Friday, January 30, 2009

Leaving you bacon for more

Hey there, y'all - I have to 'fess up to something: I probably will not be getting next week's Heroes and Lost episode recaps up in my usual timely manner as I will be on vacation and have no idea what my television/internet capabilities will be. I ask that you please not abandon me completely: if I can see the episodes, I will get the recaps up somehow; and if I can't watch them, I'll have them up before the following week's episodes air.

Let's be honest with each other, though - it's not like Heroes is going to be any big surprise. Nathan is going be heading up patrols to catch and incarcerate the empowered folk, like the wishywashy hypocrite he is; Mr. Bennet will be conflicted in his role as enforcer; Sylar will be conflicted in his role as fugitive 'cause he kinda just wants to be good now; Peter and Claire-Bear will be whiny; and Mohinder will continue to suck all the life out of every scene he's in. You know I'm right.

As an offering of appeasement then, I leave you with this magnificence that has been making the interweb rounds (both Mr. Mouse and friend of the blog Kevin C. forwarded the links to me): the Bacon Explosion from BBQ Addicts - four pounds of bacon, pork sausage and BBQ sauce bliss (a/k/a heart attack on a plate). To quote Brad L.: "I don't know whether to eat it or worship it." Although I don't see why we can't do both.

Enjoy your week! Watch lots of television! Come back and see me soon!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Lost episode recap "Jughead" (S5E3) airdate 01/28/09

I liked this episode better than the first two, frankly, because (1) there's not quite so much insane flashing forwards and backwards every single scene, (2) we're starting to learn more about the Others' early days on the Island, (3) lots of pretty men: Desmond, Richard and Sawyer and (4) best of all, NO KATE OR JACK ANYWHERE! Of course, they have to go and ruin everything by showing those two in a big ol' liplock in the trailer for next week ... but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

On some Polynesian-y island, Desmond is searching wildly for a doctor. He finds one and brings him back to the boat. Penny’s pregnant and having the baby right now. Luckily the doctor has brought his forceps and the baby comes out in about 3 seconds. It’s a boy! Desmond’s a daddy!

Flashforward: Desmond and his adorably curly headed kid are sailing as he tells the baby about Great Britain– how beautiful it is, how it’s where Desmond and Penny fell in love. Penny comes up on deck and chides Desmond for forgetting to tell the whippersnapper that his evil grandfather lives there too. She reminds Desmond that Widmore tried to kill him and all his friends, and that going anywhere near London is very dangerous right now. But Desmond is resolute, saying that Daniel Faraday told him that he had to go back to help rescue all the Losties. Penny still thinks it’s a bad idea but falls silent.

Island. Daniel, Miles, Charlotte and a couple more extras tromp through the tall grass, searching for Sawyer and Juliet in the aftermath of the flaming arrow attack. Charlotte is still suffering from her headaches etc. and Daniel promises that he won’t let anything happen to her. They get to the creek and Miles sees a trip wire that the extras wander into. BOOM – no more extras. (I do love how the writers are finally thinning the herd.) Next, a bunch of well-armed soldiery types, led by a blonde girl, come out of the jungle to hold the three not-blown-up people at gunpoint. The girl stares at Daniel: “You just couldn’t stay away.” Who the frak are these damn soldiers? First the Dharmites, then the Others, now soldiers – this is an awfully crowded Island.

London harbor. Penny continues to harp about Desmond revealing himself to her father when he goes to Oxford. He tries to reassure her, promising to be right back. She pouts, saying that if he’s going to promise her anything, he should promise not to go back to that damn Island. Desmond chuckles, asking why would he ever want to? That’s called tempting fate right there, brutha. (He’s looking exceptionally pretty today, btw.)

Island. The blonde girl wants to know what happened to the rest of Daniel’s people. Miles sneers that the ones who didn’t get nailed by flaming arrows probably got blown up by land mines. “We didn’t set those,” says the girl, “you did.” Everyone stares at Daniel. She goes on to tell him that she can’t control what happens to them after they leave the creek and repeats her question about the whereabouts of the rest of the Losties.

Locke, Sawyer and Juliet are over there, trying to figure out who these damn soldiers are. The soldiers speak Latin to each other but Juliet is onto them: she speaks it for the same reason they do – they’re all Others.

Meanwhile, the blonde girl Other and her ragged band are marching Daniel et al. through the jungle when Miles suddenly hears dead people: a whole bunch of U.S. soldiers, dead less than a month, some shot and one dead of radiation poisoning. Daniel, seemingly unsurprised that Miles can know this, asks: “Did they mention what year it was?” The group comes out into a clearing set up with a bunch of khaki tents. As the camera pulls back, we see it’s the clearing that will eventually hold the Others’ compound of little yellow houses. Right now, though, it’s just tents. The blonde girl calls out to Richard – who emerges from a tent, looking as gorgeous and young and eyelinered as ever. He looks quizzically at Daniel, saying, “I assume you’ve come back for your bomb?” Everyone stares at Daniel again.

Oxford, England. Desmond is having trouble finding any “Faradays” at the University. The lady says that her records go back quite far if Desmond can tell her what year he last visited. Alas no, he has no idea what year that might have been. As he roams the campus, he finds himself by the Physics building and goes in. He manages to find Daniel’s old lab but it’s a wreck, dusty and abandoned, the door sealed. He busts in and has a look around. A maintenance guy kicks him out but not before Desmond can ask why the University won’t give out any information about Faraday. “Can you blame ‘em?” the man replies, “after what ‘e did to that poor girl.” What girl? What did he do?

Others’ tent camp. The Freighter Three get stuffed in a tent and Miles and Charlotte have many questions. Daniel suggests that they pretend to be the U.S. military people Richard believes them to be, as that might be their best hope for survival. Richard then enters the tent and gives us a nibble more back story: Richard’s people had been on this Island, “their” Island, when the U.S. military (the Dharma folks maybe?) showed up to run their tests. Richard: “Your people attacked us … you expect us not to defend ourselves?” Richard’s people are very unhappy about a hydrogen bomb that the military left behind; Daniel says he’s here to disarm it. And what’s more, Richard can trust him not to detonate the thing because he’s in love with Charlotte over there and would never do anything to hurt her. Richard takes his word for it.

Locke’s group is on the move again. Juliet uses her mad Latin skills to try to gain their captives’ trust. She asks the Others to take them to their camp, asking if Richard Alpert is there. One of the Others starts to give directions to the camp but the other Other jumps on him, snapping his buddy’s neck and then running off into the jungle. Sawyer wants to shoot the fleeing Other but Locke won’t do it: “He’s one of my people.”

Oxford. Desmond now has an address and knocks on the door of a hose. A woman answers. When Desmond says he’s looking for Theresa Spencer, she says she’s Theresa’s sister. Then, when Desmond lets on that he got Theresa’s name from Faraday, the sister gets a funny tone in her voice and brings him into the back room. Theresa is there in a hospital bed, surrounded by monitors, seemingly comatose. She’s “gone” right now, says the sister – zones out then comes back, thinking she’s three years old or has been talking to relatives long dead. Daniel performed his experiments on her and then left her in this wretched, unstuck-in-time state. The sister sheds her bitterness for a moment and says that if it weren’t for Charles Widmore, they’d be in big trouble: Widmore was Daniel’s benefactor and when he learned what Daniel’s research brought about, had been taking care of Theresa ever since. Desmond doesn’t know what to think about that.

