Saturday, January 30, 2010

Mini movie review: Jennifer's Body

I am soooo clever, following up my teenage-girl-as-werewolf flick with a teenage-girl-as-succubus flick!  If only Jennifer's Body was that clever.  No, no, don't get me wrong - I liked it.  It was funny in spots, and gory and jumpy in spots, and Megan Fox sending up her barely-legal man-eater image as a ... barely-legal man-eater was great, and I loved seeing the Veronica Mars reunion (Amanda Seyfried and Kyle Gallner - who was a supercute little Gothboy), and having Seth Cohen from The O.C. as the villain was fantastic.  But I think I expected more somehow - at the very least better dialogue coming from ol' Diablo Cody, or maybe just dialogue that fit the characters better because a couple of times Needy said something that just didn't click. 

The thing is, expecting more out of Jennifer's Body and not getting it, while not expecting anything out of Ginger Snaps and enjoying it immensely, leads me to this conclusion: if you can only choose one teenage girl monster movie, go with the indie Canadian werewolf.  Unless you're looking for some pretty hot girl on girl smoochies (just smoochies, don't get all het up), in which case go with JB.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Book review: How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier

Fourteen year old Charlie is in a bit of a spot. She goes to the greatest sports school in the world, even though she’s not quite tall enough to make the basketball streams and despises her Statistics class. She’s got a decent family, great friends, and a burgeoning crush on the doos new neighbor boy. It’s her fairy that’s the problem, you see. Instead of an excellent one like a shopping fairy or a great tennis serve fairy or even a good hair fairy, she’s got a parking fairy which does no good for a sporty girl who doesn’t drive, doesn’t like cars and is fed up with being used by people who do want good parking spots.

How to Ditch Your Fairy, the bright and bubbly YA novel by Justine Larbalestier, takes us through Charlie’s quest to ditch her fairy for a better one. It’s not as easy as you think. These personal fairies are invisible to the human eye and super-tenacious once they’ve latched onto you. She tries thwarting her fairy by walking everywhere for months at a time which weakens the little critter a bit but also brings her oodles of demerits at school for being late and disheveled. Finally, Charlie joins forces with her arch-nemesis, Fiorenze Burnham-Stone, who is also saddled with an unwanted fairy – an “all the boys like you” fairy. When the girls end up swapping fairies, it all seems great at first but ends up more and more unpleasant until they have to take drastic measures to get out of their predicament.

This is a fun YA novel, written in first-person with Charlie as narrator (and judging from the author’s blog, Charlie is in no small part a stand in for Larbalestier herself, a self-proclaimed sports nut and car-hater). Larbalestier’s voice as Charlie is great, funny and awkward, a true teenager trying to figure things out as she goes along and hilariously frustrated when her grand plans don’t quite come true. (Any BtVS devotees will recognize echoes of the Xander-centric episode, “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” (S2E16); the author is a Buffy fan and scholar herself and the storyline may be part unconscious homage.) In any event, while you may not be able to pick your fairy, you can certainly pick your friends and in the long run, that’s what How to Ditch Your Fairy is all about.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Movie review: Ginger Snaps

I'm not sure what horror movie blog I was reading that led me to Ginger Snaps (2000) but whomever it was, thank you!  What a fun little movie!  Mr. Mouse was in the other room reading the interwebs and snorting that "This movie sounds terrible!" and "Isn't that awfully loud?" but he doesn't know from horror movies. 

Set in some nowhere suburban hell in Canada, Ginger and Bridgette Fitzgerald are your typical disenchanted goth teenaged sisters, bored with their lives and disgusted by their plebian parents.  Their classmates think they are complete freaks.  To keep themselves amused, they stage complicated death scenes a la Harold from Harold and Maude.  They have made a blood pact to get out of this town or kill themselves trying by age 16; Ginger, the prettier and older sister, is about to turn 16 while plain Bridgette, a year younger, is devoted to her older sibling.  Also, there is a mysterious and vicious animal that is terrorizing the town, killing all the domestic dogs.

After some altercations at school when Ginger defends her meeker sister against the cool kids, the Fitz sisters are attacked by a werewolf.  Ginger is badly injured but heals quickly, and it is not long before other changes begin to manifest themselves.  Bridgette maintains her devotion to her older sister even when Ginger sheds her bulky black clothing, revealing a rockin' nubile body, and starts hooking up with boys, and soon joins up with the local hottie drug dealer to find a cure for lycanthropy.  But Ginger's changes are happening in sync with her menstrual cycle, not the moon, and Bridgette is soon in a race against time to try to save her sister.  Who doesn't seem to want to be saved.

Ginger Snaps is a hoot of a werewolf indie flick, brought low only in the lameness of the werewolf special effects (all practical effects, no CGI).  It's funny and yet touching, gory - there is a LOT of blood - but not overly violent.  Above all else Bridgette wants to save Ginger, not just because they are sisters but also because Bridgette is terrified of being left alone in this suburban life without her.  The actors are all unknowns (at least to me) - except for Mimi Rodgers as the girls' hilarious mother who unexpectedly stands up for her daughters only to be abandoned by the movie - and they do a decent job, with much better acting than, say, Shredder

I would absolutely recommend Ginger Snaps to classic horror fans.  It's a fun, smart, little monster flick that holds its own far better than I expected it would.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Heroes episode recap – “The Art of Deception” S4E16 (airdate 01/25/10)

We're going all short and sweet recap-wise again since it worked so well last week.  And really, it's not like I'm skipping over any compelling or eloquent dialogue.  This is Heroes, after all.  Enjoy!

Samuel is persona non grata in the wake of his swallowing the town. He’s a little cranky about it and vows to win his people back.

WHY WON’T PETER CUT HIS HAIR? I miss last season’s Peter-haircut. He wants to find Emma in the wake of a vision-nightmare (from the power he took from his mom) about her.

Sylar poses as an ex-partner of Parkman’s in order to make Janice let him into the house. When Parkman comes home from running errands, they sit down for a bit of a catch-up. (“Are you in my head again?” gasps Parkman. Sylar: “Oh, that was so two months ago.”  Okay, heh.)

Gretchen drives Claire to Benet’s apartment so the two of them can talk but her feelings are hurt when Claire doesn’t want/need her to come with her. Claire is dismayed to find that Benet is still investigating Samuel until Kate (Lauren) shows her footage of the buried town.

Parkman’s all, WTF, Sylar? Sylar wants the other man to go inside his head again and take away all his powers so he can live like a normal person. “How’m I supposed to do that?” squeals Parkman.

Peter goes to see his mother, who is upset, missing Nathan and worried about Peter. She warns him to be wary of Sylar despite the vision-dream that shows him [Sylar] saving Emma and stopping her from killing all those people.

When Claire asks to borrow Gretchen’s car, wanting to head her dad off before he confronts Samuel, Gretchen demurs at first, saying that Benet should handle it – and Claire should try to retake her normal life. Then she caves, telling her indestructible roommate to bring it back with a full gas tank.

At Benet’s apartment, he berates Lauren for letting Claire go off all-hotheaded. Then, rather hotheaded himself, he loads his gun (not a euphemism) and tells her that they’re going to the Carnival.

