Monday, October 31, 2005

Ann Patchett

Monday, October 31, 2005 0
Rare is the author who can write a novel and make me just fall in love with the characters and the setting and care deeply about what happens to the characters. With all of the books that I read I find that while I enjoy most and admire some, I truly love few. Rare is the author that can give me this sublime experience once. Ann Patchett has delivered rare gems in each of her three novels which I have read. It is amazing in how different her novels are from each other, but she writes each book with such heart and such grace and such compassion that it is so easy to get involved in the lives of her characters and really care for them. I finished her novel "Taft" this weekend and I was enraptured in these characters and the situations within. Everything felt right.

Friday, October 28, 2005

C.I.C.

Friday, October 28, 2005 2
Watched my second episode of Commander in Chief last night. Episode 3: First Strike. Still hoping ep 2 gets rebroadcast soon so I can see it. I have to say, I'm loving this show. I didn't buy it at first with the pilot, but Geena Davis made a solid president in ep 3. She seemed sure, and thoughtful, made decisions with good logic and wasn't afraid to be tough. She had a heart, but stood up for herself and her family.

This show could work.

Absolute Friends

For nearly 400 pages I knew what I was going to say about John le Carre's Absolute Friends. I was going to write about how this book was very well regarded and had nearly unanimous critical acclaim. I can't remember ever hearing a bad word about the book (thought now that I check Amazon, there are some negative reviews about the politics of the book). I was also going to write that despite all the praise I couldn't get a sense of what this book was about. At all.

The first 400 pages still bother me. It was well written and they follow Ted Mundy, a Brit born in Pakistan and son of a former career military man very disillusioned with England. The book begins with Mundy as a middle aged man working as a tour guide at a castle in Germany and then goes back to his youth growing up in Pakistan and having to leave the country, then living in Germany as a young man where he meets Sasha a left wing socialist radical and he gets involved in that movement. Pages and pages are spent on this showing that Mundy is a radical, but not nearly as fervant as Sasha or the others.

Flash forward and Sasha reconnect with Mundy and somehow Sasha is a spy and Mundy gets drawn into it working for England against the East and I'm not entirely sure what Mundy believes. Not sure he does, either.

When Mundy is brought into the spy game is when the book got interesting for me, but there didn't seem to be much purpose to it. So much happened off the page, and I was missing whatever sort of commentary le Carre had on modern day espionage, terrorism, and the like. I just didn't see it.

Then we get to the last 50 pages or so and it hit. Everything came together, the ending was excellent and it was quite clear what le Carre's point was.

I'm not going to say that 50 pages made up for 400, or even for the first 300 if you call that other hundred pages a wash, but I'll be damned if it didn't spin my mind on how exactly I feel about the book.

I can't recommend it, because there is too much that made me weary, but I feel the ending is worth the effort and it is easy to see le Carre's disgust with today's world and even America's behavior in it.

The ending does redeem much of what came before it, but the meat of a novel shouldn't need redeeming.

Jarhead bashing

I've been very interested in seeing Jarhead when it comes out. It is directed by Sam Mendes who has made two rather good movies in American Beauty and Road to Perdition. It is based on a best selling memoir by Anthony Swofford which while I thought was an interested look into the mind of one marine, I didn't admire it...or him. Well, let me rephrase that. I admire anyone who serves in our military. Anyone. They are doing something that I'm not and doing a job that they don't get nearly enough credit for. That said, I didn't admire his attitude. Compare Swofford with Captain Andrew Exum (author of This Man's Army) and I would much rather have Captain Exum on the front line.

Regardless, this is about the movie and not about bashing a former marine, something which I don't want to do and don't really intend.

The movie. Jeffrey Wells, a critic and columnist, has written a little bit about Jarhead and it isn't good. He says that movie is well made, well acted, but is empty. It's not about anything. It's almost about not fighting (which makes sense because that's what the book deals with), but that if it didn't have this Oscar push it might feel somewhat different. It's not that Wells was brutal, but when I finished reading that column I was left with the feeling that Jarhead just got its teeth kicked, and hard.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

I quit you

Thursday, October 27, 2005 0
Dear Invasion, Everybody Hates Chris, and The Amazing Race: Family Edition,

I believe I have given each of your programs a fair chance to hook me. Each show has not lived up to my expectations, made me laugh, or connect enough with a storyline and has been a disappointment. There are other quality programs out there and I will watch those over your shows. I appreciate your efforts in finding an audience and I wish you the best of luck in the future. Right now, however,

I quit you.