Island. Ellie, the blonde girl, is to take Daniel to his “hydrogen bomb.” Before they leave the camp, Richard wants Daniel to know that those military guys they killed, they had to do it. Daniel is skeptical at the “had to” part so Richard informs him that there’s a chain of command and his superior ordered him to do it. My guess: Richard’s commanding officer is Jacob. The young Other that escaped from Locke comes running up, bragging that he escaped. Richard is put out, asking if he was followed when he came back to camp. The Other is sure he wasn’t – how could an old man like Locke track him? Well, he did: Locke, Juliet and Sawyer are checking out the Other camp from the hillside. Sawyer goes off to try to rescue Daniel while Locke heads down into the camp, hoping to pick up where he left off with Richard – learning how he can save the Island.

Marching Daniel at gunpoint, Ellie doesn’t believe he is whom he says and really wants to know what he’s doing on their Island. He insists that he’s the best hope to disarm that bomb. Okay, says Ellie, then get to it. The camera swings around and there it is, a big old bomb (name of “Jughead”), hanging upside down in a wooden scaffold. Daniel checks it out, noticing that it’s seeping. He climbs down and tells Ellie that they need to encase the bomb in lead or cement and bury it. Ellie thinks that’s nuts and they argue a little, until Daniel slips and tells her that it’ll be okay since in fifty years, the Island is still here with no atomic mishaps. Understandably, Ellie freaks out a little about Daniel presuming to know the future and prepares to shoot him. Then Sawyer walks out of the bushes with his own gun, forcing Ellie to hand her rifle to Juliet. Ellie wants to know if Daniel’s friends are from the future too. Sawyer: “What? You told her?” And Ellie gapes and Daniel just looks hangdog.

England. In what is probably a terrible idea, Desmond busts into Widmore’s office. Penny is not going to like this at all. Desmond tells his father-in-law that he’s not here to answer Widmore’s questions – he’s here to get answers to his own questions: Where is Daniel Faraday’s mother? Widmore: How’s Penny? Desmond really must insist so Widmore hands him an address in Los Angeles, saying that Daniel’s mom won’t be happy to see him. Desmond turns to go but Widmore warns him to “deliver [his] message and then get out of this business” so as not to put Penny’s life in danger. “Thanks for the advice,” smirks Desmond.

Island. Locke enters the Others’ camp, shouting for Richard. The young Other who escaped from him is quite unhappy about this and gets up in Locke’s face. Richard comes out but doesn’t know Locke (yet). Locke has a stroke of brilliance: “Jacob sent me.” Richard thinks this is interesting and tells his people to back down, including the irate young Widmore (!!) who still can’t believe Locke tracked him. Locke’s like, “Charles Widmore? Huh.”

Penny’s boat. Desmond returns and his eyes go all soft when he sees his wife and child. Penny asks if he found Daniel’s mum. Desmond lies, saying the woman died a few years ago. Penny: Why are you lying to me? Desmond: She’s in Los Angeles. But he says it isn’t their problem anymore, he’s not getting involved – Penny is his life now, she and little Charlie. Awwwwwwwwwwwwww!!! Anyway, he says he’s not going to leave her again, not for this or anything. Again, tempting fate, I think. And Penny shakes her head, knowing that Desmond will be unable to let it go. All three of them will go to California.

Island. Locke has given Richard the compass, explaining that Richard gave it to him in the future … Richard thinks this is all a little crazy, even for on the Island. Locke insists, saying that Future Richard was about to tell him how to get off the Island – and this Richard interrupts, saying, “that is very privileged information” – because he has something important to do, plus Locke is Richard’s leader – Future Richard told him so. Richard, with a smile: “Well, I certainly don’t want to contradict myself …”

And then there’s that damn time-skipping flash of light and the camp and all the Others disappear, leaving Daniel, Miles, Charlotte, Locke, Sawyer and Juliet standing bewildered and alone in the empty field. Then Charlotte staggers a couple of steps, her nose bleeding again, and collapses.

Last time on Lost / next time on Lost

Monday, January 26, 2009

Movie review: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

I'm going to be honest with you: this is not a movie that Mr. Mouse stayed awake through. He fell asleep during the first half hour (of this 160 minute movie) and eventually got up off the couch and went to bed unasked. I almost always have to ask because of the snoring but he went voluntarily this time. Even I nodded off rested my eyelids a couple of times. TAoJJbtCRF* is a gorgeously filmed and wonderfully acted movie, but fast-paced it ain't.

This film spans (approximately) the year just before Jesse James's death and the year just after. We first meet up with the James gang as they're about to pull off their last train robbery in Missouri. It's a new gang though: Frank (Sam Shepard) and Jesse James (Brad Pitt) are there, but all the other guys are new, including a cousin of theirs (Jeremy Renner), some petty thieves (Paul Schneider) and a few local knuckleheads (Garret Dillahunt - channeling his Jack McCall character from Deadwood).

Included among the knuckleheads are two Ford brothers, Charlie (Sam Rockwell) and Robert (Casey Affleck). Bob Ford has followed Jesse's career of mayhem since he was a boy and is overwhelmed by his nearness to the man. By turns fawning and obsequious, then sullen and angry when his attentions are laughed at, Ford continues to worm himself into the outlaw's life. As the government starts to close in on Jesse, James becomes paranoid, turning on the men in his gang. At the film's climax, when Ford shoots Jesse in the bandit's own living room, the torment on Ford's face is clear: is he killing his idol before James kills him, or is he doing it to grab a place in the spotlight for himself.

Both Pitt and Affleck are outstanding in this film. Affleck was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the pathetic, cringing, lickspittle (but dead shot) Ford. Pitt is extremely convincing as the charismatic James in what may one of his best acting jobs to date. Supporting players are uniformly strong as well, although Mary Louise Parker was wasted in her miniscule role as Jesse's wife.

The problem with this movie is pacing. As in its lack thereof. Long stretches of time go by when nothing happens, and then longer stretches when the supporting characters do nothing but mutter at each other. Because Affleck and Pitt's characters are so compelling, they are sorely missed when they are not on-screen and, frankly, there's too much time without them.

If you've got plenty of time, are well-caffeinated and are a fan of the lore of the American West, then by all means indulge in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. If any of those ingredients are missing, however ... well, you've been warned.

* It's also got one of the most cumbersome movie titles ever. I mean, really. I know it's the title of the book but jeesh.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Movie review: Ratatouille

In keeping with my lifelong tendency towards discovering cool stuff long after the rest of the pack, I finally watched Ratatouille - the previously "best animated film of, like, ever" right when WALL-E is poised to become the "BEST animated film of, like, EVER!" Timing be damned: Ratatouille is a fantastic Pixar film and I had a lot of fun watching it.

The story is that of Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt), a young rat with a sophisticated palate who, slightly estranged from his overbearing father (Brian Dennehy), finds himself in Paris and dreams of becoming a chef. The problem with this is quite clear: even in cartoons, rats aren't welcomed in the kitchens of Michelin-starred restaurants and Remy must lurk in the shadows of the declining restaurant of his chef hero, Gusteau. When young (human) Alfredo Linguini inadvertently ruins a pot of soup in the kitchen, Remy saves the day and the soup. Alfredo strikes up an unlikely alliance with the rat: under Remy's guidance, Alfredo is able to keep his job as a cook; using Alfredo as his surrogate, Remy is able to create culinary masterpieces. There are villians, of course - the head chef Skinner (Ian Holm) who is sure Alfredo is up to something; and the scary, sneering food critic Anton Ego (Peter O'Toole) - and a love interest for Alfredo, tough-talking, motorcycle-riding, chef-on-the-rise Colette (Janeane Garofalo).