Here’s the thing: they’re making motions like we’re heading towards a Big Showdown with Samuel and Emma and all our good guys, but there’s no tension or building suspense. It just seems hurried and forced.  And you KNOW they're setting up Sylar to be the big hero.  Again, forced much?

Multiple-Eli overhears Claire try to convince Lydia to get Samuel to turn himself in to Benet when he comes and rats them out to his boss-man. My gawd, does Samuel ever say a line without speechifying? Claire promises that if he turns himself in, Benet won’t harm him.

Meanwhile, Benet and Lauren have high-powered sniper rifles trained on Samuel from the hillside. When Claire calls to offer Samuel’s surrender, Benet is willing to deal. Lauren heads off through the woods to meet Samuel and bring him out. As Samuel makes his goodbye speech, however, shots ring out, hitting Samuel and Claire and sending all the Carnies running for cover. My bet is on Eli, instructed by Samuel to turn the Carnies against Benet.

Parkman has difficulty removing Sylar's powers and Sylar gets pissed, threatening that if Parkman doesn’t get rid of them, he’ll use them all. On Janice and the baby.

Benet finally catches sight of Eli, shooting down into the Carnival but then the multiplier winks out of existence. Another Eli appears behind him and cracks him in the head, knocking him out.

Lauren is shot, and hides in the woods, in too much pain to get a clear shot when Eli walks by carrying Benet back to the Carnival. Lydia is gut-shot and it’s bad: she dies in Samuel’s arms, but not before she learns from his touch that he arranged all this to create a villain worse than him.

Eli drags Benet back into the Carnival and the bespectacled one comes to long enough to tell his daughter that he didn’t do this. She believes him because when the Carnies begin to turn on them, she defends her father ferociously – until Doyle takes control of her body, immobilizing her. "Take her to my trailer," growls Samuel.

To protect his family, Parkman grows a pair and goes back inside Sylar’s head again: this time he pulls a trick like his dad did a couple of seasons ago and traps Sylar in a mind loop, alone. And then he gets all Cask of Amontillado on him and walls the comatose Sylar up in the basement (which is TOTALLY icky if you think it all the way through). Until Peter comes knocking on the door, interrupting him.

Emma wanders through the Carnival, disturbed by all the carnage. She patches Samuel up. He tells her that she’ll help him create a great new world.

Peter shakes Parkman’s hand, copying his power and reading his mind (since when does Angela have that power?) and rushing downstairs to bring Sylar back since his visions tell him he needs the multi-empowered psycho to save Emma and the folks at the Carnival. Parkman warns him that if he goes into Sylar's mind, he might not come back out. Peter forges on ahead and finds himself wandering a deserted NYC.  He flickers in and out, which is how you know it's in Sylar's head.

Lauren, panicked and bleeding, makes a call: to Tracy, as Benet told her to do if anything went wrong. Apparently he did not tell her to give Tracy their location or any details of what just happened which seems inefficient.  Then she staggers to her feet.

Samuel gathers the Carnival around and makes a speech: "The outside world has proven once again that people like us will never be accepted ... [i]t’s time we showed the world what we truly are."

See? Practically painless!

Previously on Heroes / next time on Heroes

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Graphic novel review: Black Hole by Charles Burns

This was another recommendation by Eli from work. But while I thought Stiff was wonderful, Black Hole sort of left me with an icky feeling.

Set in Seattle in the mid-1970s, Black Hole, the 2005 graphic novel by Charles Burns, follows a group of teenagers as they are plagued not only by the horrors of high school but also by a sexually transmitted disease that transforms its victims into grotesque monsters. They don’t try to protect themselves from this debilitating disease, nor do they fight against it or try to discover its source or a cure. They simply contract it and try to find a way to deal with it while withdrawing from their families and healthy friends.

If Black Hole sounds bleak, that’s because it is. Unrelieved by much humor, drawn in stark black and white – the artwork is kind of cool and looks like woodcuts – this isn’t a happy story. And it isn’t much of a story either: if you’ve read book reviews by me before, you know that I prefer books that are heavy on plot, where the story goes somewhere, does something, has a beginning and a middle and an end. In this hefty graphic novel (there were no page numbers in the hardcover version I read, but the book is well over an inch thick), the story just stops, leaving one of the main characters floating in a dark sea under a dark sky, not knowing what will happen next.

Perhaps I’ve missed the point of the book. Maybe it’s more about feeling alienated in high school by whatever means possible. But that’s what Buffy was about, with the horrors of teenagerdom being represented by actual monsters, and I figured all that out. I think I just didn’t like this one.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Book review: The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

This book review comes in honor of my story-telling aunt Terry, who wanted to know what I thought about The Book of Lost Things by Irish author John Connolly. (It is also thanks to her that I even read this book, as I’d never heard of it.) What did I think? Nutshell: AWESOME.

The Book of Lost Things tells the story of the boy David who, once upon a time, had his world collapse around him. His beloved mother withered, sickened and died, and his father – a good man, but lonely – remarried shortly thereafter. David, feeling angry and sorry for himself, retreats to his books of fairytales. When he finds himself thrust into a different world, populated by twisted variations on the old tales, he is not even that surprised – a child accepting this strange reality where an adult would have curled into the fetal position and screamed.

Instead, David accepts a quest. He meets the Woodsman (not tin, but rather grim) who tells him that this land is ruled by a dying king whose magic book, the titular Book of Lost Things, may be able to show the boy the way back home. David sets off to see the king, suffering horrific adventures along the way: an assembling army of wolves, led by a werewolf who would be king, trolls, harpies, a Beast like something out of Stephen King’s imagination. More disturbingly, David is being followed by the Crooked Man (by the old stories, if you can learn his name he’ll leave you alone, but David doesn’t know this nasty creature’s name) who has nefarious plans for the boy.

It isn’t all terror and grue, however. David meets stalwart companions as well: the Woodsman, who feeds him, clothes him and sets him on his path; seven communist dwarves; and the soldier Roland and his trusty steed, Scylla, in whose company David learns the true meaning of loyalty, courage and love. In the company of these good men, the boy takes steps to become a man, something that will help him in his fight against the crooked man.

What is so cool about The Book of Lost Things is that it’s not just a fantasy quest story; it’s also an homage to and re-telling of the old stories – the dark, unabridged fairy tales before Disney got its mitts on ‘em. In his real world, David clung to the fairy tales because his mother loved the stories and believed in their power to transform:
Once someone started to read them, they could begin to change. They could take root in the imagination, and transform the reader. Stories wanted to be read.
And in his real world, classic fairy tale tropes abound: the beautiful beloved parent dies; the decent widowed parent remarries wicked stepmother; the family goes to live in a big, mysterious house; there is the introduction of new stepsiblings and the subsequent peripheralizing of main character.