-Joe

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Contender Rematch, Commander in Chief

Wednesday, October 26, 2005 0
I finally caught the rematch fights from The Contender on ESPN. There were three fights on the card, but the broadcast I saw only aired two of them because it was delayed due to baseball related stuff. There was a rematch of the championship fight between "The Man They Call the Latin Snake" Sergio Mora and Peter Manfredo, Jr. The other fight was Jesse Brinkley vs Anthony Bonsante.

I was looking forward to the Bonstante fight because he was my favorite fighter from the first season and in his first match with Brinkley he dominated the fight until the last minute of the last round when Brinkley caught Bonsante with a tight uppercut that knocked him out. This rematch didn't have the aggressiveness of the first fight, but it seemed like Bonsante was winning. He landed far more punches and was more active that Brinkley. The announcers said Bonsante won. And then the judges gave Brinkley the fight in a unanimous decision. I was shocked, the announcers were shocked, the live crowd booed, and Bonsante just walked out of the ring with speaking to anyone.

I fast forwarded through a bunch of the Mora/Manfredo fight. Mora won, another shocked audience as Mora likely lost most of the rounds.

What I noticed is that I found the fights to be less interesting when we don't have the show. We get less of the behind the scenes training and talking and we lose the personality of the fighters. So I couldn't really get into the fights because I lost the reason to really care. Except for the Bonsante fight because I still had the interest in who the fighters were and how they did.

The second season will begin in April, but ESPN will air two more fights before then. I imagine they'll just get some of the other fighters, but we'll see who and when.


I also finally watched the pilot episode of Commander in Chief, the new ABC show where Geena Davis becomes the first female (and Independent) president when the sitting president dies in office. Not bad. The episode went fairly fast and it was interesting to see Davis in that role and how even the old president wanted her to resign before he died because he only selected her to get some votes and never wanted her to really get to be president. But she didn't resign. I want to see how this plays out. Supposedly the show has been getting good ratings. I have episodes three and four recorded. Missed ep 2. Since I may be dropping The Amazing Race this season, I'll be able to get the first run episodes as they air rather than hoping ABC does a rebroadcast later in the week.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Dogville

Tuesday, October 25, 2005 1
Sometimes a movie is just disappointing. I had read all sorts of good things about Lars Von Trier's Dogville. I knew it was going to be something different as this is the guy who made Breaking the Waves. Dogville has quite a bit more polish, but has its own quirks. To start with, the setting is sometime in 1930's America, out west I guess.

Paul Bettany plays Tom Edison, a man who fashions himself something of the town philosopher of Dogville. He is giving these lectures saying how Dogville needs to learn to accept. But there are no gifts to accept until Grace (Nicole Kidman) comes to town. She is able to slowly break through and the town accepts her at fist, then comes more distrust and a breakdown in the morality of the town as Grace becomes the unwilling but unfighting town whore.

I think the movie is supposed to give us some sort of lesson in American morality and how morality can be fluid and not such a sticking point as we'd like to think. The movie shows the transition between grace and digrace.

But good lord is this a slow and fairly dull movie!

I was able to easily accept how the sets were laid out. Rather than being set in a city or a village and having there be real buildings the film takes place on a set where the houses and walls and bushes are all drawn on the ground in outline (as is the dog), and there are no doors but sound effects let us know when the door is knocked or closed. It is something like theatre, and it gives actors room to act without a real prop or location.

Many people think this movie is something special, but I just didn't care. The narration told us too much rather than letting the film show it, and the dialogue was a bit self conscious in how the characters present themselves.

Ugh. It's a long three hour movie that feels longer.

Monday, October 24, 2005

North Country

Monday, October 24, 2005 2
I really hate the tagline of North Country. "All she wanted to do was make a living. Instead she made history." It's terrible and doesn't at all capture what North Country is. Well, I suppose on one hand it does because that ultimately is the storyline of the movie but it's a tagline that makes me want to run away rather than buy a ticket. But enough about that.

