Thursday, July 24, 2008

Titles Nine - #4

This dismal, dank, damp, dreary weather has definitely drowned me in the doldrums. I haven't seen The Dark Knight yet (bad movie blogger, bad!) and I'm going to miss the opening weekend of X-Files 2: We Still Trust No-One ... I just can't seem to get out of my own way. On the plus side, there's Squidbillies - which I've only just discovered. It is wrong on very many levels but it's also hillybilly squids. Just saying it makes me laugh. And I need a laugh.

So please bear with me: I'm going to take a break of about a week or so and then be back with a vengeance: book reviews! movie reviews! brewpub reviews! fireworks and acrobats and contortionists! lions and tigers and bears! It'll be amazing, I promise.

And so in the meantime, why don't you read a book or something. Here is the fourth installment of my bookshelves. All these originated from my collection except for the first title which is definitely Mr. Mouse's - it's even in hardcover since he's not a paperback fan.

  • Executive Orders - Tom Clancy
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - c'mon, you know who wrote it
  • Stern Men - Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Gerald Durrell: the authorized biography - Douglas Botting
  • Cell - Stephen King (soon to be a movie?)
  • The Shadow Rising - Robert Jordan (Wheel of Time series)
  • Lord of Chaos - Robert Jordan (ditto)
  • The Coming of the King - Nikolai Tolstoy (not sure I ever finished it)
  • Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 - David Patterson (comic book mice! awesome!)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Oh, the humidity!

I'm seriously, folks - it will not stop raining or drizzling or misting or downpouring or being heavily overcast or steamy or sweaty or soggy or damp. It is just miserable - hot, sticky and miserable. I must have dumped out my dehumidifier 800 times in the last week (into the washing machine because I am thrifty and green and why waste water?) and I am still giving Frieda a run for her money.

It's enough to drive a girl to drink - so here's a new recipe, compliments of my California Cousin and her husband: David's Deadly Snowflakes:

Fill a blender with crushed ice. Add a can (16 oz.) of frozen limeade. Refill empty limeade can with cheap vodka and pour into blender. Add a dash of half-and-half* and blend 'til smooth. Mmmmm. (Note: four batches will require four cans of limeade, a whole bottle of vodka and lots of ice. Quoth my cousin: "It's worth it.") (* I'm thinking that a dash of cream of coconut might be a nice variation too.)

On a non-alcoholic front, I've seen some stuff lately that merits a mention:
  • Dr. Horrible came, conquered my heart and then tore it out, per usual with Mr. Whedon.
  • The latest Heroes webisode is up now - not as good as the first one but very splattery!
  • I saw the newly released on DVD Batman anime, Gotham Knight: I'm sure people who know anything about anime will really appreciate it but I just liked it for the stories. (Kevin C. is loaning me The Animatrix to up my anime exposure.)
  • I discovered The Guild online, season 1, created by and starring Felicia Day ("Penny" from Dr. Horrible) - hee hee hee!
  • I watched S2E2 of Burn Notice and S1E2 of Flashpoint and deemed both better than the initial offerings.
  • I finally finished Cowboy Bebop: The Movie. Outstanding fight scene between Spike and Vincent in the finale. I only wish I hadn't dragged my feet on watching it - I scarcely remember the series's stories and I think that would have added to my Bebop movie experience.
  • I did not fight the crowds to see The Dark Knight this weekend. I have a feeling it'll be around for a while and will catch it when some of the hullaballoo has quieted down.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

DVD review: Silent Wings: The American Glider Pilots of WWII

According to the documentary Silent Wings: The American Glider Pilots of WWII, World War II is the most chronicled event in our human history – except for the mostly untold story of the American glider pilots. Just over 6,000 volunteers flew infantry and supplies behind enemy lines in fragile, defenseless and engineless airplanes. These were one-way trips on the aircraft: without engines, there was no way to fly home and the glider corps were both rated pilots as well as infantrymen who strapped on their light arms and fought their way to their ground forces. The expendable gliders were never salvaged once landed; as former WWII war correspondent and glider rider Andy Rooney says, each glider landing was “a planned accident and you hoped to survive that accident.”