Once David makes the transition to the story-world, he finds that here, all the things he read about are real and true, but different. His new friends tell him stories, tales that seem familiar at first: how Red Riding Hood’s relationship with the Big Bad Wolf was in fact rather more complicated; how Hansel was a putz; how the Prince and the Swineherd is a story of vengeance and could have been of forgiveness; what Snow White and Sleeping Beauty are really like. There are very few happy endings in this world, it seems. As the seven dwarves tell David:
"They ate [Goldilocks] … That’s what ‘ran away and was never seen again’ means in these parts. It means ‘eaten.’” “Um, and what about ‘happily ever after? … What does that mean?” “Eaten quickly.”
My library classifies The Book of Lost Things as “fantasy” fiction, and the book jacket says it is a novel “for adults.” While there are some adult themes and quite a bit of violence – although certainly no more so than in the Grimms’ original, unsanitized fairy tales* – this is about on the level of the later Harry Potter books, so mature young adults could enjoy it. The prose reads like a fairy tale, with simple sentences and clear phrasing; the sentences have a rhythm to them that would lend themselves nicely to reading aloud. This story wants to be read. People should want to read it.

* I have a volume of the unabridged Grimms' fairy tales, and they are bloody, bloody stories.  When I get my stuff out of storage, I should probably read them again.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

All of my favorite things

My dear friend Blonde Ambition knows me too well.  She sent me a Christmas present (even tho' she shouldn't have because we were cutting back and not sending Christmas presents this year) that combined all of my favorite things:  chocolate, beer and bacon.  Let me repeat that for you: chocolate and beer and bacon, all together.

From the charming chocolatier, Socola Chocolates (just look at their website without drooling, I dare you), came a gorgeous box of twelve truffles entitled the Beer and Bacon collection: six Guinness-infused dark chocolate tidbits, and six "Notorious H.O.G." nibbles.  The bacon truffles were also dark chocolate, embedded with bits of applewood-smoked bacon and garnished with black Hawaiian sea salt.  The Guinness truffles were just ravishing, smooth and creamy with just a bit of bitterness from the beer.  The bacon truffles had the best mouth-feel when allowed to melt whole in your mouth - as opposed to taking a bite out of the candy - as that way the little bacon bits didn't get lost.  The Hawaiian sea salt is a miraculous addition - an excellent counterpoint to the richness of the chocolate.

I opened the box a couple of days before Christmas and finished the last truffle last night, taking my time to savor each individual morsel.  These are really good chocolates.  And Socola (which uses the most adorable mascot: Harriet the flying alpaca!) has a whole bunch of other truffle varieties that sound just as amazing: Calmyrna fig, Earl Grey tea, burnt caramel, guava, Vietnamese espresso, jasmine tea, green tea, dark chocolate champagne ... now I'm drooling!

The company is run by two sisters, Wendy and Susan Lieu, and can be bought in person in several locations in San Francisco/Oakland.  Or order some online - I promise you won't regret it.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Heroes episode recap – “Pass/Fail” S4E15 (airdate 01/18/10)

Let’s try an experiment, shall we? I think we shall, partly because I’m feeling a little under the weather (just a head cold coming on, nothing horrific) and partly because no one is reading these stupid Heroes recaps anymore … not because my recaps are stupid but because Heroes is. So we’re going to go all pared-down this time as I attempt to distill each scene to its absolute essence. Obviously, if there are a lot of Mohinder scenes, I’ll just be screaming “Aaaaarrrrrggggghhhh!!!!!!!”

Gretchen would be more attractive without that severe middle part. Claire really doesn’t want to talk about the Carnies or Nathan’s death, although she appreciates (sort of) Gretchen’s support. Also: Sylar is on campus.

Mohinder goes off to do something “heroic” (where I hope that “heroic” means “and is never heard or seen from again”) and Hiro faints, coming to his “senses” in the middle of a wonky trial in Charlie’s diner. It’s the World vs. Hiro Nakamura, where his father is the judge and Adam/Kensei is the blond and snarky prosecutor. It’s quite possible that everyone at the trial is dead, which makes me wish that Mohinder had gone there.

Vanessa is still cranky about Samuel having kidnapped her, despite his attempts to be charming.

Now, I’m super-happy to see Adam again but it pisses me off that we’re spending time on this dream world bullshit. Could we possibly move this damn show forward? No? Anyway, Hiro is on trial for bending space and time and stuff and crimes against nature or something. Whatever.

Sylar wants Claire to help him get his mojo back. She’s still angry about Nathan, if you can imagine that. However, Sylar has kidnapped Gretchen to encourage Claire to play along. If Claire doesn’t stop making that frowny face so much, she’s going to get wrinkles.

Sylar wants to figure out how he and Claire turned out so differently when they have so much in common: being adopted and abandoned; being raised by parents who didn’t understand them; having adoptive fathers who were killers; currently being indestructible. Claire’s like: you’re a damn psychopath. So Sylar thinks he’ll try pulling the answers out of her head using Lydia’s technique of touch (rather than slice) and he kisses Claire. It’s yucky.

Samuel starts to melt Vanessa’s frosty heart by buying her a strawberry milkshake. It’s a yummy looking shake, for sure.

Diner dream trial: Sylar is going to be the prosecution’s star witness.

Sylar tells Claire that she uses her power to build walls around herself, and she might end up being alone all her life, just like him. There’s quite a bit of “gosh, aren’t you closeted” too. So Claire stabs him in the eye with a pencil she had up her sleeve and runs off to rescue Gretchen. And because this show is SO LAME, Sylar writhing on the floor, screaming, with a pencil sticking out of his eye is actually FUNNY.

Diner dream trial: Sylar testifies that Hiro told him he could kill anyone he wanted if he spared Charlie. He lists a whole bunch of them, including Atomic Ted. Aw – I miss Atomic Ted. The prosecution rests.

Samuel has worn Vanessa down: they reminisce about the cottage they imagined together as children. Then he takes her to the gorgeous meadow he had his Heroes grow where he has … built the dream cottage. She says this is a fantasy, his fantasy, and while it’s very beautiful, she can’t live here with him. Samuel is crushed and very upset. This won’t end well, I suspect.

Claire finds Gretchen tied up but unharmed in their room. Then the lights fizzle out and all the windows implode. At this point, doesn’t Gretchen really wish she’d never met Claire? I mean, really?

The girls hide in a utility closet (like, SUBTLE, writers) and Claire stutters her way through apologizing for shutting herself off, and maybe the way for Sylar to regain his humanity is to lose all his powers. So then Gretchen morphs back into Sylar who pretty much says thanks for the insight and takes off. Claire finds the real Gretchen, alive and well, in the student center, and they hold hands, deciding to give being together a shot. This is so forced.

Diner dream trial: Hiro takes the stand in his own defense, stating that when he got powers, he vowed to only ever use them for good. Despite this, his father finds him guilty. And back at the hospital, in the real world, Hiro’s heart is failing.

After the commercial, another dream sequence: Hiro and Adam fight with samurai swords as Hiro fights for his life on the hospital table. Adam eventually gets a sword in the gut and then the sound cuts out on my stupid Comcast cable. But still, Hiro’s mom shows up to heal him, and then he recovers in real life.

Sad Samuel goes back for another milkshake and yells at the poor waitress. I don’t know what he’s saying but he gets angrier and angrier and finally swallows the whole town. The Carnies watch from a distance and are fearful.

Montage of Claire and Gretchen, Ando and Hiro … and then Sylar has shown up on Parkman’s doorstep to chat up Parkman’s wife. Don’t know why – still can’t hear anything – not sure I actually care.