North Country is based on actual events at the Eveleth Mines in Minnesota's Iron Range. Women were first allowed into the mines in the late 1970's and the stories that North Country deals with occurred all throughout the 80's and into the first class action sexual harassment lawsuit in the early 1990's. Director Niki Caro (Whale Rider) spoke with some of the women miners and had one, Lynn Sterle as an advisor for the film.

Charlize Theron plays Josey Aimes, a fictionalized character who comes to work at the Pearson Taconite mine where her father works and where her friend Glory (Frances McDormand) works driving truck. Josey is trying to raise her two children after leaving her husband and the mine will pay six times what she was making elsewhere. Glory tells her that Josey is going to have to deal with taunts and crude behavior and that the men do not want them at the mine. She believes, but she doesn't know. From the first moment she steps foot into the mine it becomes clear just how little they are wanted. The HR representative tells the new women that he doesn't want them there and if it wasn't for the Supreme Court, he wouldn't have hired them. But he'll give them a tour anyway and show them what the work is. The other workers call them crude names and Glory warns Josey that she may find degrading things in their lunch pails. Names are written on walls and lewd drawings are made. In general, the women are not made to feel welcome even though they are also members of the same union with the same rights as the men. But this is a boy's club and women are not welcome.

Josey complains to HR and he tells her that nothing will happen. She continues to complain about the behavior and things get worse. Much worse. They are threatened, attacked, degraded and I can only believe that what is shown in the movie is only scratching the surface as to what really went on in the mine. Finally Josey has had enough and finds a lawyer (Woody Harrelson) and decides to sue. But even the women are not supportive.

North Country mixes Josey's experience at the mine with footage from the lawsuit (preliminary hearings is my guess as it wasn't yet class action) and also makes the connection with Josey's story with the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings that were going on at the same time.

This is a moving film that deals with an incredibly ugly subject matter. One would think that by the 1990's such behavior would not occur and that it wouldn't be put up with, but it did. The movie itself is well acted by Theron and the supporting cast. In particular the other women miners do a great job in showing toughness in the face of such degradation and why they would not want to speak up and how they can deal with the harassment.

Well made, well acted. I don't feel that North Country was especially manipulative. All film is manipulative and has a viewpoint and an agenda. The questions are: does the movie work? Is it any good? Does it feel true? Yes, to all. North Country is not a feel good movie by any measure and it isn't one that I can really say I enjoyed, but I enjoy any good movie and in that sense I did.

Some may feel that this is nothing more than Oscar bait with the poor woman overcoming degradation and rising to accomplish something big, and that it is touching the buttons that need to be touched to get awards...but that does not lessen the fact that the movie is rather good and that Theron will deserve whatever nominations she receives or awards she wins. She does an excellent job as does Niki Caro, Frances McDormand and the other actors. The movie only hits one note that felt like too much (what happened to Glory), but even that isn't a major point against it. Just something that felt off. It's the only thing that comes to mind.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Firefly, I heardly knew ye

Sunday, October 23, 2005 1
I finished the entire series of Firefly this weekend. I'm actually a bit sad about that. With shows like the X-Files or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the shows were given the chance to develop storylines and mythologies and give the viewer a chance to really get to know the characters over the course of years. We didn't get that chance with Firefly. Actually, I really didn't get the chance because somehow I missed the show when it was first on (as I did with most good programs). But this show was not shown in the order Joss Whedon intended and was cancelled midway through its first and only season. This is a huge shame because this is one of the best shows I've seen and given the chance to have 3-5 seasons could have been one of the really great ones and one of my all time favorites. It already is. I almost feel the need to write a letter of apology to Joss Whedon for missing the show when it was first aired and thanking him for creating such a good show. And then another letter of apology because I may not get the chance to see Serenity in the theatre though I am quite sure that I'll buy the DVD. I'd like to get the Firefly DVD set as wel.

I hope stuff like Netflix rentals are tracked because at least this level of support will show up. There are so many stories that weren't explored (who is the Shepherd anyway?) and just more character goodness with Whedon dialogue that you can't buy anywhere else.