After Hitler sent eleven Nazi gliders into Belgium to easily overcome the hitherto unassailable Fort Eben Emael, the Allied forces scrambled to design, build and fly their own glider force. In 1941, U.S. General Hap Arnold got the glider program off the ground, so to speak; Cessna and Ford produced the 8- and 15-person powerless planes at a cost of around $15,000 per glider.

Gliders were involved in most of the major offensives after Pearl Harbor. The invasion of Sicily was their brutal introduction: headwinds and Axis antiaircraft guns made it impossible for the gliders to reach the designated landing zone and many had to make water landings – with no life rafts – then many of the unmarked gliders that actually made it to land were then shot down by panicked friendly fire. Burma was a much more successful operation as the American gliders delivered more than 9,000 British and Indian troops in the first six days, ultimately stopping the Japanese from getting into India.

In Normandy, the Nazis studded all open fields with posts so that landing gliders had their wings snapped off, causing them to tumble and roll. Regardless, with no helicopters to speak of, the gliders were crucial to bring men and re-supply the paratroopers. American gliders were also involved in the invasion of Holland, despite having no compasses, few maps and fewer pilots still knowing where their targets were, and the Battle of the Bulge, where they brought in desperately needed doctors and supplies to the cut-off Allied forces.

This documentary is comprised of stunning archival footage, a few still shots and modern interviews with veteran glider pilots. There are also anecdotal interviews with Andy Rooney and Walter Cronkite. Rooney flew into Normandy in a glider on D-4; Cronkite’s harrowing glider flight was during “Operation Market Garden,” the invasion of Holland. Some of the film is dry but the interviews with the pilots and the war correspondents humanize the history and make it accessible.

There are not much by way of extras: a virtual tour of the Silent Wings Museum in Lubbock, Texas; an interview with writer/director Robert Child; and three trailers for other Inecom documentaries.

It’s a long film, clocking in at 113 minutes, and will prove most interesting to World War II history buffs, airplane aficionados and veterans and their families. But despite the length and the subject matter (for which I have no particular affinity), the documentary largely kept my attention and even brought tears to my eyes on several occasions. The American glider pilots of WWII were an incredibly courageous group who should be recognized along with our other veterans and thanked for their bravery and valor. Silent Wings gives voice to their story and is a respectful tribute to their sacrifices.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Have you been Horrible today?

If you haven't, please hurry up and get on it. I cannot express how funny, clever, entertaining and well-done Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is. It's a frickin' web series that is frankly better than anything on television these days.

It's only around for free on the internets until Sunday. Acts I and II are up and running; Act III goes live tomorrow. Get it while it's Horrible!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Restaurant review: Fresh

My friend Brownie and I have been trying to connect for dinner together for months and months now, and finally managed to coordinate schedules for an early dinner at Fresh in South Portland, Maine. What’s more, we managed to eat some darn good food in between all the catching up.

Fresh is located in a tiny storefront on Ocean Street in the Millcreek area, tucked in between a greasy-spoon diner and a very local bar. At first glance it almost looks like a deli, with a refrigerated case and row of stools in the front, but there are a number of small tables in addition to the seats at the bar. There wasn’t any A/C and the kitchen is right in the room so it was definitely warm in there, but Brownie snagged a table by a fan and once I had a drink of water everything cooled down to a comfortable temperature. We were there early at 5:45 p.m. and there were just three other parties eating then; by the time we left the tables at the front of the house had gotten busy too – not bad for a Tuesday night (dinner hours are Tues-Sun 5-close; lunch Mon-Fri 11-3).

There are a number of wines available, both red and white, by the glass for $6 or by the bottle for $24. There are also three or four bottled beers but nothing on tap. It was warm enough to be a white wine night and since the restaurant was out of the pinot grigio, I had a decent chardonnay and Brownie had a Riesling. $6 isn’t cheap for a glass of wine but the glasses were big and well-filled so no complaints.

