offered some local rum as an after dinner drink. Seeing the Newf host toss back the shot, the American thought to do the same but was completely unprepared for the ferociousness of the alcohol, turning several shades of purple and letting out a scream that was heard for miles. The American soldiers outside rushed to their leader’s aid, demanding “What the cripes was that ungodly screech?” The Newfoundlander who opened the door replied, “The screech? ‘Tis the rum.”

Screech Rum is liquor that makes its presence known. It is not meant to be hidden in a daiquiri or a frilly pina colada; you sip this rum as you would a small-batch bourbon or a single malt scotch, neat or with an ice cube. It is not spiced but deeply carameled with a hint of molasses – indeed, there is no need for added flavorings with this rum. Folks who drink Malibu coconut rum will not be able to stomach this tough, award-winning rum. Those who can drink it are in for a treat.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Ruins - mini movie review

Contrary to what this blog would have you believe, I am not a slavering horror movie fan (to refute, see reviews of Black Sheep, Night of the Living Dead, Cloverfield, The Mist, Planet Terror, Deathproof and 1408 ). This is because so very many horror movies these days are, well, simply horrible. I've always had appreciation for the classics (the Freddy, Halloween and Friday movies (up to a point), the first Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby, etc.) and when a newer horror flick promises something beyond nasty torture porn - e.g. realistic characters and claustrophobic scares even before you know what the monster is (a la The Descent) - I'm intrigued. What The Ruins has to offer is strong acting, good pacing and terror inflicted by multiple parties.

A bunch of college kids, on their last day of vacation on the Yucatan Peninsula, take a day trip to an off-the-map Mayan ruin: a small pyramid covered with vines. As soon as they start climbing and exploring, native Mayan peoples surround them brandishing guns and bows. The kids try to leave, thinking they're trespassing, and one of them is promptly killed by the Indians. Terrified, the kids clamber to the top of the pyramid and that's where the real fun begins. The vines covering the pyramid are the movie's monster: sentient, carnivorous and voracious; the native people have contained the vines by salting the earth around the pyramid but any person who comes into physical contact with the vines is killed or confined to the pyramid to keep the vines from spreading.

As if being trapped by the native people and eaten by the vegetation isn't enough, the kids are very nearly their own worst enemies as they try to save themselves, battling psychological frights as well as the physical ones. This isn't an over-the-top slasher scenario: this shows us rational people making the best choices they can in an irrational situation ... and just nothing works for them. When one of them is badly injured and then attacked by the bloodthirsty vines, they decide to amputate his legs to keep the vegetal infection from spreading. It's horrific. And so when one of the girls, already unhinged, realizes she's been infected by the vines, she attempts to cut the parasites out of her own body with obviously disastrous results. I spent quite a bit of time peeking between my fingers during the squishy parts.

Three of the four leads are easily recognizable which lends instant credibility to the film: Jena Malone (Saved!, Donnie Darko), Shawn Ashmore (X-Men, Smallville) and Jonathan Tucker (The Black Donnellys, In the Valley of Elah); the fourth, Laura Ramsey, has put her time in on several B flicks. Also lending credibility is the fact that all four of the leads can act, and in doing so, become fleshed-out characters that the audience actually cares about - in a horror movie about killer Mayan vines, no less!

Despite the cliches rampant in the first few minutes of the movie (drunken spring breakers, gratuitous boobage - although they look real, so bonus points for that), The Ruins quickly becomes much more than a lame spring break slasher flick. I for one am glad that I toured Chichen Itza long before I saw this movie.

Addendum: I'm such a dumbass. I had no idea that the director of The Ruins, Carter Smith, is not only a Maine native but was practically a neighbor - he graduated from Mt. Ararat high school in Topsham the year after I graduated from high school two towns up the coast. Go, Carter! (Muchas gracias to Paula L. for the edification.)

Addendum 2.0: Here's a link to a local paper's story about Carter and his new movie. (Muchas gracias to Anon. for the tip.)

Friday, April 4, 2008

Firefly episode recap “Ariel” (E9)

Jayne sharpens his knife (not a euphemism) in the galley while Kaylee and Inara play cards and Simon and River try to make something for dinner. Zoë and Wash come in, arguing: Wash wants some R&R on Ariel (the Core planet they’re approaching); Zoë isn’t interested because Ariel is crawling with Alliance soldiers. Mal says that no one is going out onto Ariel – too dangerous – they’re just going to drop Inara off for her once a year Companion physical and reregistration. When Jayne complains, Mal notes that he could have gone with Shepherd Book on his meditation retreat. “Well, it beats just sitting,” grumps Jayne. Wash looks at him: “It is just sitting.” There’s more chitchat until River walks up to Jayne, knife in her own hand. Without warning, she slashes him across the chest. Shocked and bleeding, he backhands her across the room. Everyone rushes around, tending to Jayne, restraining River. “He looks better in red,” notes River.