There.  I captured everything pertinent and it was much less painful for all involved.  Especially since Mohinder left in the first scene and never came back.
Previously on Heroes / next time on Heroes

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Movie review: Funny People

In Funny People, Adam Sandler plays against type (ha ha, just kidding), as George Simmons, a 40-something former standup comedian who has hit it really big with a string of dumb comedies but has lost touch with family and friends while doing so. When he develops a life-threatening blood disease, he is desperate to recapture his life, going back to the small comedy clubs where he got his start. But his current standup is very dark and not that funny, so he hires struggling young comic Ira Wright (Seth Rogen, not stretching very much here either) to write some new material for him and also to be his personal assistant. George gets some funny new jokes; Ira gets some life experiences hitherto unavailable to him; and both men get to be friends, sort of. Until George decides to reconnect with Laura, the one girl who got away, the one he’s always been in love with. The problem is, Laura (Leslie Mann) is married with two children and Ira has issues with this, even if George and Laura don’t seem to mind.

Is Funny People meant to be an ironic title? Because most of the main characters in here aren’t that funny. Ira isn’t very funny until he learns from George; George isn’t funny because his movies are exponentially stupid and his post-illness standup is too morbid; Laura isn’t funny even though she thinks she is. The supporting cast is actually stronger than the leads: Jason Schwartzman is fantastic as a vain sitcom actor, banging chicks left and right because he’s a little bit famous and “looks like Jackson Brown.” Eric Bana, as Laura’s Australian husband, is hilarious: I loved getting to hear his actual accent, which I’d never heard before, as well as watching him play broad and over the top as opposed to his smoldering Hollywood drama roles. Aubrey Plaza, from Parks and Recreation, is funny too, understated as a plain-Jane, Janeane Garofalo-esque standup comic on whom Ira has a crush. Also funny: the video clips of a young Adam Sandler, taped from his days as Judd Apatow’s roommate in real life.

But in general, Funny People is uneven, fully predictable and way too long at 146 minutes. The funny bits would be funnier if they weren’t buried under the length of the movie. Mr. Mouse started out watching with me but got restless several time, getting up to make dinner and then coming back, getting up to check his emails and then coming back again; he thought Knocked Up was too long and Funny People is seven minutes longer still.

Also: Judd Apatow needs to stop putting his daughters in his movies. They’re cute, Judd, but we’re over it. Run them through in a try-to-find-them Hitchcock-esque cameo if you must, but enough’s enough.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Book review: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

It just occurred to me that there’s been an awful lot of dead people here on FMS lately. I mean, I guess that’s always been the case what with the BtVS and the zombies and the vampires and the True Blood (when is S2 coming out on DVD???!!!???) and the Sandman comics and the slasher movies. But also I just gave up on Bringing Out the Dead by Joe Connolly because I couldn’t get into it (ambulance driver in Hell’s Kitchen who’s haunted by those he didn’t save). And I just devoured Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach – which is nonfiction and also about dead people. Mr. Mouse thinks I have a problem.

That may be so, but what is definitely so is that Stiff is a very excellent book. Chapter by chapter the author explores all that the human dead have gone through in the last 2,000 or so years, what they’ve given to the living and what the living have taken from them. From surgeons practicing their technique on cadavers to how body snatching supported the birth of human dissection; from how knowledge of the decay of human remains helps law enforcement solve murders to the role cadavers play in studying impact tolerance for car manufacturers and sports medicine; from medicinal cannibalism and reanimation of body parts to embalming and burial vs. cremation vs. composting, Roach leaves no headstone unturned.

But she does so wonderfully, in articulate, funny and sensitive words, not shying away from the gruesome side of her subject. She states baldly that many people whom she met during the course of writing this book thought she was a ghoul, but also says that many of the people she interviewed, those who work with the dead on a daily basis, did so reluctantly, worried that those of us reading the book would think them ghouls as well. Of utmost importance to her was to maintain the dignity of the cadavers. While Roach uses humor to keep the morbidity of her subject from becoming overwhelming (“The way I see it, being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship. Most of your time is spent lying on your back. The brain has shut down. The flesh begins to soften. Nothing much new happens and nothing is expected of you.”), she is matter-of-factly respectful.

This book is not about dying and the accompanying pain and sadness for the dying person and their loved ones; there is no laughing at that here. But as we follow the bodies around, observing them in all their different situations, we are able to meet these people “long forgotten for their contributions while alive, but immortalized in the pages of books and journals” and realize there’s far more to being dead than just lying there.

Thanks very much to Eli from work for suggesting this book to me!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Let’s start at the very beginning: The Dresden Files

It’s a very good place to start. When you read this series by Jim Butcher, you should start with Storm Front and Fool Moon … and somebody cleverer than I could make one more line scan like that song from The Sound of Music, but I’m not even going to try.

As I mentioned in a recent review, where I inadvertently read book #7 of the series before reading any of the others, the Dresden Files combines fantasy, horror and noir, blending it all together with a lovely dry sense of humor – just my kind of books. The narrator is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden and he is a wizard, and a sort of private eye of the occult. He is chivalrous to a fault, which often gets him into hot water with his friend, policewoman Karrin Murphy; he drives an original flavor VW Bug because wizards mess up technology and the Bug is a pretty basic machine; he’s got a huge cat named Mister and a smartass spirit in a skull named Bob.

In Storm Front Murphy asks Dresden to consult on a gruesome double murder in which a man and a woman were killed by black magic, their hearts ripped out of their chests. This is against the rules, both for human laws and supernatural laws, and as Harry is drawn in further, he must dance around both the Chicago police and the White Council’s peacekeepers. Throw in the Mob, a toad demon, some spider monsters and a love potion gone badly awry, and you have the start to a greatly entertaining series.

As you might imagine, Fool Moon is about werewolves. Murphy needs Dresden’s help again, this time on a grisly full-moon murder where forensics turns up strange dog-like paw prints and strange dog-like fang marks. It just so happens that this is only the latest body in a string of them, and Murphy is fighting for her reputation and her job, trying to solve the case before the FBI does. When Dresden starts looking into things, he has to come up to speed on theriomorphs (humans who shapeshift into animals) in a hurry. Not only are there several different kinds of werewolves - the classic flavor: a person who uses a spell to change themselves into a wolf, but retains all of their humanity; hexenwulfen: by which you get a magical token from a demon or a sorcerer that when worn enables you to shapeshift at will; lycanthropes: beserkers, basically, whose bodies don’t change into wolves but their psyches do; and loup-garou: the real monsters, cursed by someone else and tied to the changes in the moon – but there are some of each kind (plus something extra) roaming around Chicago. Things get busy – and bloody – for Harry and Murphy in a hurry.

I liked Storm Front but I really liked Fool Moon. Perhaps it was because Butcher was a little more comfortable with his characters, perhaps because the stakes were raised in the Dresden universe, or maybe just because I’ve got a soft spot for werewolves, but I thought book #2 really hit its mark. It’s fast-moving and full of story, funny and bloody, and I’m already looking forward to #3.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Heroes episode recap – “Close to You” S4E14 (airdate 01/11/10)

You know, I've pretty much given up on Television Without Pity because they've lost a LOT of their snark ever since Bravo bought them.  (Except for Couch Baron - I think he's still a great recapper.)  So I've switched to the A.V. Club for my own recapping/show beat-down fixes - check 'em out if you haven't yet.