Sigh.

I miss the show already and I just sent back the last disc to Netflix.

Given the seven seasons of Buffy of the five seasons of Angel, I can only imagine just how good Firefly would have been.

I just hope that UPN or the Sci-fi channel decides that giving Joss another shot at Firefly is a worthwhile investment and that Joss and the cast and crew are willing to come back.

Firefly, I hardly knew ye...

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Painted Drum

Friday, October 21, 2005 0
I'm sad to report that I didn't love the new Louise Erdrich novel The Painted Drum. She has been my favorite author ever since I read Love Medicine the summer before junior year of college to prepare for my American Lit II class where the novel was an assigned text. It was the first section of the book with June Morrissey walking out into the blizzard that haunted me and made such an impression that years later I still remember that scene. There is an echo in The Painted Drum of that scene, and it works as a strong scene but the book doesn't connect with me the way Love Medicine did or The Last Reports on the Miracles at Little No Horse or some of her other novels.

Even though I finished it this morning before work I can't say without checking what the book was really about. I suppose it traced the history of a ceremonial drum back to its origins and where it is in the present time and how it has, in some way, impacted the lives of everyone who came in contact with it.

But anytime I started to connect to a character, Erdrich would shift in viewpoint to another set of characters and another era. It's a very lyrical and beautifully written novel, but it doesn't resonate (no pun intended). Because there are these viewpoint shifts and shifts in chronology, Erdrich somehow does not build a flowing coherent novel. It's odd because she used a similar framework in Love Medicine, but to far greater effect.

There are the usual ties to her other novels as Fleur Pillager is mentioned and briefly appears as a child, and old man Nanapush is referred to. So she is still playing around the edges of the world and reservation she created some twenty years ago. I know that her next novel will likely be a strong one because in the past when I've been less than blown away she has delivered a knockout.

Out of Gas, Lost

The beginning of the Firefly episode "Out of Gas" was a little confusing at first. It began with Mal stumbling through the cargo bay of Serenity holding onto a part and falling on his face while he bled. He made his way to the engine room, but the ship was quiet and empty. Kaylee wasn't with the engine and nobody was around. Then it flashed back to when Mal first purchased the ship and brought Zoe on board and her doubts. It should how Kaylee, Jayne, Wash, and Inara all got hired or brought on board. But it kept flashing back to Mal in "the present". But then it flashed over to when the engine failed and how the crew responded and it started to make sense...but how were they to get out of this situation. By the end it gave a lot of background as well as provided an excellent episode.

This week's Lost was okay. We saw a boar for the first time in a while. Wonder where the polar bears are. Not much to say about it. I'm liking Season 2 more than the first season, but I wonder if that is because I'm not sharing the show with my wife and we're watching together compared to watching it alone. Not sure. Either way, it's entertaining. Glad Sun found her wedding ring.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Firefly, Top Model, My Name is Earl

Thursday, October 20, 2005 0
Finished the Firefly ep "Our Mrs Reynolds". It is really interesting how the started with that girl claiming to be Mal's new wife after a primitive ceremony. That girl seemed so innocent, but firm in that she wants to be a good wife. But there was this edge to her and as the ep progressed she wasn't what she seemed. Is anyone? I finished off the second disc with "Jaynesville", an episode where the blustery Jayne happens to be the hero of this other world because he had to drop some money he stole as he was escaping and the townspeople thought he was helping them. Ha!

Another good episode of My Name is Earl. This time a friend of Earl just got out of prison and this is a guy that Earl had taught how to steal and now the friend is a klepto. Steals everything (remember the klepto from Can't Hardly Wait who randomly steals stuff? Kind of like that). But when he finds out that Earl won the lottery, he tries to steal that and kidnaps Randy. Meanwhile, Earl is trying to atone for making fun of people with accents by teaching English to foreigners who are new to this country. Good stuff.