The menu is not overwhelmingly long (often a problem in Portland restaurants) and focuses on local ingredients. The starters included steamers (the appetizer special), mussels, Caesar salad ($9 or more if you add chicken or shrimp), a mixed greens salad and a caprese-version salad ($11). We split the caprese which was enormous: a huge bed of tasty local mixed greens, plenty of juicy slices of red and yellow tomatoes and lots of feta cheese (it comes with goat cheese but they readily substituted for us). I was initially skeptical about the tomatoes – it’s still awfully early for local tomatoes up here – but these were fantastic, flavorful and tender.

The main courses are described as “large bowls and plates,” and large they are: Fresh serves a ton of food and we saw at least two tables taking doggie-bags with them (but not us – we’re good eaters). There’s an emphasis on pasta – a spring vegetable sauté (asparagus, sugarsnap peas and green beans in an herbed aglia olio over angel hair pasta), the specials seafood sauté (shellfish and salmon over rigatoni), a ravioli of the day - but also plenty else, like a rib-eye steak, homemade macaroni and cheese, roast chicken, grilled salmon and the ubiquitous burger. Brownie had one of the specials: grilled swordfish served with a fantastic mango/tomato/onion/cilantro salsa and fat wedges of potato while I went with the spring veggie sauté, adding some shrimp as well. Both of our entrees were quite good but they could probably get away with serving less pasta under my sauté – I didn’t come close to finishing it although I did snarf down all the veggies and shrimp.

We dithered over dessert (all pies from a local bakery) and finally split a strawberry rhubarb slice. It was a big piece of pie with an excellent crust – buttery and flaky – although the filling could have been a little less sweet/more tangy for my taste. I neglected to ask what bakery Fresh uses but my money is on Two Fat Cats on India Street in Portland.

Fresh has been around for just over a year. It’s in a tough location with not much foot traffic but it’s a good alternative to Beale Street if you’re in the area and not in the mood for Memphis style BBQ (blasphemy, I know!). I hear that the quality had gone down a bit after a strong start, but now they seem to have regained their composure. We had a very nice meal with good service and it was fun to find a little hidden gem that still feels undiscovered in the vast restaurantland that is greater Portland.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Flashpoint - S1E1 recap

We open with a highly-volatile hostage situation. Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni – not clearly identified by his character’s name “Sergeant Greg [Somebody]” until more than three-quarters of the way through the episode) is trying to control the situation. There are snipers on the rooftops. Flashpoint flashback to two hours earlier: Ed - a manly, bald, handsome sniper - is arguing with his wife: a fellow cop’s retirement party vs. her parents' 40th wedding anniversary. Sorry, Ed, but I think you’re in the wrong by picking the cop; as wise Sergeant Greg will tell you later, a cop retires every week but it’s your family you’ll go home to when you retire. Regardless of what I think, Ed leaves – doing a little Gilbert & Sullivan duet (I have no idea which) with his buddy so that his wife at least smiles. That was nice. When Ed gets to HQ there’s all sort of chit-chat establishing the main characters’ relationships.

This team camaraderie is interspersed with the soon-to-be hostage taker (a sad-faced middle aged man, possibly Russian) searching for a woman – his wife? – who is a maid at one of the office building downtown. He finds her; she’s afraid of him; the situation escalates and he ends up shooting her. As the man tries to leave the building, a cop confronts him and he ends up grabbing the hostage we saw in the opening sequence. Back at HQ, there’s more character-establishing and banter until they get the call about the hostage situation. Meanwhile, at the airport, some young pretty blond dude disembarks. The Flashpoint team arrives on the scene downtown and the snipers disperse. The working theory is that the man is Croatian, not Russian, and they try to find a translator.