Kate (Lauren – whatever) and Benet are continuing to try to track down Samuel via Benet’s computer for, oh, about six hours now. Kate suggests that they give Claire a call, seeing how she’s got a compass – Benet’s compass – and that might save them some time. Benet snaps that he’s not calling Claire: she needs space. So Kate immediately gets a “hit” on one Vanessa Wheeler, the girl whose family owned the estate that Samuel grew up on. When Benet calls, Vanessa doesn’t want to talk to him so he decides he must go to California to confront her. By the way, Vanessa is Ellen Tigh from BSG. The final Cylon - yay! Maybe she can save this show! But probably not.

Carnival. Samuel is obsessively drawing pictures of Vanessa as she’s the girl who got away. Lydia notices the drawings and says that Vanessa is beautiful. Samuel says that Lydia will meet her soon – it’s about time that he brought her here. Troubled by Samuel’s monomania, Lydia wonders if she can reach out to the one man who could save their Carnival family, the one man who even Samuel says could be the next Joseph. She closes her eyes and concentrates.

Far away in NYC, Peter gasps himself awake and clutches his arm: his compass tattoo is spinning.  Since when does Lydia have that power?  Now the writers are just getting desperate.

L.A., I guess. Parkman pours his newly-haircutted wife a cup of coffee. He’s being Stay At Home Dad these days, instead of chasing super villains, and is making ratatouille for dinner. Wife, not sure that her former policeman husband is living up to his full potential, mentions that her brother might have a job for him. Parkman says he’s not interested and shoos her out, telling her to go make some money. As he closes the door behind her, Benet is there, snarking about the inefficacy of Parkman’s security system. He is there looking for Parkman’s help to track down Samuel: “He’s trying to recruit my daughter! Today it’s Claire, tomorrow it could be your son.”

Florida. Ando and Hiro’s plan is to get Hiro committed to the asylum where Hiro stashed Mohinder. As the orderly leads Hiro off to his room, Ando zaps the door’s control panel with his red electricity and sneaks down the hall, looking in the window of the room Hiro had pointed out. Mohinder is slumped inside, bound up in a straitjacket. No - leave him there!

L.A. Benet has found Vanessa after her rehearsal with the L.A. Symphony Orchestra (she’s a cello player, of course). She is not happy to see him and refuses to talk so Parkman pushes the thought into her head that they’re trustworthy fellows. So poor Vanessa literally turns on her heel and says why, yes, she is worried about Samuel and would very much like to talk to them about him.

NYC. Peter leaves a message on Benet’s voicemail about his compass tattoo freaking out which is thus is freaking him out in turn. Then he hears supernatural cello music and is drawn straight to her apartment. She throws open the door, thrilled that her calling him that way worked so well. Peter looks closely at her cello, noticing the compass on its back. He shows her the matching compass tattoo still spinning on his arm: “I woke up this morning with this.” But didn’t that tattoo show up a while ago? I’m confused but really don’t care that much. It’s so exciting now that Peter gets to be the messiah again – just Lydia’s Carnival Messiah, really, but still, it’s a messiah.

L.A. Vanessa tells Benet and Parkman that she and Samuel were close as children, but when Samuel’s family moved away, she moved on. When Samuel showed up again during her college years, they had a short “rock and roll” romance. Now he has been showing up more and more often, however, obsessive-like, just short of stalking. Benet asks Vanessa if she would mind giving her old boyfriend a call and she takes the phone.

NYC. Back now at Peter’s apartment, for some reason, Emma shows Peter the compass that Samuel gave her and he worries that the last time he saw a compass like that (unlike the one on his arm?), a friend (Benet) got stabbed. They are interrupted when Angela lets herself in, trilling about lunch. Ah – that’s why they had to go to Peter’s apartment – so there’d be a reason for Peter’s mother to walk in. Angela sees Emma and glares at her fiercely: “Peter, how do you know this woman?” Peter stammers that Emma is his friend but Emma notices the awkward and hurriedly lets herself out. Peter’s like: WTF, Mom? And Angela now glares at him.

Florida. Ando switches Mohinder’s meds for aspirin and then has to swallow Mohinder’s meds in order to get away with the bait and switch. Whatever.  I still don't know what they need Mohinder for.

L.A. Parkman and Benet stake out Vanessa’s place but when Samuel shows up, he’s brought Multiple Eli with him to distract the boys long enough for him to stash Vanessa somewhere else. When Benet catches up to him (after efficiently tasing the Elis), Samuel warns him to stay away from his woman and then uses his earth-moving power to rip up a huge rift in the pavement, bringing noxious dirt and gases out of the ground. Benet coughs and wipes his eyes - Samuel has gotten away. After the commercial, Parkman picks Benet up and they follow Vanessa via tracking device they planted on her.

NYC. Angela tells Peter that he can’t save Emma: she had a vision dream that Emma was going to help kill thousands of people – something to do with her cello – but Peter was unable to save her. Frustrated, he grabs his mom’s hand and steals her power, insisting that he has to know what she saw. She shakes her head and leaves.

Florida. Hiro peeks through the window on Mohinder’s cell and encourages him to flex his super-strength. He does so, now that the meds are out of his system, snapping the straps of the straitjacket and then busting down the door. He is slightly concerned that Hiro can only speak in sci-fi geek-talk, and is slightly more concerned to find Ando is doped to the gills on meds he swallowed and giggling on the floor. The three goobers make a break for it. Ugh.

Outside L.A. Benet and Parkman have tracked Vanessa to a vacant lot but she’s gone, vanished into the Carnival that used to just be there. Parkman wants to borrow Claire’s compass but Benet refuses. Parkman accuses him of burning bridges but Benet is adamant: as much as he wants to find the Carnival, he will do it without bothering his daughter.

Back at Parkman’s house, Benet is furious when Parkman wants to start making his damn ratatouille instead of helping find the kidnapped Vanessa. Parkman points out that some days you can’t save the whole world – some days you can only put your own house in order - and tells Benet to go home. About six different expressions cascade over Benet’s face (I heart Jack Coleman!) and he leaves.

NYC. Peter is having one of Angela’s visions/nightmares: Emma plays her evil cello in the House of Mirrors while people scream. Then Sylar is there, promising Emma that he is there to save her. Peter wakes up with a gasp. Shortly thereafter, he barges into Emma’s apartment and smashes her cello. Emma: WTF?!!! Peter insists that Samuel is going to try to make her do something bad with the cello but she won’t listen to any of it and throws him out of her apartment, falling to her knees beside her ruined instrument.

Florida. The three run through a swamp, men with dogs chasing them. When Mohinder gets snippy about Hiro’s confused geek-speak, Ando sticks up for his friend, telling the Indian that Hiro, who is dying, spent some of his last few days to rescue Mohinder. Then Mohinder has the brainstorm that perhaps Ando could electroshock Hiro with his red electricity and unscramble his brains. Ando does so and Hiro immediately unscrambles, happily teleporting all three of them out of there just ahead of the baying dogs. Well, that was awfully easy. Too bad they needed stupid Mohinder to figure it out.