Because it is a Disney film, there are fairly obvious themes at work: going after your dreams whoever you are and whatever those dreams might be; accepting and appreciating those who are different from you; tapping into hidden potential. In addition, critic Anton Ego has a meta-speech towards the end of the movie that I particularly liked where (and I paraphrase) he admits that even the greatest of critics is still less than the person whose work he is criticizing (it's only slightly less blatant than Lady in the Water where the critic gets eaten by a toothy porcupine-wolf-beast).

The animation is, as expected, outstanding. The humans' hair and skin is much more realistic than in previous Pixar films; effects like rainwater on rat fur and the light reflecting on sewer tunnel ceilings are fantastic. The animators also obviously spent a ton of time observing rats as their movements and mannerisms are incredibly realistic.

DVD extras: the hilarious film short, Lifted, about the most inept alien abduction ever (the facial expressions on the big alien are priceless); an informative look at rats throughout history entitled Your Friend the Rat and hosted by Remy and Emily; a featurette called "Fine Food and Film: Conversations with Brad Bird and Thomas Keller" - Thomas Keller being the chef/owner of The French Laundry; and Deleted Scenes which are extremely interesting from a film-making point of view: crude B&W animated drawings that were cut before time and money was spent adding the fancy-schmancy animation that is the hallmark of Pixar films.

There is something for everyone in Ratatouille: talking rats, haute cuisine, hope, passion, creativity, gorgeous views of nighttime Paris, snooty French accents, brotherhood and friendship and a little bit of smooching. And Mr. Mouse, who pronounced it a "silly cartoon movie," still stayed awake all the way through the end of the credits - which tells me he liked it despite himself.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Lost episode recap – “Before You Left” (S5E1) and “The Lie” (S5E2)

For those of you who remember next to nothing about what happened on the last Lost, click here. I include myself in "those of you," by the way.

“Before You Left” (S5E1)

After a mislead involving a crying baby and an Asian woman who is definitely not Sun, it becomes evident that we’re on the Island, several decades before current time, filming the Dharma orientation videos with Dr. Chang. There’s a problem down at the new Orchid station, however, and Chang has to go check it out. The Dharma crew has been drilling and both people and machinery are malfunctioning. The crew boss wants to build the station on different coordinates but Chang insists that they can’t change anything: this station will allow them access to an energy source that will enable them to manipulate time. Chang stalks off as a hard-hatted worker totes a tank of something into the cavern. It’s Daniel Faraday, looking exactly the same age as he will several decades later when he arrives on the Island via the freighter.

At the Los Angeles funeral parlor, Jack and Ben load Locke’s coffin into Ben’s van. Ben wants to get going as they still have to collect Hurley from the mental institution. Jack is feeling sorry for himself but Ben snipes that all this trouble is happening because they left the Island in the first place. Later, at a motel, Jack shaves that fugly beard off (yay!), asking Ben when it was that he last saw Locke. It was at the Orchid Station, just before Ben moved the Island. Jack muses that when he saw Locke last, in California, Locke said that all the Losties who were left on the Island would die if the Oceanic Six didn’t come back. Ben asks if Locke told Jack what happened to the folks on the Island after it moved, but Jack doesn’t know and Ben guesses that they never will.

Three years earlier: we get a replay of the exact moment the Island moved. The bright light fades and Locke finds himself in the middle of the jungle in the pouring rain. Richard and the Others who were with him have disappeared. Daniel and the zodiac Losties have been moved with the Island – “we must have been within the radius,” muses Daniel. Juliet and the shirtless (yay!) Sawyer boggle on the beach, wondering what happened to the wreck of the freighter and the helicopter. Bernard joins them to report that the Losties’ camp, everything they’ve painstakingly built, is gone. Daniel rushes up: “It’s not gone.” He says they need to get to something man-made – like a Dharma hatch – “before it happens again.” Sawyer wants to know WTF is going on. Daniel reiterates that the camp isn’t gone: it just hasn’t been built yet.

Off-Island: Aaron is now old enough for some talking, but should perhaps be talking MORE if he is actually a 3 year old. When the doorbell rings, Kate answers it: it’s a couple of lawyers and she won’t let them in. They have a court order to collect blood samples from her and from Aaron to determine their exact relationship – and their client is a secret. Kate slams the door in their faces and runs upstairs to pack. Too bad – that’s a sweet house she’s got there. She’s prepared, however, having huge stacks of cash and a gun stashed, and she and Aaron say goodbye to their house.

On-Island, three years earlier: Sawyer still wants to know WTF; Daniel condescends to him, saying he couldn’t possibly explain – it’s so complicated – and Sawyer slaps him. Basically, Ben has dislodged the Island (and/or the people on it) from the regular timeline. See, that wasn’t so hard to explain, Daniel – we don’t need to see the math.

Meanwhile, Locke has hiked up to the ridge just in time to watch a small plane crash into the valley below. He finds a Virgin Mary statue on the ground: it’s Mr. Eko’s plane! Are we pretty-please going to get to see Mr. Eko again? Locke finds the plane wreckage (stuck on the cliff, remember?) and starts to climb up to it when shots are fired at him. He gets hit in the leg and falls to the jungle floor. There is rustling in the underbrush: it’s Ethan, pointing a rifle at Locke and wanting to know who he is. Locke just goggles, thinking “didn’t Charlie kill this guy already?”

After the commercial break, Locke introduces himself and says that Ben appointed him as the Others’ new leader. But before a scoffing Ethan can shoot him, the Island sideslips in time again and it’s night all of a sudden. In the Sawyer-Juliet part of the jungle, Sawyer asks Daniel (“whiz kid” – first nickname of S5) when they are now. Either the past … or the future, Daniel says helpfully.

Off-Island: Sun is in an airport, heading for L.A. Her passport has been flagged, however, and she is detained in Security. Charles Widmore is behind her detention because he’s pouty about how she spoke to him when last they met. He wants some respect. Fine, whatever, says Sun (who is turning out to be a real badass). He wants to know what their “common interests” might be and she replies, “To kill Benjamin Linus.” Widmore seems intrigued.

As Jack and Ben get ready to go liberate Hurley, a television newscast says that there had been a shooting at the mental hospital and Hurley has since disappeared. Humph, says Ben, the plan has changed. Of course, you will recall that it was Sayid who shot the guy at the hospital and drove off with Hurley. As they catch up, Sayid tells Hurley that he had been working for Ben for some time but that if ever he sees Ben, he should do the opposite of whatever Ben says. When they arrive at the safe house, a couple guys burst out of the room, attacking them. Despite being tagged by a tranquilizer dart, Sayid throws one of them off the balcony and impales the other on the knives sticking up out of the dishwasher (note to self: pointy ends down). Hurley is rather overwhelmed by all of this but manages to grab a gun in time for a bystander to snap his photo. Oops. Hurley drags Sayid back to the car muttering, “I thought this was supposed to be a safe house. We never should have left that Island!”