I didn't expect Coryn (the Minnesota girl) to get booted from America's Next Top Model this week. Nik seemed a better choice. Lisa apparently is a complete drunk and lied to Tyra about it, but she had a very good photo shoot. The first practice interview she gave bombed, but her test interview was much better. The judges still like Kim's androgyny. We'll see how stuff plays out. My final 3 prediction is: Lisa, Kim, and Nicole. Jayla might sneak in there, though.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

why i don't like the Amazing Race

Wednesday, October 19, 2005 0
For the past five seasons The Amazing Race has been the one show that Sandy and I have looked forward to watching each season. It has been fun to watch, and a quality show. I loved seeing all of the places that the teams went to across the globe and see how they interact with different cultures and people. Often enough we see the "Ugly American", but we also saw some grace and humbleness from the contestants.

This season was a breeak from all of that. It is the "Family Edition" and it stinks! This time around we have families of four instead of teams of two and after four weeks the teams are only in Mississippi. That's right, rather than being in Iceland or Chechnya or China, they are in the foreign land of Mississippi. In the second episode they were only just in New Jersey after starting on Manhatten.

Weak!

Sandy has already dropped the show because it is so hard to follow the teams and really figure out who they are and the real thing is that the challenges kind of suck. They had to row across the Delaware river and grab a flag, ooh! They had to ride a weird 4 person bike around a race track. Ooh! They have to drive 12 miles in America to find a building that is shaped like a shoe. Ooh! If that last challenge was on a dirt road in Kenya where there are lions walking by that would be different. It is all about the context, but the challenges are still weak. No walking across a high wire or climbing down a castle or bungie jumping? I know, there is a team with kids along, but c'mon now. The program has built itself a reputation and I applaud the show being daring and trying this new thing but it's messing with something that has won Emmys for a very good reason.

I might make it another episode or two, but I'm really close to cutting this season loose and recording Commander in Chief instead.

In other news: I watched another episode of Firefly last night. Good stuff. That's all I wanted to say. I'm 30 minutes through the episode "Our Mrs Reynolds" and I continued to be impressed by the quality here, how good the writing is, and how much I've already come to care about the characters.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Knife of Dreams

Tuesday, October 18, 2005 3
I read a mini-review of this book several weeks ago where the reviewer said how much he loved Knife of Dreams and how it resolved so many little plot points and helped really point the way for the final book 12. Well...maybe. Maybe not.

Here's the thing: I liked this book a whooooole lot more than Crossroads of Twilight which just kind of takes up space since 85% of that book takes place during the final event of Winter's Heart. This book picks up several different storylines. Egwene, the young rebel leader of the Aes Sedai who have splintered from the White Tower, is captured by the existing White Tower. Chapters are spent on how she is slowly changing the minds of those within the walls of the White Tower and how she is waging silent war to bring down the Tower from within. Robert Jordan writes about how she is having this huge effect and it is clear she is being viewed differently. And then I see it is only day 4 of her captivity and by the end I think it is Day 9. Nine days? Say what? The novices are coming to her for advice in only 5 days? Are you kidding me? They'd still being viewing her as the upstart runaway who thinks she rules the White Tower, not as a potential figure for advice and leadership. The Egwene chapters work well to set up more cracks in the White Tower, but it just feels so accelerated.

I swear that I'm going to be complaining and then end with "and I can't wait for the next book", but this is what is coming to mind.

The chapters with Mat were also uneventful until the very end. He is still going around with the Daughter of the Nine Moons, the heir to the throne of the Seanchan invaders and he knows that he is going to marry her (as said by the Aelfinn), and RJ keeps tipping us towards this, but slooooowly. The big reveal of what a bellfounder would be used for in fireworks was kind of a let down. It'll be a big deal in the next book as a weapon, but it's like it was teased as this big thing and then it was just revealed matter of factly.

Rand, the main character of the series, doesn't even show up until chapter 18. Not much happens with him. At least nothing memorable.

Perrin spends too much time mooning over Faile, his captured wife. But his alliance with the Seanchan is solidified as they help him rescue Faile from the Shaido Aiel. That's probably the big thing, that one of the main three characters has just aligned with the Seanchan. Mat, even though he got married to Tuon at the end of the book, has no intention on holding back the war against the Seanchan. He knows the stakes. Perrin doesn't care. Too bad about Aram. Well, I guess this was a big thing...it's been a storyline which has crossed several books and this is resolved, too.