Later, in the infirmary as Simon stitches up Jayne’s chest, the wounded man is wild, irate, insisting that Mal toss the Tam siblings off at Ariel before someone else gets hurt or killed. Mal refuses, saying that they’re part of the crew, but after Jayne storms out the captain tells the doctor that his sister must be confined to her room at all times now. “She’s getting worse, isn’t she?” Mal asks, knowing the answer. Simon is no liar. “Yes,” he admits.

Jayne and Mal play horseshoes in the cargo hold, trying to figure out how to get some paying work without leaving the ship. Simon walks up and says that he’ll be the client – he knows a job they can do. He holds up some antibiotics and narcotics that he had in his med-kit, explaining the outrageously high street value of the drugs. Simon says (hee!) that the pharmacies at the Ariel hospital are full and he can tell them how to steal the drugs. This is the payment. The job: help Simon get River into the diagnostic ward so he can scan her to see what the Alliance Academy did to her. The crew is sold.

Blah, blah, blah – Simon lays out the plan. He’s a pretty good planner for not having done much crime before. Kaylee and Wash head to the junkyard to pick up pieces of salvage and also an old ambulance that they retrofit. Jayne procures uniforms, ID badges and entry cards. The hardest part (and a very funny bit) is Simon rehearsing Mal, Zoë and Jayne’s lines: they have to be convincing EMTs. “Pupils were fixed and dilapidated,” tries Mal. “Dilated,” corrects Simon. And so on.

Another tricky part is convincing River to go along with the plan. Simon and his sister will put themselves into faux-comas so that the “corpses” can be brought into the hospital. She is frightened but ultimately trusts him, tears in her eyes as he gives her the shot.

Wash lands their ambulance. Zoë, Mal and Jayne load the coffins onto gurneys and wheel them into the hospital. No one looks twice and an administrator sends them down to the morgue. Once there, Mal injects the Tams with the wakeup drug. Jayne is to wait in the morgue for the siblings to wake up as Zoë and Mal head off to load the now-empty coffins with the drugs. Jayne doesn’t wait, however, and goes out to a monitor in the hall. He contacts an Alliance officer: he’s going to turn the Tams in for a reward. Bad Jayne! When he gets back to the morgue, Simon and River wake up, coughing and vomiting from the aftereffects. Jayne tosses them their disguises and they head out.

Meanwhile, en route to the drug stash, Zoë and Mal run into a little trouble with an uppity doctor … until Zoë knocks him out. They get to the drug lockers and load up. Hilariously, Mal has written on his arm the drugs he’s supposed to take. Looks like they get a pretty good haul. Leaving the unconscious doctor behind, they wheel their booty back to the faux-ambulance.

In the diagnostic lab, Simon lays River down for the imaging scanner. He learns that the Academy had operated on his sister’s brain, over and over again, altering it: she has no filter for her feelings; she feels everything full-strength all the time. Sneaky Jayne then tells Simon that the plan has changed and they have to leave now. River screams but they put her in a wheelchair and head out.

An Alliance patrol captures them very shortly, putting handcuffs on all three. When the siblings are led away, Jayne quietly asks if this is for show; the officer snarls that he’s being arrested for aiding and abetting known fugitives. Jayne is incredulous, “What about my rutting money?” The officer says, “You mean my money for apprehending three fugitives?” The guards zap Jayne with a cattle prod and knock him down. A little later, as they sit in detention, Simon thanks Jayne for all he’s done, not knowing the bigger man’s actual role. River starts babbling and Jayne starts reading into her nonsense, getting more and more nervous and twitchy.

Speaking of nervous and twitchy, Mal, Zoë and Wash are worried that the others aren’t back yet. They get prepped to go in after their missing crew. Wash, seeing a sleek new spaceship landing, urges them to hurry, as it appears “reinforcements” have arrived.

Two guards lead the Tams and Jayne away; even handcuffed, it doesn’t take that long for Jayne and Simon to take the guards out. It’s a pretty brutal fight and Jayne ends up snapping one of the guards’ necks. They uncuff each other and River starts to wig out. “They’re here.”

They are indeed here: two very creepy men wearing blue gloves (one of these actors has had a recurring role in both BtVS and Angel – Joss likes to reuse good people) who are displeased that the detaining officer spoke with the Tams. They bring out a little wand-gadget and soon blood is gushing from the officer’s eyes, nose, ears, nail beds and mouth. He dies, as you might imagine, as do the other guards.

River, Simon and Jayne hear the guards’ screaming – it’s awful. River starts to chant, panicked, “Two by two, hands of blue,” and the three of them start to run. The hands-of-blue men follow. It’s that great horror convention where the prey is running but can’t get away from the predators who are just walking - I expect more from a Whedon show, really. Just as the three are about to be captured, Mal and Zoë rescue them. Yay! Back to Serenity!

In front of everyone, Simon effusively thanks Jayne again for all his help. When the accolades have been bestowed, Mal sends the crew all off to do their chores, asking Jayne to help him stow the cargo. After the rest have dispersed, the captain whacks Jayne on the head with a wrench, knocking him out. Uh-oh. Mal’s figured out Jayne’s betrayal and he is pissed!