Nighttime on the Island. Daniel, Sawyer, Juliet, Miles, Charlotte, et al., find the remains of the blown-up hatch. So this when is sometime after the Losties crashed on the Island. The Losties want to go back to the beach and warn their friends away from the freighter to save their lives. But Daniel says they can’t change anything: time is like a string and you can move forward and backward, but you can’t switch strings.

Locke, still shot in the leg, looks over and sees Mr. Eko’s plane now on the floor of the jungle. He uses a seatbelt as a tourniquet then cowers as a torch-bearing figure approaches. It’s Richard, who helpfully digs the bullet out of Locke’s leg. Locke’s brain is reeling and he wants to know when he is. “It’s all relative,” says Richard. He also tells Locke that when the Island timeslipped last time, he (Richard) didn’t go anywhere – but Locke and everyone else did. (This must be why Richard never ages: the time around him ebbs and flows but he stays the same.) Locke is practically hyperventilating as Richard tells him to listen up – he’s sorry to be so short, but they don’t have much time before Locke slips away again. He tells Locke that the only way to save the Island is to bring back the ones who left, assuring Locke that Jack, Kate et al. are alive and well. How do I convince them to come back? Locke wants to know. Richard: “You’re going to have to die, John.” Then time slips again and the plane is back up on the cliff. Locke just sits there, not a little dazed.

When Daniel’s crew recovers from the time slip, the hatch is back and whole – before the Losties even found it. Sawyer heads for the back door immediately, wanting to get supplies – he ain’t startin’ over and he ain’t huntin’ boars. Daniel tells him to stop – he can’t change the past – and Sawyer snarls that everyone he cares about just blew up on that damn freighter … he knows what he can’t change. Juliet calms things down and they head back to the beach, for no good reason really other than it’s not in the middle of the jungle.

However, Daniel lags behind to check his journal and then knocks on the hatch door himself. Desmond (yay!) opens up, HAZMAT-suited, armed and crazy-eyed. Daniel tells Des that he (Des) is uniquely special and that he must remember this: if the helicopter goes down, everyone left behind is in trouble and Desmond must go to Oxford to find Daniel Faraday’s mother … Desmond’s eyes roll wildly as time slips away before Daniel can finish.

Off-Island. A terrified Desmond wakes up, in bed with Penny on her sailboat. She reminds him that he has been off the Island for three years now, safe and sound. Des tells her that he thinks it wasn’t a dream he just had – it was a memory. He goes topside and starts hauling up the anchor. Penny wants to know where they’re going. Des: Oxford, of course!

“The Lie” (S5E2)

Three years ago: the soon-to-be Oceanic Six are still on Penny’s boat with Penny, Des and Frank. Jack elicits a promise from the assembled to tell the story he’s concocted. Hurley is uncomfortable with the lying but Jack points out that no one would believe the crazy truth anyway. Except for Charles Widmore and they need to protect the left-behind Losties from him. Hurley tries to win Sayid over to the side of the truth but Sayid says Jack is right. Fine, says Hurley, but one day you’ll need my help and I won’t give it to you.

Off-Island: Hurley is driving while Sayid is passed out in the passenger seat, still doped from the tranq. He doesn’t wake up even as Hurley shakes him, in a panic when a traffic cop pulls him over. But the cop is a hallucination - Ana-Lucia! – and she reads him the riot act: “What if I were real? Why did you pull over? You’re a mess! Get somewhere safe and take Sayid to someone you trust ... Oh yeah, and Libby says hi.” And then she disappears. Hurley looks over at the still unconscious Sayid: “Well, you heard her.”

On-Island, the beach. The poor Losties are trying to start fires again. Sawyer finds a shirt (darn it!) and Juliet finds the zodiac still on shore. When Daniel strolls out of the jungle, Sawyer wants to know if there’s any plan. Daniel says that for them to leave, he has to chart a new course but that means he has to figure out where they are in time. Miles sighs, heading off to find something to eat; Juliet says she’ll fetch some water.

Off-Island. On the run, Kate gets a phone call from someone she wasn’t expecting to hear from, but is pleased about it regardless. She says she’ll meet the caller right away. I’m guessing it’s Sun. Meanwhile, Ben removes a wrapped crate from the motel room vent, tucking it into his bag as Jack slouches into the room. Ben says they’re checking out now and Jack is to go home and pack; Ben’ll pick him up in six hours as right now he needs to move Locke’s coffin to someplace safe. Oh, and he’s flushed all Jack’s pills down the toilet. Jack is bemused by this and blearily asks if Locke is really dead. Ben sidesteps the question, of course, and simply reiterates that he’ll pick Jack up in six hours.

(How is it that Jorge Garcia has lost NO weight at all in the years this show has been on?) Hurley’s on-screen dad, Cheech Marin, is just tucking into a salami and caviar sandwich when Hurley shows up, Sayid slung across his shoulders. Cheech goggles. Hurley: “Hi, dad.” He brings Sayid in the house and explains – sort of – what happened. They are concerned that Sayid has still not woken up and try to figure out a plan that doesn’t include hospitals.

Ben goes to a butcher shop. The lady butcher knows him by name: I think she may be an Other on an on-shore assignment. He asks her to keep an eye on something for him; she knows what it is and says she’ll keep him (Locke) safe. The plan is moving forward.

On-Island. Some guy named Neil is complaining about everything. He’s wearing a red shirt, though, so I’m not too attached to him. Charlotte brings Daniel a mango and tells him that she’s got a nagging headache and some memory loss; Daniel thinks it’s connected to the nosebleed she had earlier but doesn’t want to worry her. When Miles comes out of the jungle with a dead boar, everyone is excited about some fresh meat … except for Neil. He starts ranting about how they don’t have a knife to carve up the boar, and he’s hungry and tired, and they can’t even build a fire. And as he says “fire” he gets shot in the chest with a flaming arrow. See what I meant about not getting attached to those annoying red shirts? The Losties look back at the jungle in terror as a whole flight of flaming arrows comes at them. They scatter – was that Vincent the dog I just saw?! – several no-name extras falling victim to the arrows.

Off-Island. Cheech is not buying Hurley’s story, saying that he’s either crazy or he’s lying. Hurley insists that he’s lying for a good reason but before he can explain, his mom comes home and wants to know why a “dead Pakistani” is on her couch. Hurley protests that Hurley isn’t dead; his mom notes that he’s not breathing. Cheech throws Sayid in the SUV and takes off for help, leaving Hurley to hide in the house.

Kate (whose hair extensions are completely out of control) and Aaron meet Sun at her hotel room. Kate tells her about the visit from the lawyers to find out who Aaron’s mother really is. Sun notes that they must not be interested in exposing the Oceanic Six’s lie or else they wouldn’t have hidden who their client was: they must just be after the little boy. Sun asks if Kate is ready to do whatever it takes to protect Aaron and Kate gets all offended: “What kind of person do you think I am?” Um, the kind who’d murder your own step dad by blowing up his house? But Sun flashes back to the freighter, recalling Jin screaming after the departing helicopter, and reminds Kate that she had no trouble doing what she had to do then – and if she hadn’t, they probably all would have died, instead of just Sun’s husband. A guilty Kate sniffles but Sun says she doesn’t blame her. Then, rapidly changing the subject, Sun: “How’s Jack?” Kate gets cranky-face.