The blond dude hears about the incident over the radio and asks his limo driver to take him there. I think he’s a new team member, there to shake up the Flashpoint team. The snipers get into position. This recapping is WAY easy with so little dialogue. The blond dude arrives on the scene as the forensic psychologist shows up; the shrink thinks that the hostage is not going to make it – Croatian guy is totally sane and totally pissed off. The chick sniper (Amy Jo Johnson - whoever that is [Edit: she's the original pink Power Ranger ... holy crap!]) gets stuck in the bowels of her skyscraper and can’t find the route to the roof. Sniper Ed, however, has a clear shot and is just waiting for the go-ahead.

Sergeant Greg tries out some Croatian negotiating with some over-the-phone assistance from the translator – but it’s not helping. Here’s the thing: at no point do we ever learn why Croatian guy is so upset – there’s a lot of Croatian being shouted but no subtitles and SPOILER we never ever find out what set him off. This diminishes the impact for me somewhat. Sgt. Greg gives Sniper Ed the go-signal but just then Croatian guy’s son runs up. He tries to talk to his dad – but it’s not helping. Sniper Ed gets the go again and fires just as the son darts out towards his father. I gasped and jumped right there, sure that the son was going to be killed by mistake – but no, this is too mainstream a show to kill the son. The Croatian father is killed; the son and the hostage are fine, if totally shell-shocked. Sniper Ed is badly shaken at the close call. Everyone stares at him accusingly as he comes out of the building. Now there has to be an investigation to be sure this incident went by the book.

The blond dude tries to chat up Chick Sniper about the incident and everyone ends up drawing their guns at him – they’re all tense. The commanding officer clears things up: blond dude is Sam Braddock, new Flashpoint team member. “Nice post-incident reflexes, team,” snarks Sam as he walks off. Back at HQ, Ed’s lawyer walks him through the investigation, which seems to be fairly routine, then the shrink wants Ed to talk with her about the incident. He's a tough guy, however, and not into sharing his feelings. Later, Ed does some target-shooting. Still later, Ed goes to the retirement party and all the cops there show him plenty of support. Sam gets introduced to the team and thus we get confirmed names for Sgt. Greg and the chick sniper, “Jules.” While they banter, Ed feels left out and alienated – just as the shrink predicted. Sgt. Greg checks on him; Ed says he’s fine. But we all know he’s not, don’t we?

The episode ends with a trite music montage and we see: Croatian son saying goodbye to his dad’s body; beer-drinking Jules doing some home repair work alone; Sam reminiscing about his Special Ops buddies and wondering how he’ll ever fit in with the new team; Sgt. Greg signing off on today’s incident report; and Ed coming home and hugging his son tightly while his wife watches, love in her eyes.

Yeah, this is a standard-fare procedural show but which looks to be adding in more of the characters’ personal lives than the successful procedurals do (see Law and Order, early CSI). Also, I just expect more out of my television these days: the writing was pretty ho-hum. Like with Burn Notice, I’ll watch again – mostly to see if Enrico Colantoni gets any more airtime – but I don’t think I’ll recap it.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Heroes something to whet your appetite

The following is paraphrased from the official release: announced that the Heroes webseries "Going Postal" will go live on Monday, July 14th at 3pm (ET) on

In "Going Postal," the first series of Heroes webisodes, users will get an early glimpse of a new character with special powers and watch his destiny begin to unfold. The fast-paced, twist-filled web series sets fans on a path that leads to the explosive premiere of the third season of Heroes on NBC this fall. In the first webisode, "A Nifty Trick," Echo DeMille, an everyday mailman, discovers a startling ability that quickly makes him a target. In the second webisode, "The Houseguest," posting on July 21st, Echo races home to protect his girlfriend Gina, and finds deadly uses for his new ability. In the third webisode of this installment, "Let's Talk," which posts on July 28th, Echo sends Gina off to safety while he confronts his enemies, but the tables turn with an unexpected twist.

This is me: While I think the last thing this show needs is more new characters (!), they definitely need to do something to drum up some interest - so good. I'll watch.