A groggy Jayne comes to as Serenity is lifting off. He looks around: Mal has locked him outside of the ship’s bulkhead (?) and then opens the hatch a little, saying that they used to keelhaul traitors but since he doesn’t have a keel getting Jayne sucked out into space will just have to do. Jayne is terrified and begs to be let back inside. He explains “The money was too good, I got stupid … What are you takin’ it so personal for? It’s not like I ratted you out to the feds?” “Oh, but you did,” menaces Mal, “You turn on any member of my crew, you turn on me … you did it to me, Jayne, and that’s a fact.”

Mal turns away, prepared to leave him out there to his death, and Jayne asks one last question: what are you going to tell the others about why I died? When Mal pauses, Jayne asks him to “make somethin’ up – don’t tell ‘em what I did.” At that actual display of remorse, Mal closes the exterior ship’s door, saving a relieved Jayne and telling him, “Next time you decide to stab me in the back, have the guts to do it to my face.” The captain does, however, leave Jayne stuck in the outer cargo deck to stew a while, ignoring the “can I come in?” plea.

Simon brings River another shot, a cocktail he’s put together after studying her brain scan. She demurs, saying that she doesn’t want to go to sleep again. “No, mei-mei,” he reassures her, “It’s time to wake up.”

Next episode/previous episode

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Where has all the television gone?

My apologies, I'm clearly at a loss without Lost. CSI:Las Vegas starts back up Thursday, as does My Name Is Earl; The Office is back next week - none of which I recap. I've been watching New Amsterdam still although it's faltering a little after its initial promise and I'm not sure it'll be strong enough for renewal. Torchwood is continuing to entertain and delight: last Saturday's episode had lifeforce-stealing carnival ghosts who escaped from the old black and white movie celluloid in which they'd been trapped - did X-Files ever do one like that?!

Most exciting pop-culture thing of late: an official site and "poster" for Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. Here's the fan site where they're just all giddy about it (even more than I).

Finally, has been shipping me Season 3 of Battlestar Galactica - o frabjous day! I would love to recap BSG but it's just so dense that each recap would be a mile long. Instead, I highly recommend that you rent, borrow or buy the DVDs, beginning with the SciFi Channel's miniseries and then straight on through Seasons 1, 2 and 3. Incredible, wonderful stuff. And - hee hee! - at the start of Season 3, they've buried the pretty face of Jamie Bamber under a ton of obesity prosthetic: Apollo's fat!

This Rural Life II

The other day I went to feed my dog as I always do, right around 6:00 p.m. (For an animal with a very little brain, Becky has a real knack for knowing when it’s about to turn 6 – either morning or evening, she just knows when it is and turns her crazy on full blast, tap-dancing around the kitchen, making Chewbacca noises … it’s a whole show.) I took the dog dish out to the mudroom where the dog food is kept in a plastic kitchen-size trashcan. I flipped up the lid, picked up the metal measuring cup and scooped up a scoop of dog food. Standard Operating Procedure.

For some reason I glanced at the scoop of food rather than just dumping it into the dog dish. There, curled up on his side, fitting perfectly in the cup and staring right at me with a shiny, unblinking black button of an eye, was a mouse. Not S.O.P.! I gave a little squeak of surprise and dropped the cup back into the barrel, mouse and all. (What a frickin’ girl – jeesh.) After about three seconds I realized I was being a complete twinkie and peeked into the barrel just in time to see that illicit mouse frantically digging his way down into the dog kibble. Gingerly I scooped out Becky’s dinner – she was completely beside herself at this point – and closed the lid, leaving the little critter alone while I considered my next steps.

As I’ve mentioned before, I like mice. I used to have a couple of white ones as pets and I used to have an invisible person-sized one as an imaginary friend when I was a little girl. I could appreciate this little guy’s ingenuity: he was safe (mostly) in a dark and quiet (mostly) place, surrounded by all the food he could ever hope to eat – it was just his bad luck that I scooped when I did.

Problem is, I’m also pragmatic about the little varmints, never shedding tears when the family cats would leave mouse-pieces on the front porch; and I particularly don’t care to have mice scurrying loose around my house, leaving teeny mouse-poops in the cupboards. Plus, who knew what sort of nasty germs he was dragging around with him. I didn’t think Becky would get sick from eating food a mouse had been sleeping and/or pooping in, but I didn’t know for sure.

Here is how you get a pest mouse out of a plastic dog food barrel if you’re not sure he can climb back up the smooth plastic: you drape some clothesline inside the barrel, running it up and over the side with the other end resting on the garage floor. Now, at this point you have a couple of options. You can just leave well enough alone and hope that the little scutter will find his way outside again, a free mouse once more. Or you could place a covered mousetrap baited with extra-crunchy peanut butter nearby, check back the next day and toss the sprung trap in the garbage. I’m not saying which way I went because I don’t want to get the PETA people all up at arms if I picked the first option – which I’m not saying for sure that I did. However, I do have it on good authority that if you have red squirrels, another type of varminty rodent, in your attic, peanut butter gets them in the Havahart trap every time. I'm just sayin'.