Meanwhile, Cheech has brought the still unconscious Sayid to Jack. Jack says he’s going to take Sayid to the hospital (in his supercool truck); Cheech says fine, but stay the hell away from my son. Jack drives off with Sayid, calling Ben to let him know of this latest development. Ben loves it when a plan comes together.

At home, Hurley frets, waiting for his dad to come back and fending off questions from his mom. She is so worried about the trouble her boy is in. Hurley finally cracks under the pressure, saying that all of the Oceanic Sixers lied: they did crash but there was no rescue, and there was a smoke monster, and the Others, and pushing the button every 108 minutes, and Desmond’s girlfriend’s evil father, and the Island disappearing … and the rest of the folks who are still stuck on the Island. He breaks into tears and his sweet mom takes his hand, saying that she doesn’t understand him but she believes him. “We shouldn’t have lied,” cries Hurley.

On-Island. Juliet and Sawyer hear something as they look for water: it’s a number of folks moving through the jungle with their guns. At first it seems like it must be the Others – because that’s what they do, walk through the jungle with guns – but no, it’s seems to be a bunch of soldiers (soldiers or Dharmites?) who grab Juliet and Sawyer and demand to know what the intruders are doing on their island.

Off-Island. Jack has, indeed, brought Sayid to the hospital although no one seems to know they’re in there. He hooks Sayid up to machines and oxygen and gives him an injection. Sayid comes to abruptly, grabbing onto Jack’s throat until he comes to his senses. Sayid wants to know who is with Hurley and who else might know where he is. Jack stays mum.

But over at Hurley’s house, Ben has shown up, saying that Sayid is with Jack and he is here to take Hurley to them. Hurley is resistant until Ben plays his “we all want to go back to the Island and stop lying” card. He seems to be wavering but then lumbers out of the house, hands in the air, shouting that he killed all those people and the cops should take him in. Outmaneuvered, Ben watches grimly from the doorway as the cops take Hurley into custody.

On-Island. The soldiers manhandle Juliet and Sawyer: they’re are pretty wound up and are about to cut off Juliet’s hand as incentive to cooperate when Locke bursts out of the undergrowth and smites them all with thrown knives. Attaboy, Locke!

Off-Island: Now this is weird - in a strange, dark laboratory with swinging pendulums, a be-cloaked figure moves from computer to chalkboard, making calculations. It’s the basement of a church and the woman is the one Desmond bought Penny’s ring from. She goes upstairs to where Ben is waiting and tells him that he has just seventy hours. He protests, saying “I lost [Hurley] tonight – what if I can’t get them all to come back?” Witchy-woman intones: “Then God help us all.”

Next time on Lost

Monday, January 19, 2009

Unfringe my heart

Folks, I just don't think I can do it anymore. It's too overwhelming. I've got too much on my plate what with life, the universe and everything.

I can't recap Fringe any longer.

I mean, if I thought anyone would care, I'd stick with it just for you. But while I know people read the Heroes recaps, the Lost recaps and the True Blood recaps (also Deadwood!), I just don't get the impression anyone reads the Fringes. Heck, I'm not sure anyone watches Fringe! I still will, stubbornly, for the rest of the season but if J.J. Abrams doesn't get his head out of his ass, that's all he'll get from me.

Mini-book review: Dewey: the Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron*

This little non-fiction book is the story of Dewey's life, from his beginnings as an eight week old kitten found stuffed in a library book drop one frigid winter morning, to his reign as Supreme Cat About the Library and eventual international star. It's a quick read, written in uncomplicated prose, tracing the course of Dewey's long life and his profound effect on the people around him. It's even a bit of a tear-jerker (I had to add a cough to my sniffling so Mr. Mouse wouldn't think I was crying over a cat in a book): both Myron and her feline companion go through some tough times, re-emerging battle-scarred but undefeated. In addition, it is the story of Spencer, a small Iowa town, struggling to keep alive in the farm crisis of the 1980s and eventually growing into a thriving municipality without losing its sense of community and connection. Ultimately about courage and unconditional love, this book about a pretty cool library cat also speaks volumes about small town humanity.

*Technically Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter - my apologies to Bret, but the dang blog post title is just long enough already.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Mini-movie review: Burn After Reading

Mr. Mouse and I watched this last night because we are fans of several of the Coen brothers' movies (Fargo, Blood Simple, The Big Lebowski, Raising Arizona, O Brother Where Art Thou) (no, we haven't seen No Country for Old Men yet - back off). Pluswhich, Mr. Mouse was very excited to see that BAR was only 95 minutes long: he much prefers 90 minute movies because he can generally manage to stay awake that long. That being said, I sort of feel as though the brothers' were stretching to get ninety minutes' worth of movie out of this one. It seemed like it was an early draft of a Coen brothers' movie, but they decided they didn't want to write it any more and just went straight to filming. While I liked the individual performances well enough, the film was ultimately unsatisfying. Nothing was wrapped up at the end; we were told what happened to the various moronic characters but we weren't shown what happened, and I believe that in film and television, showing is almost always better than telling.

Mr. Mouse's final reaction as the credits rolled: "Eh." But at least he stayed awake.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

It's my bag, baby

I'm going to get all girly here and talk SHOPPING for just a moment because this photo is of The Cutest Bag Ever and everyone should have one. (I really really really meant to get this posted earlier - you know, like, before Christmas - but I didn't so, shame on me.)

It's about 8"x10" - not huge but holds plenty - and has a couple of small pockets and a key-holder inside. The colors are not great in this photo: the actual bag is brighter. Again, so very cute.

Check out Saycie's Shop where she has a number of different things available or you can request a custom item, like this fabulous bag.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Titles Nine - #7

Welcome to the first Titles Nine of 2009! We have a very special edition today: these books are not actually sitting on a bookshelf – they are in freestanding stacks, waiting to be read. Three are from the library; two are on loan; four were gifts; three are Mr. Mouse’s; and six are mine (I think I’m going to have to renew the library ones as I’m clearly not getting to them in an expedient fashion).

  • American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House – Jon Meacham
  • Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) – Tom Vanderbilt
  • A Dog's Life – Peter Mayle. From the Year In Provence guy.
  • Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World – Vicki Myron. The cover photo: awwwwwwwww!
  • Fiddler's Ghost – Mitch Jayne. My Cuzzin Kathy’s copy – signed by the author and everything.
  • The Hundred Secret Senses – Amy Tan
  • Deadline (A Jack McMorrow Mystery) – Gerry Boyle. Maine author! Maine mill-town murder mystery!
  • Grave Sight – Charlaine Harris. From the author on whose books True Blood is based.
  • American Gods: A Novel – Neil Gaiman. Continuing my quest to determine just how talented Gaiman is.

In non-booked-related news, I have been watching so many House episodes - both FOX and USA are running a lot of them - that I have developed a wicked crush on Hugh Laurie. (I like cranky guys - just ask Mr. Mouse.)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Read It, Watch It, Watch It Again: Planet of the Apes

Welcome to a new and infrequent feature here at Friend Mouse Speaks, Read It, Watch It and Watch It Again (trademark pending). It’ll be “infrequent” because it takes me so durn long to pull it all together. As the name suggests, the idea here is to pick a property, read the book (source material), watch the first movie and watch the remake movie, and then try to put together some sort of coherent thought about it all. Interestingly enough, my short list for this feature seems to be all science fiction: The Island of Dr. Moreau, War of the Worlds, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. And, for the inaugural post: Planet of the Apes.