Also: Dr. Horrible is almost upon us as well!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Hellboy II - mini-review

After mowing the lawn and being a Girl Friday while Mr. Mouse painted the ceiling of half our downstairs today, I decided to treat myself to an afternoon of Hellboy II. I met friends of the blog HB and Rob at the Cinemagic Grand for a 4:50 p.m. show, getting there early enough to partake in a frosty pre-preview refreshment; I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there is pretty good beer at the Cinemagic - Sebago Brewing's Riptide Red and IPA, a Hefeweisen and one other that I don't remember. The barkeep was brand new and very nervous: his hand was shaking so much that I thought he was going to drop my IPA, which would have been very bad indeed.

Rob not only bought all our tickets in advance, he also got the reserved seats so we could all (six of us) sit together. That's a nice option because there's been many a time when we've rolled into a theater right before showtime and ended up sitting in random single seats all across the auditorium. It wasn't really necessary for this showing - not that many people there - but a good thought regardless.

Hellboy II is about what you would expect: lots of monsters, kittens, insubordination, fisticuffs, property damage. The monsters are absolutely amazing - Guillermo del Toro has the freakiest imagination ever. At one point Hellboy, Abe Sapien and Johann Krauss (a ghost contained in a diving suit, voiced by Mr. Family Guy himself, Seth McFarlane) are wending their way through the Troll Market under the east end of the Brooklyn Bridge and there are seemingly hundreds of different kinds of creatures, large and small, winged and fanged and most of them with eyes in places you wouldn't expect. I've read that a lot of the creatures are practical effects, not so much CGI, and it really makes a difference in the realism. Or, you know, as real as a bunch of trolls can be.

One nice difference from the first movie is that Doug Jones, who plays Abe, gets to use his own voice instead of just being a body for David Hyde Pierce. I thought DHP was fine in the first movie but it was a little distracting to hear Niles Crane's voice coming out of a six-foot tall fish-man. Jeffrey Tambor's character was annoying and a bit distracting, as was the ghostly Krauss: Hellboy doesn't do well with authority figures. We get it.

In retrospect, I wish I'd rewatched the first one before going to see this sequel. Not that I needed reminding of the mythology but because I think I liked the first one better and I'm not sure why. I seem to recall it being a little cleverer dialogue-wise, and Liz had more to do. Hellboy II is visually magnificent, however, and if you go into it already a fan I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Burn Notice - S2E1 recap

So this is my stab at a Burn Notice recap. For those of you (like me) who never watched any of this before, here is a summary of the entire first season. Before we get into it, a couple of business items. This show is generally about a spy, Michael Westen (played by Jeffrey Donovan (cute but skinny and seems as though he’s had too much Botox), who as he was on the verge of getting out of the spy business was purposely outed by (a/k/a the burn notice) some agency and now instead of retiring gracefully into regular life is being hunted down by cops/government/other spies/whatever. Michael wants to find out who burned him and, along the way, seems to solve cases of the week with his buddy/possible double-agent “Sam,” charmingly played by Bruce Campbell. Gabrielle Anwar (“Fiona” or “Fi”) plays the love interest: I’m not sure how old she is exactly [Ed.: Um, crap - about exactly one month younger than me ... shit.], but I’m certain that it’s old enough to be wearing slightly bigger clothes; also, she desperately needs a haircut and a hot oil treatment. There’s a lot of rapid editing and freeze-framing and random shots of Florida scenery that I found annoying in a pointless filler kind of way. And, finally, as Michael closes in on the possible agency that burned him, a mystery woman starts contacting him and calling the shots … the mystery woman is played by Tricia Helfer and I’m just going to refer to her as “Six” because I love BSG.

At the end of last season, Michael drives into a cargo container that is supposed to take him to meet the people who burned him. Now he loads his gun (not a euphemism) while he waits in the container, getting nervous as he hears gunfire and explosions outside. His phone rings: it’s Six, calling herself “Carla” and telling Michael to come on out. When he emerges, there’s a small plane burning, a dead pilot on the ground and one live guy trying to crawl away. Six wants this live guy brought back to Miami. Michael says, “I do this, then we meet.” She agrees; he loads the guy (“Jimmy”) into the trunk of his car and drives off just ahead of the cops who are concerned about the recent explosions.