Arlington. Benet knocks on Claire’s dorm room door. (The people on this show sure do move back and forth across the country awfully easily – even those who can’t teleport.) He says that he knows that she’s mad at him and he’s going to just let her continue to be mad without trying to talk her out of it, but he wants to make sure he hasn’t irreparably damaged his relationship with her. Awwww. Claire’s like um, okay, but can we talk later because I’m late for something. Benet backs away and lets her go. He has sad face.

L.A. Parkman is not listening to his stupid cheating wife prattle on about her stupid day since he is mired down in thinking that he is a coward. She tells him that he is needed here, in this family. She tells him there is nothing “cuyowedly” about being with his family and hugs him. Parkman looks unimpressed. Seriously: that was the most f’ed up way to say “cowardly” I’ve ever heard. Is American English not her first language?

Carnival. Vanessa is Mightily Upset about having been kidnapped. Samuel insists that he’s protecting her, keeping her safe from Benet but being held here against her will is not softening her up to his point of view. When she stands up he grabs her, telling her that he has something magical and beautiful to show her and if she’s still unhappy after seeing it, he’ll take her right back home. (I am very unused to seeing Ellen Tigh afraid of things.)

Washington, D.C. Benet is having a lonely beer (aw) when someone knocks on his door. It’s Kate. Is the actress pregnant? There’s one long shot when she turns and it looks like she’s got a big ol’ belly. They smooch – eeuuw – but luckily it’s interrupted when the Three Doofuses teleport into Benet’s apartment, still wearing their Florida asylum garb. “Hi, fellas!” smiles Benet, and he’s not even too upset to see them.

Previously on Heroes / next time on Heroes

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Vertigo: not as good as Rear Window

At least according to this humble Mouse.  Last summer I surprised myself by really enjoying Rear Window - I'm generally not a James Stewart fan, finding him too mush-mouthed and limp to be an effective leading man (would rather have a tooth pulled than watch It's a Wonderful Life, frankly), but he pulled it off for me in RW and his chemistry with Grace Kelly was lovely, despite his being 20+ years older than she.

In Vertigo, however, made just four years after Rear Window, Stewart is not just a mushy-tongued fellow, he's creepily obsessive in his infatuation with Kim Novak's character and the 25 year age gap here seems conspicuous (and also creepy - I felt no sympathy for him whatsoever).  Vertigo's characters were not drawn so deeply as in Rear Window - poor Barbara Bel Geddes gets abandoned with no real finish to her little storyline - and I did not find the mystery very exciting or suspenseful.

So what am I missing here?  These are supposed to be two of Hitchcock's masterpieces and yet I felt one fell far short of the other.  What do you guys think?  How do these two movies stack up for you?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

I done read some books here

Despite my overweening excitement for the return of Heroes (she said in her most sarcastic voice), I’ve been reading quite a bit during the holiday hiatus. I don’t really have enough to say to merit separate reviews for each of the following, but here are the most recent items in a nutshell.

The Library kindly delivered up Volumes III, IV and V of The Sandman to me and I plowed through them voraciously. Volume III, Dream Country, is a standalone set of stories wherein Dream features tangentially instead of as the starring role. I liked it the least of the three, partly because of my personal preference for plot-plot-plot and these are just vignettes to flesh out the Endless’s backstories, partly because I had no idea whom the unnamed and rather grotesque character in “Fa├žade” was – who, I learned from the Introduction, is an old comic book character –and thus didn’t really care about her, and partly because I really hated the captivity and abuse of the muse in the first story, “Calliope.” One very interesting thing about Volume III, however, is that Gaiman allowed his script for “Calliope” to be reprinted: he writes his comics like a movie, so the artist knows the images he’s going for; as you might imagine, Gaiman has very specific ideas and instructions on what should be happening in his stories.

Season of Mists is Volume IV in which, while at a family reunion of sorts, Dream is guilted into attempting to rescue his former lover, Nada, whom he had condemned to Hell some 10,000 or so years ago. When he gets to Hell, he discovers that Lucifer has shut things down, sending all Hell’s denizens away and handing the key to the locked gates over to Morpheus. Dream, of course, really does not want to be in charge of Hell, and soon has many offers to take it off his hands. Gaiman pulls in characters from all kinds of world myth, which I found great fun, while subtly insisting that no matter what pantheon you believe in, dreams rule us all.

Volume V is subtitled A Game of You and rejoins a character from The Doll’s House (Vol. II): Barbie, formerly married to Ken and now living in NYC. Barbie’s waking life is populated by colorful folks - a drag queen, a punk lesbian couple, a witch and the still-talking face of a dead guy – who end up attempting to rescue her when she is sucked wholesale into her dream life, where she is a Princess attempting to save her Land from the evil Cuckoo with the help of her talking animal friends. Here we see what happens when it is time for a dream world to end.

The non-Sandman book I read was A Lion Among Men by Gregory Maguire. This is the third book in the Wicked Years series, which began with Wicked, about the Land of Oz’s misunderstood Wicked Witch of the West, which I know I read, and continued with Son of a Witch, which I’m fairly certain I haven’t read. (I have read some of Maguire’s other tomes, like Mirror Mirror which, while a revisit of a fairy tale, is not Oz-ish.) This book, as the title suggests, follows the life of the Cowardly Lion. He did not spring up fully formed when Dorothy skipped by on the Yellow Brick Road but instead had a long and trying life: abandoned as a cub, snubbed by other Talking Animals, and cultivating a habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time in his dealings with the people of Oz. This is his story, many layered and interweaving with all of the well-known citizens of Oz. However, I think I’m going to stop reading Maguire’s stuff because I always feel just a little bit left out. I am familiar with all the Oz stories – including the ones outside of the iconic movie as I read through my childhood library’s entire catalog of Frank L. Baum Oz books – but Maguire seems smug, like I’m not smart enough to be in on the joke. Maybe I’ll just go read the Baum books again when I get a hankering for over the rainbow.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Heroes episode recap – “Upon This Rock/Let It Bleed” S4E12 and 13 (airdate 01/04/10)

Mr. Mouse wants to know why I keep watching this show when all I do is complain about it and pick it apart.  I'm not really sure.  I keep hoping that it will get better even tho' there's no way it will, I guess.  Plus I don't want to be a quitter.  But seriously, I am being tested here, especially with the two-hour "events."

Upon This Rock. Claire walks around the carnival (picking up trash, actually) in slow motion while Multiplicity-Eli gives her the stink eye. Lydia checks in on her and sends the younger girl to Samuel’s trailer bearing breakfast. At the trailer, Samuel is going through the files Eli stole from Benet. He scrambles a little when Claire lets herself in, trying to hide the files from her. When she notes that those look like Primatech paper boxes, Samuel admits that he and Benet share more history than she knows .. but he’s not interested in revisiting the past – he’s a future kind of guy. He tells her that he’s going into the city to select someone else who will help them build their new homeland. They part friendly enough but Claire’s got a look in her eye like she might be investigating Samuel’s trailer later.

Tokyo. Hiro pops into a street market and starts babbling about being from the Starship Enterprise. The soba noodle vendor is not amused. When Hiro hears a woman shrieking that she’s being mugged, he grabs a cleaver from the food stall and chases off the mugger. Unfortunately for all of us, he starts segueing from sci fi classic to another – Star Trek, Star Wars, BSG … ugh. Remember back in S1 when we caught a glimpse of cool badass Hiro from the future? Well, it’s in the future now – when does he stop being such a tool?