[Note: If anyone has any suggestions of other book/movie titles that would be good for Read It, Watch It and Watch It Agains, please let me know in the comments. I’m always interested in broadening my horizons.]

Planet of the Apes was written in 1963 by French author Pierre Boulle, who also wrote Bridge Over the River Kwai (an awesome movie, btw). I read the translation, of course, since I am of the English-as-an-only-language skill set. The prose is fairly dated, awkward to the modern eye, although I don’t know whether that’s because of the time in which it was written, or having lost something coming from French to English, or perhaps a combination of both. At any rate, the book is framed as a story within a story: two individuals in a spacecraft come upon a handwritten manuscript which contains the actual PotA story; in an additional twist at the very end of the book, the reader learns that the two individuals who have read this found manuscript are themselves apes who think the story they have just read is preposterous – no such thing as a literate human.

The manuscript’s narrative reads tells of three human astronauts who voyage to the Betelgeuse system and find a hospitable planet. When they shuttle to the surface, they find primitive humans – including the gorgeous but dumb-as-rocks Nova with whom the hero, Ulysse, becomes quite enamored – and intelligent apes. One of the astronauts is killed as the apes round up the humans; Ulysse, his compatriot and Nova are taken prisoner. Ulysse soon learned that these apes are incredibly advanced: they have cars, televisions, airplanes, and the beginnings of a space program. They have a spoken and written language – not English – and Ulysse sets himself to learning it while in his cage. The apes also have a strict class system: gorillas are the leaders, hunters and military; orangutans are bureaucrats and unenlightened educators; chimpanzees are the forward-thinkers, scientists and visionaries.

Ulysse quickly makes his sentience known and two chimpanzee scientists, Zira and her fiancĂ© Cornelius, become his champions. Ulysse speaks in front of a large scientific congress and is accepted by the apes as an advanced being; he is allowed to assist Zira with her human behavioral training and Cornelius with his archeological research. They discover 10,000 year old ruins that have evidence of being as advanced a civilization as the current ape one and, more shocking, having been populated by humans. The ape leaders are not thrilled with this discovery; although they believe it to be true, they don’t really want it to become common knowledge. So, when Nova becomes pregnant with Ulysse’s child, Zira and Cornelius are concerned that the offspring might be an evolutionary step for humans and pack the three off to Ulysse’s spacecraft, which has continued to orbit the planet. Ulysse and his little family journey back to Earth – due to traveling at the speed of light, 800 years have passed on Earth during Ulysse’s two-year adventure – where they find our planet now completely populated and controlled by … apes.

The original Planet of the Apes movie came out in 1968, just a few years after the book was published, and starred Charlton Heston (chewing up all the scenery he could find). In this version, four human astronauts (three men and one woman who dies in her sleep before they ever reach the planet) are attempting to return to Earth after what is supposed to be a +/- 700 Earth-year voyage. Something goes wrong during their hypersleep, however, and they crash-land on a planet in the year 3978, thinking they are 320 light years from Earth.

The astronauts – Taylor (Heston), Dodge and Landon – soon discover a herd of speechless, primitive people (including the gorgeous but dumb-as-rocks Nova with whom Taylor becomes quite enamored) being rounded up by English-speaking, gun-toting gorillas on horseback. Dodge is killed in the stampede; the other two are captured: Taylor is shot in the throat (which is how the movie keeps him from being able to communicate with the apes right away) and Landon is lobotomized (which also effectively keeps him from speaking with the apes).

As in the book, Zira and Cornelius learn that Taylor is an advanced human and become his supporters. But this time his speech in front of the tribunal (all fuddy-duddy orangutans) goes badly: the apes will not accept the idea of intelligent humans despite the chimpanzees’ attempts to explain Taylor as a missing link between humans and apes. After exploring Cornelius’s ruins – again, seemingly once populated by sentient humans – Taylor and Nova are released back into the wild by Dr. Zaius who knows exactly what they’ll find: that this planet is actually Earth and that humans destroyed themselves long ago. The final shot of the film, Taylor falling to his knees before the shattered remains of the Statue of Liberty while Nova looks on, confused and uncomprehending, is powerful – and was suggested for the movie by the Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling (a move that Boulle, the author of the original story, said he liked better than his own ending).

The second Planet of the Apes was released in 2001. It was directed by Tim Burton and I honestly feel as though it is one of Burton’s weakest films, despite the obvious ginormous budget and impressive cast: Mark Wahlberg, Helena Bonham Carter, Tim Roth, Paul Giamatti, Michael Clarke Duncan, Kris Kristofferson.

Here, in the year 2029, humans are on a space station collecting scientific data with apes they have trained to fly small spacecraft. Marky Mark Leo ends up on the planet when he attempts to rescue a research chimp who has gone off grid and his shuttle slides through a worm hole and comes out the other side some 900+ years later. He crash-lands and is soon swept up in the human round up – but this time the humans are better clothed, know how to use weapons (of the spear and dagger variety) and can speak English.

The apes also speak English and the movie focuses on the ape relationships for quite some time, ignoring the humans for most of the first 45 minutes of the movie. In this version, the ape class structure is not so strict: any ape seems to be able to perform any role, although the gorillas do all seem to be brutes. Orangutans can be senators as well as smarmy slave-traders (an obsequious Paul Giamatti); chimps are both activists (Helena Bonham Carter as “Ari,” a replacement for Zira) and bloodthirsty soldiers (Tim Roth as the ruthless “General Thade”). While this ape society has fancy clothes, art and politics, they don’t have guns or any sort of technology or science.

When Ari helps Leo and some other humans escape, General Thade gets the senate to declare martial law on the humans. He has been told by his dying father (played by Charlton Heston!) that ages ago, the human and ape status was reversed and he is not about to let that happen again. Meanwhile, Leo has found the wreck of his space station out in the Forbidden Zone (as opposed to the ancient ruined city in the book and first movie). The wreck has been there for “thousands of years” and he realizes that the research apes on board the station were the predecessors of the current evolved apes.

The humans gather together and Leo leads them in battle against the apes. Just as Thade is about to twist Leo’s head off his shoulders (pissed off chimpanzees are strong!), another space shuttle lands. It’s the lost research chimpanzee. All the apes fall to their knees, thinking he’s their god made flesh, so Leo hands him off to Ari and gets the hell out of there in the shuttle. He flies back through time/the wormhole and makes it back to Earth. Which is not the Earth he left behind at all: like in the original book, the apes are in charge.

The ape makeup was wonderful and the actors did a fantastic job of mimicking ape mannerisms but other than ramping up the special effects, this last remake added nothing new to the previous materials. Big ol’ battles do not a better movie make, necessarily. I liked that Burton’s ending was faithful to the book, apparently done to set up a possible sequel – but was a confusing surprise to moviegoers not familiar with the source material - and I’m guessing that it may have been done in part because there is just no way to top the iconic final scene of the 1968 movie.

Friday, January 9, 2009

First bacon post of 2009: accoutrements

Thanks to the excellent research skills and generosity of Friend of the Blog, Shari E., I can report on two new (new to me, anyway) dental/oral hygiene products: bacon-flavored breath mints and bacon-flavored dental floss. These obviously fall into the "what will they think of next" category. Mr. Mouse and I volunteered to be guinea pigs for you all and here are our findings:

Uncle Oinker's Savory Bacon Mints. (made in China, of course) These small, aspirin-sized mints come 100 to a tin and are positively redolent of bacon. Well, maybe bacon with a hint of Vicks Vap-o-rub. They are surprisingly good, bacony and sweet: I thought they tasted more like sugar-cured bacon while Mr. Mouse said he could detect the hint of mint, pronouncing them "strange but certainly not offensive." And no chemical aftertaste - which I was worried about. If you're really a bacon nut - I mean, REALLY - you could do worse than pick up a tin of these "mints."