Michael lets Jimmy out of the trunk and Jimmy explains that he was hired by Six to steal some computer files from a “security firm” (or shady bunch of mercenaries) but got cold feet and tried to bail. So Six kidnapped Jimmy’s wife and kids to get him to fulfill his part of the deal. Michael says he’ll help because it’ll get him closer to Six and the people she works with. They go to Michael’s apartment/hideout where Bruce Campbell is hanging out, drinking beer and being sarcastic. Soon, Fi shows up and Michael’s mom (Sharon Gless – was she Cagney or Lacey?) calls to check in on him, having recently learned that her oldest son is a spy. Let me just say right now that these two women in Michael’s life are extremely grating and annoying –just assume that is the case whenever I mention them.

Jimmy takes Michael to the security firm where Michael poses as a client looking to protect his mining interests in South Africa. He’s working some sort of British-y or Australian-y or South African-y accent that seems to shift a bit. He meets with the head of the firm, a scary man called Ryder Stahl; Ryder is suspicious of Michael’s intentions because his own surveillance has located Fi and Bruce Campbell doing surveillance from a nearby parking garage. Michael has to go with some of Ryder’s men to the garage and engages his team in some pseudo-gunplay to save his cover. The ruse works and Ryder takes Michael on as a client.

Later, when Michael visits his mom he finds a cell phone in the car. Six is on the other end of the phone and she urges Michael to hurry things up with the heist on Ryder’s company. She puts Jimmy’s daughter on the line as incentive. So undercover Michael goes back to Ryder’s company and finagles a tour of the offices so that he can reconstruct the floor plan and security layout when he gets back to his apartment. Fi shows up and wants to talk about their relationship but Michael recruits her for the heist instead. Michael calls Six to tell her that the plan is shaping up but he wants some of the guns that were used at the beginning of the episode to blow up the little plane and murder the pilot. Also, he tells her that he wants Jimmy’s family delivered when and where he says after the job is done. She agrees pleasantly.

Michael and Jimmy infiltrate the offices above Ryder’s company on some bogus construction excuse and, with Michael’s in-depth voice-over, cut through the floor into the security firm below. Blah blah blah – they MacGyver their way through the offices and hack into the computer banks while Bruce Campbell and Fi yammer at each other on their stakeout – blah blah blah. While Michael and Jimmy are downloading the files, Ryder shows up at his firm and an alarm goes off just as the download is complete. So Michael shoots the hell out of the computers before he and Jimmy rappel down the building to Bruce Campbell and Fi’s car. Ryder sees them go.

Back at Michael’s apartment, Jimmy worries about Ryder coming after him. Michael is hoping this happens and asks Bruce Campbell to get them a boat so they can fake Jimmy’s death. Fi calls to say that someone left some big guns in her car and Michael is pleased about that too. After some boring stuff with Michael’s mother, they go to a marina and Fi rigs the boat to explode. Jimmy calls Ryder and says he wants to meet him as Michael coaches from the sidelines (Jimmy is not good at spy stuff). When Ryder and his mercenaries show up and approach the decoy boat, Fi sneaks the guns into Ryder’s truck – ooh, clever! They’re going to frame Ryder for the explosions and murder from before! The ATF shows up as Ryder walks to the decoy boat and Michael blows it to teeny pieces. ATF collects Ryder and his men while a hidden Michael and Jimmy watch, giggling; ATF also collects those hot guns.

Michael has arranged for Jimmy to meet his family in Argentina; Jimmy is grateful and gives Michael his Saab convertible (Burn Notice brought to you by Saab). Later, Michael and Fi look at the data they stole from Ryder for Six – but can’t figure out why she wants it. They finally talk about their relationship and Fi breaks up with him. You know, it would be more compelling if these two had any chemistry whatsoever.