Luckily we cut to a flash back where a teenaged Joseph catches a teenaged Samuel trying to move a big old boulder with his newly awakened earth power, albeit with little success. They argue over a girl that Samuel has crush on too, and Joseph sends his younger brother back to work at the carnival. Flash to now and adult Samuel muttering, “Just you wait, brother.”

At lunch, Claire overhears Lydia and her teenaged daughter arguing and chuckles, reminiscing about her own teenaged arguments with her own mom, and how things might have been different if she hadn’t been with a bunch of normals. Lydia notes that Samuel has become obsessed with collecting Heroes these days. A short while later, Claire tries to take a peek in Samuel’s trailer but Eli, many of him, intercepts her and sends her on her way.

Tokyo. The police have called Ando to come get Hiro, having found his business card in Hiro’s pocket. Ando comes down to bail his buddy out and is dismayed to learn that Hiro is completely off his nut, still quoting sci fi movies nonstop.

NYC, hospital. Oh, great. Emma (deaf doctor, remember her?) is dismayed to receive a letter from the medical board saying that her application to renew her license was turned down, or something. She goes home and is about to play her cello o’ sadness when Samuel knocks on her door. He says that he has a gift like she does; when she tries to close the door on him, he says that he’s the one who sent her the cello and shows her his compass tattoo. Stunned, she looks over at the cello – which has the same compass painted on its back.

Tokyo. Ah yes, Hiro’s also quoting Sherlock Holmes and possibly Batman comics. But wait – Ando is smarter than me, deducing that Hiro’s brains are kind of scrambled and he’s trying to actually communicate real ideas but is getting the terminology mixed up. It’s still annoying tho’.

NYC. Emma lets Samuel in, asking why he sent her the cello. Samuel says they’re all connected, which of course doesn’t really answer the question. He does say that the cello used to belong to someone else, someone he was close to – and then he lost her. Emma tells him that the last time she played it, the wall cracked. He says it was her fear that did that, and he can help her figure out how to control her gift. Then he pulls out a Primatech sheet with a man’s picture on it. He needs her help to find this man who apparently lives in Central Park, homeless in part because he freaked out when his power manifested.

Carnival. Claire is getting squicked out because Eli won’t stop staring at her. She bolts into the House of Mirrors; one Eli follows her in; the others guard the exits. When he lunges at her reflection, she brains him with a metal stool, knocking him unconscious. Then she runs to Samuel’s trailer and paws through the files there. Until Doyle the Puppetmaster takes control of her body, marching her out of the trailer and pinning her up against the wall. “What do you think you’re doing, Barbie?” he growls menacingly. I knew he couldn’t be completely reformed! After the commercial, Doyle accuses her of being a spy for her father. When she says that Samuel is collecting people for some nefarious purpose, Doyle snarls that he’s not going to let her ruin it for everyone.

Oh. My. Frickin’. Word. Do you mind if I just skip over this “Ando figures out WTF Hiro is trying to tell him” bit and just bottom-line it? Oh no: they’re going to a mental hospital in Florida - to rescue Mohinder. That last part isn’t spelled out but who else is in a mental hospital these days?

NYC, Central Park. Samuel says that when Emma plays music, her emotions merge with the music and can draw people in. He asks her to play while concentrating on that photo of that man, and bring this guy to her. As she plays, people start to gather around, including a sketchy looking homeless type who is Samuel’s target. This guy has power over plants and as he listens to the music, the winter tree he’s leaning on bursts into bloom. Emma and Samuel smile. I wonder why Samuel wants a guy with a superpowered green thumb.

Back at the hospital where Emma and Samuel have brought Plant Guy to get patched up. Samuel thanks her, telling her that she’s always welcome at the carnival and handing her a compass. After she leaves, Plant Guy tells Samuel that he always thought he was alone because he was different; Samuel assures him that he’s not alone but he is, indeed, special. As they walk out, the television blares that the remains of Senator Nathan Petrelli have been found in a plane crash.

Carnival. Doyle tells Claire that the two Sullivan brothers changed his life, saved it. Claire protests, saying Doyle knows her – she doesn’t want to hurt anyone, but Samuel is acting suspicious. Convinced, Doyle lets her go and tells her to go see Lydia who knows what’s going on. Lydia tells Claire that Joseph, not Samuel, was the real father of this Carnival. Claire puts two and two together – that Samuel killed his brother – and Lydia murmurs that she’s scared, that Samuel is out of control. Claire replies that she likes this place and the only thing wrong with it is Samuel. Lydia asks her to help find someone who can stop him but as Claire steps out of her tent, Eli grabs her.

When he finally get back at the Carnival, Samuel is annoyed that Eli has kept Claire there against her will. She says she’ll leave but first she wants to hear from Samuel what happened to Joseph. He says that he lost control when he found out that Joseph had ratted them out to Danko. “So murder was the answer?” she says, incredulously. Then she asks his plans are out in the valley. So he takes her out there, where “Ian,” Plant Guy, is at work. When Ian says he needs water, Samuel brings some up out of the ground. Even Claire has to admit that’s cool. Then Ian sinks his fingers into the muddy soil and grass and flowers start to grow. As Claire watches, unable to keep the smile off her face, the valley explodes into verdant greenness. “This is why I need a bigger family,” says Samuel, “to build the future.” Claire says that she’s going to go back to her family and Samuel reminds her that she is still always welcome here. As she heads out, she checks her voicemail: there’s one from Peter, who says they have a lot to talk about.

Cut to Nathan’s funeral. OMIGOD PETER CUT YOUR DAMN BANGS ALREADY. Angela is looking haggard; a concerned Benet is relieved to see Claire pull up in a cab. She sort of blows off her family and stands by herself. Peter gives the eulogy. Everyone looks sad.

Let It Bleed. 86 hours ago, outside of NYC. Benet and Peter meet, and Peter says he wants to see “him.” Benet tells him, “I can handle this, Peter, you don’t have to have any part of this.” “I do,” says Peter. By the way, the body in Benet’s trunk is Nathan’s real body, complete with stitches on his throat from where Sylar cut it. Later, Peter is practically unresponsive at the wake.

Carnival. Samuel is interrupted at some magic inking when Doyle flies through the air, crashing into his table. He’s been thrown by Sylar who, old soul intact, has found his way back to the Carnival. And he’s hungry, ready to feast on all the Heroes Samuel has collected. “I got big plans for you,” says Samuel but Sylar isn’t interested and moves to slice open Samuel’s head. His slice doesn’t work, however, and so Samuel pulls up a whirling sandstorm that all but sandblasts Sylar’s flesh from his body. It’s pretty gnarly. Sylar collapses; Samuel grins.

Benet finds Claire at her dorm room, getting ready for the wake. She’s mad at him again, for lying about Nathan’s death and what he (and Angela) did. “Sylar,” she spits, “did you forget what Sylar did to me?” He tries to explain that they did the wrong thing for the right reason, giving Nathan back to the world for a little while longer and keeping Sylar contained. She is unmoved and tells him that she doesn’t want him at the wake.