Waxed Bacon Floss. The packaging declares "effectively removes plaque" and "Mmm! leaves mouth bacon fresh." Again, the floss smells quite bacony but this time, there's nary a bacon flavor to be had. "It's not doin' it for me," said Mr. Mouse - and he is both a bacon fiend and a dedicated flosser. Bottom line: flossing your teeth with regular dental floss while frying up a pan of real bacon is a better bet than bacon floss.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Happy birthday to me!

And also to Elvis Presley, David Bowie, Amber Benson (actor ("Tara" on BtVS)/writer/cool chick), Stephen Hawking, Jason Giambi and Wolfgang Puck.

I will be far too busy celebrating how O L D I am today to provide any more substantive posts than this - come back again tomorrow!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Book review: The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd

The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd is the first book that’s pissed me off in a long while. It’s not supposed to have done that - it’s fluff. But in reality, even just sitting here now and reading the rave blurbs on the covers is pissing me off even more: “Soulful in its probing of the human heart.” – San Francisco Chronicle. “Kidd draws connections from the feminine to the divine to the erotic that a lesser writer wouldn’t see, and might not have the guts to follow.” – Time. “…a quite powerful feminist statement … a multidimensional pleasure.” – Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Hogwash. The Mermaid Chair is lazy, irresponsible storytelling with a greedy, selfish protagonist at its center.

The story is this. Jessie, married for 20+ years, a fulltime homemaker/part-time artist, finds herself adrift in her life when her only child heads off to college. When Jessie’s estranged mother starts exhibiting erratic behavior, Jessie returns to the lush South Carolina island of her childhood to care for her mother. While there, away from her devoted (if slightly predictable) psychiatrist husband, Jessie indulges in an affair with a handsome monk who is about to take his permanent vows. This illicit relationship ultimately fails but in its wake Jessie finds herself a new woman: mending fences with her mother, coming to grips with her father’s death decades earlier, reveling in new artistic creations.

Greedy, selfish protagonist. I can understand a mother losing her center when her child goes away to school. That’s a great loss. And finding your life stultifying is completely identifiable. But my god, this character Jessie doesn’t have a fulltime job and is fully financially supported by her husband – she's got all the freedom and time in the world, and she chooses to have an affair at a moment's notice to figure out what she wants to do with her life? Ugh.

Throw yourself into the art you already create or try something new. Adopt a puppy. Plant a garden. Volunteer. See a shrink/massage therapist/acupuncturist. Learn a new language. Take a bunch of classes. Train for a marathon. Go home and rebuild your relationship with your mother. But don’t have an affair because you’re bored – and claim it’s the greatest passion of your life. That’s crap. Especially since SPOILER she ends up going back to her all-too-forgiving husband (who frickin’ takes her back!) at the end. She doesn't fight to keep this monk at all so he's clearly NOT the greatest passion of her life. Jessie nearly ruins four lives – her own, her husband’s, her daughter’s and her lover’s – because she is selfish, bored and greedy.

Lazy, irresponsible storytelling. I read The Secret Life of Bees. I don’t remember it, but I remember liking it … and therefore knowing that Kidd is a better novelist than this. Having the monk as Jessie’s love interest is lazy because WE ALL KNEW IT WOULD NEVER WORK OUT. He’s not a challenging character: he’s tidy and neat and was never going to end up with Jessie. He’s really more of a plot device than a great passion (which you could totally tell with the limp sex scenes – not at all sexy). And having Jessie’s husband take her back? Also lazy because Jessie didn’t really suffer or have to give anything up, and she certainly didn’t learn anything. By the end of the book she has this “empowering” new marriage with herself, her desires and her creativity – but she got everything she wanted without undergoing any real character growth.

What would have been a better story? Don’t let Jessie and the monk actually get together physically. Have them enter into a friendship, full of intense conversations about their lives and dreams, their hopes, their fears, their past pain – have them learn about themselves that way without acting on the temptation. There still could have been longing and passion and tension but keeping it unrequited makes it more suspenseful for the reader (this is not a Harlequin romance, after all). And at the end of the day Jessie still could have attained her empowered ends without decimating the lives of the people she supposedly cared about to do it.

I don’t know why I’ve had such a violent reaction to this silly book clubby book; it's sort of the same response I had to that appalling and stupid Bridges of Madison County. It’s not as though I’m some self-righteous stick-in-the-mud who’s never read a book about extramarital affairs; heck, if I want to read about “grand passion” and tormented love affairs I’ll go see what they’re recommending over at Smart Bitches Trashy Books.

I just think that if this character is supposed to be going through such major life-altering turmoil as to need to shatter the lives of the people around her, then some major life-altering should be the end result – and it’s not. Little has actually changed in Jessie’s life. I truly expected more from The Mermaid Chair.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


It's not even a full week into January and I've just seen the sweetest, cutest thing I think I'll see all year. If you are not heartwarmed by this, then you are probably a dead person. A mean, cranky, dead person.

Click here to visit the Elephant Sanctuary site.

Thanks to and YouTube, and to Mr. Mouse for letting me know about this in the first place.

Monday, January 5, 2009

DVD review: Children of the Stones

Children of the Stones is a British cult favorite science fiction children’s television series, filmed on location at Avebury, England, with its stone circle that predates Stonehenge. Combining ancient druidic rites, brain-washing, the ouroboros, psychic phenomena, black holes and time bubbles – not to mention the creepy soundtrack of moaning, wailing human voices - this little series is as eerie now as it was when it aired in the 1970s.

Episode 1, “Into Circle,” introduces us to Adam (Gareth Thomas) and Matthew Brake, astrophysicist father and his teenage son who have come to the village of Milbury to research its megalithic standing stones. They quickly notice that something isn’t quite right with the villagers: everyone in Milbury is slightly strange, like very happy pod people. Everyone, that is, except the few other folk who are also new to the village, including Margaret Smythe, the curator of the village museum, and her daughter Sandra, who befriend the Brakes.

In Episode 2, “Circle of Fear,” after touching one of the standing stones and getting a huge shock that knocks him unconscious, Adam is intrigued by what he thinks is “residual magnetism” in the stones. Margaret thinks the force is more psychic in nature, however, and shows Adam the research she’s done on the ley lines that intersect at Milbury. Meanwhile, Matt has met the resident nutter, a poacher named Dai, who tells him that no one leaves the circle – until they’re dead. Later that night, Matt sees all the villagers, the Happy Ones, chanting around the Hendrick manor house in the center of the circle.

In “Serpent in the Circle” (episode 3): Matt and Sandra debate being “normal” versus one of the Happy Ones after one of their formerly normal classmates has a happy breakthrough. Crazy Dai finds a stone amulet with a serpent on it, like the carvings on many of the standing stones. Adam learns that centuries ago, a resident of Milbury witnessed a supernova in the night sky.