After the X-Files movie trailer, there is Six in all her glory: doing a crossword puzzle in a café and flirting with an oblivious Bruce Campbell. She waves to Bruce as she gets in a cab. Michael’s phone rings: it’s her and he gets a little snippy with her because she was supposed to meet with him after the heist. “But we did meet,” she says, “Tell [Bruce Campbell] thanks for the help with the crossword.” Michael dashes for the street but she’s already gone – ‘til next week!

This was okay. I’ll probably watch it at least once more but I’m not convinced I’ll recap it again. It’s fine, compared to what else is on now, but it isn’t earth-shaking television.

Take that, Mr. Mouse

According to this quiz, I am only just barely half-geek. (I don't know whether to be relieved or saddened by this, frankly.)

51% Geek

Thursday, July 10, 2008

'Tis the summer of the light content

Sorry for the slackage of late, o gentle readers - but I'm back from the vacationette* and ready to watch some television! I'm going to try Burn Notice tonight (USA, 10 p.m.) and I've got the brand new Flashpoint, starring Keith Mars, set to record tomorrow night (CBS, 10 p.m.). I hope to give each of them a whirl recap-wise here, just to get back into the swing of things altho' they may be mini-recaps until I decide if I can stand the shows or not.

Meanwhile, I'm almost done with a good book, Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende (translated from the Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden). This is the Peruvian-born/Chilean-raised Allende's tenth book - her most well-known prior novel is The House of the Spirits. The very readable Portrait in Sepia is the story of one Aurora del Valle, born in San Francisco in 1880, told through her narration of her family history. The novel sweeps through the turbulence of the turn of the century in Chile and California; there's a little sex, a fair amount of history and, through it all, the narrator's exploration of who she has become and the multi-cultural forces that shaped her. My only quibble has been that every now and then there seems to be small parts of the story that are missing: I can't figure out whether Allende has done this on purpose to demonstrate the gaps in Aurora's knowledge of her family or whether something got lost in translation. Doesn't matter, really - Allende has a lovely, descriptive voice and is a fine storyteller.

Finally, for now, I really kind of hope it rains this weekend because (1) Mr. Mouse and I have some painting that we need to finish and (2) I really really really want to go see Hellboy II.

* There was a family reunion thingy in the Adirondacks and while it was wonderful to spend time with all this family that I never ever see, I did find it slightly ironic to drive 330 miles to a place that looks exactly like (western) Maine.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

More ado about nothing

Okay, I know the last few posts have been not much to write home about, but I have excuses there are reasons.

First, there's just not that much watchable television on right now. Mr. Mouse and I are digging the Olympic trials but I'm really not going to recap those for you. And other than Mad Men and Burn Notice, the only new stuff out there seems to be I Survived a Japanese Game Show - and I'm really not going to recap that for you. (Sidebar: what's the deal with Burn Notice getting all these ravematastic reviews lately? Critics weren't glowing over its first season - is it just that much better now in comparison to the non-competition? And where's Bruce Campbell in all the ads for it? Wasn't he on that show too?)

Second, I can't seem to get too excited about the movies right now. I do want to see WALL-E (but I think I have time - it's not going anywhere) and I'd really like to see The Fall (but it isn't playing anywhere in my entire state from what I can tell) and I'm not at all going to pay theater prices to see Hancock. Bring on The Dark Knight and Hellboy II!

Third, Mouses need little vacations too and I'm taking a couple of days off here. It's a holiday, dang it! I'll be back later in the week, most likely with a new book review, so check back later, y'all. Right now I have a bourbon slush that needs my undivided attention.

P.S. I have been watching season 2 of The 4400. I quite liked the first season ... and then I saw the first season of Heroes, and realized that The 4400 is pretty much Heroes-lite - a bunch of fairly attractive people with unknown or unexplained powers are being tracked/hunted by shadow organizations who are either out to help them or exploit them - only with much worse acting. But Summer Glau has shown up in the second season and I like her (Angel/Firefly/television Terminator) so hopefully she'll help them out a bit.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Fourth of July!