Wake. Angela tries to talk with her remaining son but Peter is still pretty angry at her, at everything. She tells him not to go after Sylar; revenge will only get him killed. This awkward conversation is interrupted when Claire shows up; Peter grabs her and they hide out in the kitchen to talk. “That was a hell of lie,” she says, “… did they think they’d get away with it?” She switches gears, musing about Nathan. Peter starts acting weird, like Nathan isn’t actually dead or something. What have you guys done this time? DO NOT BRING NATHAN BACK – KEEP HIM DEAD.

Benet goes back to his apartment. There is something (or someone) lurking outside the window. Ooh! It’s Edgar! Eek! he’s brought his knives! But Benet is onto him and quickly tases him into submission before he can be sliced and diced again. Benet has commandeering some Japanese restaurant, having stuck Edgar in the freezer because the cold slows his superspeed down. Whatshername, Kate from Angel (I am so not looking her character's name up), joins him, having brought sodium pentathol as a party favor.

Carnival. Samuel puts the shredded Sylar into Lydia’s trailer, telling her to look after Sylar when he comes to. And find out what’s going on with him – why couldn’t he kill Samuel? Lydia goes inside, where Sylar has healed himself. He too needs a haircut. He’s kind of cranky when he wakes up so she gives him a smooch. They start doin’ it and she (he?) gets flashes of Parkman and Nathan and Claire. He pulls away. She says that he’s impotent, can’t kill anymore (but can still heal, so not all his powers are gone), and he doesn’t like to hear that at all.

NYC. Angela approaches Claire at the wake and Claire continues to express her disdain for the lying, manipulative older generation. Angela then asks her to keep an eye on Peter who seems adrift these days. Up on the rooftop garden Claire finds an abandoned police scanner but no Uncle Peter. Because Peter is too busy knocking a police officer unconscious somewhere where a crime is happening. Wait: is Nathan and/or Sylar’s powers now in Peter? Did that happen when Peter was trying to keep Nathan from falling off the building? And if so, would they please just let Nathan go already?

After the commercial, Claire has tracked Peter down: he’s trying to help an office worker with a gunshot wound. There are more gunshots and Peter runs off over Claire’s protests that of the two of them, she’s the one who’s invulnerable to bullets. Later, the disgruntled gunman has both Peter and Claire at gunpoint. Peter tries to talk him down. It doesn’t work, exactly. The cops eventually get the guy but not until after Peter gets shot. When he asks Claire for her healing power she is reluctant to share it at first, saying that he’s being reckless, but she finally lets him take her hand and he heals. She tells her uncle that he’s not honoring Nathan’s memory by doing this hero stuff – he’s avoiding it. Peter mewls that if he slows down, stops, then Nathan’s death is real. “I miss him too,” says Claire quietly.

Freezer. Edgar is rather bloodied by now and still not giving up any information. Benet seems about ready to start slicing the speedster with his own blades when Kate (whoever) pulls him away, asking him to stop torturing this guy. “Stop using him as a punching bag and start talking to him.” There’s something that’s being missed, she says. And Benet goes hmmm. When he goes back into the freezer, he brings Edgar some tea. What is it you need me for, asks Benet, what are you doing out here? They start to talk and Edgar says that it was Samuel who set him on Danko and Benet. Edgar is afraid of what Samuel has planned. “That makes two of us,” agrees Benet.

Carnival. A petulant Sylar is trashing things. Samuel reaches out to him, still willing to befriend the beast (for his own purposes, of course).

Benet, Edgar and Kate (?) formulate a plan. Edgar insists that his family – everyone at the Carnival except Samuel – must be taken care of, and left alone. But Benet thinks the Carnies will be better off and safer once reintegrated into the normals which upsets poor bruised Edgar enough that once Benet trusts him enough to loosen his bonds, he super-speeds away, taking all Benet’s carefully drawn out plans with him. Benet and Kate’s expressions: Well, that could have ended better.

Carnival. On Sylar’s request, Samuel has mixed up another batch of magic tattoo ink. He pokes Sylar with it, to see Sylar’s future. At first, the ink just wriggles and squirms all over Sylar’s body. When it coalesces, unseen by us, Sylar wigs out, saying that Samuel was wrong – he doesn’t belong here. Samuel watches him run off but doesn’t try to stop him.

NYC. Claire doesn’t want to go back to school, too worried about her uncle Peter. “I can’t have you lying to me too,” she says. Peter replies that he’s okay. Then, strangely, he asks if she’d mind calling that old flying boyfriend of hers (West) for him. “Why?” asks Claire. Peter just smiles. Later, he looks at a photo of him and Nathan and then flies off into the night sky. Am I just dim? This show isn’t that sophisticated – what am I missing here?

Back at her dorm (she got back to Virginia pretty quickly from NYC, no?), a sad Claire tosses herself on her bed and stares at the ceiling. Outside her window, hovering in mid-air, is Sylar. The tattoo on his forearm: Claire’s face. “Hello, cheerleader,” he says.

Next week: it’s the Hiro and Mohinder Show! Aaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrgggggggghhhhh.

Previously on Heroes / next time on Heroes

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Recipe: Ropa vieja (sort of)

One consequence of having 90% of your worldly belongings in a storage unit far from your apartment is that you tend to have the same things for dinner over and over and over and over and over because all your cookbooks are tidily packed up in Box #114 at the back of the unit and damned if you're going to dig them out just because you're tired of chicken, broccoli and rice.  Luckily, there's the internet which provided me with a recipe for a variation on the Cuban dish, ropa vieja.  Of course, I didn't have several of the necessary ingredients so we ended up with a variation on the variation, but it was still tasty and wicked easy, so I thought I'd share it with you.  Pluswhich it's a crockpot recipe so you can just throw it together in the morning, go skiing all day, and come home to hot and tasty food.  Which is just excellent apres-ski, by the way.

28 oz. can of diced tomatoes, drained
2 red bell peppers, sliced in 1/2 inch sticks (I used green because they're cheaper)
1 onion, cut into 8 wedges
2 tsp. oregano (didn't have any; used a little marjoram and a little basil instead)
1 tsp. cumin (didn't have any; used hot chili powder instead, which gave it a nice kick)
1 1/2 lb. flank steak, cut crosswise into thirds (the flank steak was $$ so I got something less $$ instead)
1 cup rice     (1 avocado and 1/3 cup fresh cilantro for garnish)

Combine everything except rice, avocado and cilantro in crockpot, nestling the beef down into the vegetables.  Cook on high for 4-5 hours or low for 7-8 hours.  Before you're ready to eat, prepare the rice according to package directions.  Shred the beef in the ropa viejo; serve over rice.  Slice avocado, add it and cilantro as garnish.

I was worried that it would be too thick but the juices from the (drained) tomatoes and the other veggies are more than enough to make this into a sort of beef and vegetable soup.  You could add a bay leaf for more traditional flavoring, or add potatoes instead of serving over rice - any number of variations.  This recipe is easily adaptable and will now make its way into our regular rotation.

On a totally other subject: Heroes returns tomorrow in a two hour "event" - God help me with the recap.  And help us all if Nathan Petrelli doesn't stay dead.