“Narrowing Circle” (episode 4) starts with Adam, Matt, Margaret, Sandra and another father and son pair, the last of the Normals, being concerned about their decreasing numbers. Adam and Margaret each get an invitation to dinner at the manor house by its owner, the creepy Hendrick. Dai rolls the bones and gets a very bad omen. Later, the father and son show up brainwashed like the rest of the village, and Dai takes a deadly fall.

In Episode 5, “Charmed Circle,” Hendrick decides to insist on Margaret and Sandra coming to dinner to welcome them into his “happy family.” Adam, already disturbed because Dai’s body has mysteriously disappeared, is worried about them and asks them to stop by to see him and Matt after their visit to the manor house. Dinner turns out to be a very eerie affair – the dining room is decorated in druidic temple style – and afterwards there are two fewer Normals in Milbury.

Episode 6 is “Squaring the Circle” in which Adam and Matt discover their last friends have been body snatched into Happy Ones. They decide to leave Milbury at once but before they do, Matt breaks into the village’s locked and deconsecrated church, unable to restrain his curiosity. He finds walls of computer banks in the cellar but Hendrick catches him before he can discover much more. As father and son drive out of town, something comes over them both; they regain consciousness locked in Hendrick’s manor house. With an amazing leap of logic, Adam decides that the village is trapped out of time with the rest of the world.

In the final episode, “Full Circle,” Adam and Matt are determined to escape from Hendrick’s clutches. They confront him with their hypotheses at their own conversion dinner and are able to trick him enough to escape, wreaking havoc on all he has wrought on the villagers. When the Brakes finally drive clear of the stone circle, the time trap resets itself.

The DVD extras are slim: interviews with actor Gareth Thomas and director/producer Peter Graham Scott, looking back at Children of the Stones twenty-five years later; production notes; series trivia; and a behind-the-scenes photo gallery.

Although created as a half-hour episodic children’s television series, Children of the Stones is far too dated for today’s children; the clothes and hairstyles, so hip in 1976, will not appeal to youth weaned on Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers. For adult fans of Dr. Who and other classic, campy sci-fi shows, however, Children of the Stones is a fun and freaky treat. The North American DVD releases on January 20, 2009.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn - movie review

I saw The Evil Dead about seven months ago and loved it: the tension, the gore, the low budget and high level of commitment by cast and crew - very much an outstanding and precedent-setting little horror movie.

I saw Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn just a few minutes ago and liked it very much. Director Sam Raimi's budget was substantially bigger for this 1987 flick, although not actually big, as evidenced by much fancier special effects like ghostly apparitions, a naked and decaying headless ballerina and a forest of monster trees that uprooted themselves and thrashed a house to death. The gore is still there too, with gushing geysers of technicolor blood and ichor; when the hero has to cut his own possessed right hand off with a chainsaw in the first half hour, you know it's just going to get bloodier and bloodier.

The story is largely the story from the original ED movie. Bruce Campbell, reprising his role as "Ash," brings a girlfriend to a cabin in the woods where they find a tape recording of a professor reading aloud from the Necromicon. This, of course, allows the girlfriend to be possessed by the demons and subsequently hacked to pieces by Ash. By the time the professor's daughter ("Annie"), her boyfriend and two local yokels (the girl yokel is played by Kassie DePaiva who has been "Blair" on One Life to Live for the last fifteen years) arrive, all hell has broken loose in the woods. Everyone gets picked off one by one until just Annie and Ash are left; with her dying breath Annie reads a passage from the Necromicon which opens a vortex, sucking the demon - and poor Ash - into another world. EDII closes with an incredulous and very unhappy Ash surrounded by armored soldiers who cheer his arrival in their world as their savior - thus setting the stage for the final movie in the trilogy, Army of Darkness.

Raimi did a little bit more than add some dollars to this second ED movie: he added a whole lot of "splatstick" humor as well. EDII is definitely a horror-comedy hybrid: not as suspenseful and a whole lot sillier, including ripping off plenty of physical gags from Raimi's favorites, the Three Stooges. Which is not to say that the horror is not present - there are plenty of jump scares and gore galore.

I did have two nitpicks that detracted from my enjoyment of this movie. One is a quick error of continuity: when Ash is searching the cellar, he picks up some of the lost pages of the Necromicon with his right hand and tucks them into his breast pocket ... and in the next scene, the chainsaw is back on his right stump as it should be. That's a pretty big gaffe.

The other thing that kept me from fully committing to EDII is how the movie fits in with the original one. The cabin Ash brings his girl to is clearly the same cabin from the first movie - in watching EDII, is the audience to pretend that the first movie never happened? Because surely Ash would never go back there after having to hack his demon-possessed sister and friends to tiny, sticky pieces in The Evil Dead. I now understand that Raimi says in the Army of Darkness DVD commentary that if the recaps from the second and third films were not included, all three movies could be watched back to back as one saga. Fans are apparently divided about this alleged intention, however, with some seeing EDII as a remake of the original, and others seeing it as a sequel. I of course didn't know any of this going into EDII, thus my confusion.

Regardless, Evil Dead II is a classic horror movie. And when Ash straps on his new chainsaw prosthetic and prepares to kick some demon ass, it is clear that an iconic character has been born. Bravo, sirrah, bravo.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Forgetting Sarah Marshall - movie review

Finally, finally, we watched Forgetting Sarah Marshall yesterday (instead of going skiing because it was so damn cold (well below 0 with wind chill) and windy (no lifts were running) out). I blame Mr. Mouse for it taking me so long to get to this movie: as I’ve mentioned before, he and I have a very slim intersect of movies we both enjoy, and since I thought this might be one of them, I didn’t want to see it without him. That being said, I liked this movie better than he did; he ended up paging through a magazine partway through while I actually had some laugh-out-loud moments.

Written by and starring Jason Segal (“Marshall” from HIMYM and a Judd Apatow TV/movie alum), FSM is the story of Peter (J. Segal), a struggling slacker/composer, whose longtime girlfriend – the titular Sarah Marshall, a successful TV actress – dumps him. To forget her, Peter takes himself on vacation to Hawaii, inadvertently ending up at the same resort as Sarah and her new beau, ridiculous English rocker Aldus Snow (Brit comedian Russell Brand). A bereft Peter is befriended by many of the hotel staff, particularly by Rachel, the fun and gorgeous front desk clerk (played perfectly by the adorable Mila Kunis).

Segal, Kunis and Brand are all quite funny and entertaining - Mr. Mouse would like to point out that he thought Rachel was way prettier and more fun than Sarah (sort of the point of the movie) and I thought Kunis had the most infectious laugh I’ve heard in a long time - as are supporting players Jack McBrayer as a sexually-challenged newlywed and a blondish Paul Rudd as a dopey surf instructor. Mr. Mouse didn’t recognize Rudd at all and wouldn’t believe that was him until he saw the credits.

I found the movie to be slightly uneven in pacing, but then we watched the “extended, unrated” version so the theatrical cut may have been a little perkier. I did think that the various flashbacks to Peter and Sarah’s lives together – the good times and the bad – were quite quick and very funny.

And I loooooooved the Dracula puppet musical at the end! This incredible show-within-the show was Peter’s magnum opus: a rock opera about Dracula performed entirely by puppets. It’s awesome (of course I’m a sucker* for vampire puppets as a BtVS/Angel fan!) and is actually a musical Jason Segal was working on in real life that they managed to incorporate into the movie.

* see what I did there? I am so clever.