Now, turn off the computer and go outside: watch a parade, pat a dog, eat some street food, drink a microbrew (support your local brewery, y'all!), try not to get your keister kicked in the whiffleball tournament - oh wait, that last one's for me. Independence rocks!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Dr. Horrible is coming!

Straight from the Joss's mouth comes the following Very Important Information:

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog will go live
(so to speak) very soon
and for a limited time only!

Part One will go up on Tuesday, July 15th

Part Two will go up Thursday, July 17th

Part Three will go up Saturday, July 19th

And it all will be gone after midnight on Sunday, July 20th, so get there while you can!! After midnight on 7/20 it will be available somewhere for download/$$ and the DVDs with extras will be coming out fairly soon thereafter - but watch it online as God Joss intended!

If you are a fan of any of Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, Joss Whedon's work (Buffy, Angel, Firefly, etc.), musicals or sticking it to the man by alternative means of entertainment, you owe it to yourselves to see Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Book review: The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon

The Lazarus Project is the beautifully written story of Lazarus Averbuch, a young Jewish immigrant shot to death in 1908 by Chicago’s chief of police, and of Vladimir Brik, the modern day Bosnian immigrant who is compelled to explore Averbuch’s tale in order to come to grips with his own existence.

The narrator Brik (standing in for author Aleksandar Hemon himself, I believe)came to the United States in the spring of 1992, before Sarajevo came under siege. Married to an Irish-American woman, a neurosurgeon, he himself is vaguely employed as a writer of columns about the immigrant experience. He finds himself a little lost and fastens his attention upon the Averbuch case, receiving a grant to write a book about it. Grant money in hand, Brik and his friend Rora, another recent Bosnian immigrant and Sarajevo war photographer, head to eastern Europe to retrace Averbuch’s steps through war, pogroms, poverty and finally, his death in Chicago.

That Lazarus Averbuch was killed on March 2, 1908, is undeniable fact. The young man had arrived at Chief George Shippy’s home, saying he had a letter for the policeman. The Chief claimed that Averbuch was acting hostile and had a knife, with which he stabbed the chief, and a gun, with which he shot the chief’s son as well as the chief’s bodyguard. Afraid for their lives, Shippy and the bodyguard shot Averbuch seven times, killing him. The press immediately reported that Averbuch was an anarchist and a radical, feeding the current anti-anarchist frenzy already abounding in Chicago.

Averbuch’s sister Olga, herself intimidated and threatened by the authorities, denied any radical leanings by her brother, claiming that he did not own a gun or know how to shoot one. Chicago’s Jewish newspaper speculated that Shippy overreacted at Averbuch’s presence and shot at him wildly, wounding his own son and bodyguard, and subsequently blaming it on the dead youth.

This novel is written in two narratives: one in first person, as Brik travels with Rora through eastern Europe; and one in third person, as Brik imagines Lazarus and Olga Averbuch’s lives. Hemon connects the two narratives in many ways – location and history, character’s names, modern action reflecting not-so ancient history. Whether this is meant to be taken as Brik’s unconscious personalization of Lazarus’s story or as coincidence is unimportant: Hemon knows that we are irrevocably connected to our history.

Hemon has a fantastic way with the English language (which is not his native tongue), creating vivid and astute imagery, some funny: Brik and Rora have coffee at a new Starbucks “that smelled of fresh toxic paint and some extraordinary shittychino”; and some heartbreaking: after a fight with his very American wife, Brik realizes that “[t]he baggage I dragged around the eastern lands contained the tortured corpses of our good intentions.” The text of the novel is also interspersed with and supported by haunting black and white photographs, some provided by the Chicago Historical Society and some taken by the author’s colleague, photographer Velibor Bozovic.

Deftly comparing the anti-radical panic of early 20th century America with post-9/11 concerns, and imbuing the nameless faces of the displaced immigrant masses with humanity, The Lazarus Project is a thoughtful, provocative and vibrant novel by an author whose voice should be heard.