Elayne...finally claims the Lion Throne in Andor. About time! And she's still pregnant with Rand's twins.

Nynaeve sens Lan off to Tarwin's Gap in the Blight to continue the War with the Shadow. Lan doesn't want to have anyone fight with him as it is his personal war alone (he thinks), but she gets him to agree that anyone who asks can come. Then she drops him off as far from Tarwin's Gap as possible and still be in the Borderlands and then spends time Travelling and raising the Golden Crane of Malkier saying that Lan rides for the Gap. This was a pretty moving segment. For some reason I had thought I read an accidental spoiler that Lan dies in this book and I'm glad he didn't.

The big things in my mind are Noal and Moiraine. I wrote earlier about Noal being Jaim Farstrider. I don't know how big this will turn out to be, but it's big to me (mostly because I figured it out several books ago).

Chapter 10. So, midway through the series Moiraine, the Aes Sedai who pulled Rand, Mat, Perrin, Egwene, and Nynaeve out of Emond's Field as the Trollocs came for Rand, she disappeared fighting one of the Forsaken, Lanfear. Because of what she fell into (I'll just shorten the description and call it a magical gate) there is no body and even though it should be death and the archway melted, most fans believed she was coming back (why not, most every other killed character has). But there really hasn't been any hints except that she left Thom, the gleeman/bard a letter before she "died" saying that she knew she might not come back but that was all that was revealed of the letter. Later, when Lanfear came back as Cyndane (though with less power) it meant that Lanfear had died and was resurrected by the Dark One into a new body. If Lanfear died, surely Moiraine did, too.

But the theory went was that she was in the land of the Aelfinn (that was the gateway). Lanfear died because she was of the Shadow and things that even mention the Shadow to the Aelfinn are dangerous. But Moiraine fought the shadow. Somewhen the Tower of Ghenji was mentioned and that somehow she would be rescued from there. But as each book passed it became less and less likely.

Then chapter 10. Mat askes Thom what is in the letter and that is the signal Moiraine gave Thom to reveal it to Mat. See, Moiraine said that everyone would think she is dead, but she isn't. She isn't!! But she must be rescued and three must come for her: Thom, Mat, and one other, and in many of the futures she could see she didn't make it out and neither did the rescuers but it had to be attempted. Mat would know where the Tower is. But he doesn't, until it was described.

And we find out that we actually saw the Tower in book 1 or 2 when the group left Shadar Logoth and Mat was hazy with fever and he and Rand escaped up a river and met Baile Domon and they saw this tower that had no doors and nobody knew much about.

Yeah. That's it.

But the quest to find Moiraine has been left for book 12 and Jordan is convinced he is finishing in 12 books and there is so much left to do and I don't know how Moiraine being rescued fits into the book and having the Final Battle.

Oh, and Semirhage has been captured by Rand. Another of the Forsaken. She makes an interesting point that Rand is quite insane already and he is hearing voices (that of the original Dragon Lews Therin Telamon). The fact that it is a real voice in his head makes it worse and that there isn't much that can be done as he will start to lose his grip...but he is the only hope of the world against the Dark One.

So, overall I am satisfied with the book. RJ gave us consecutive chapters with the same viewpoint so we could follow Egwene or Mat for 4 chapters or so before he switched viewpoints on us again. Good choice. I liked getting some of these details worked out and revealed but there are still so many big things that I think need to be done that I don't know how RJ will finish it in one more book. Glad I read it, Wheel of Time is still a series I love and this was one of the better books in the last 4 or 5, I'd say (except for the ending of book 9). But not without its flaws and it spend a lot of time to get to where it was going that it felt like there was quite a bit of fluff (like this blog entry).

But...the real question remains:

Who killed Asmodean?

Bushwacked and Shindig

I don't think I can properly express just how much I like Firefly right now. I'm almost pissed off that I missed this show when it was first on television and that it took me this long to get it from Netflix.

I'm now on disc two of Firefly. "Bushwacked" was semi-creepy with the families slaughtered on their ship and only one survivor who has snapped. But I loved "Shindig". We get to see Kaylee dress like a woman rather than the ship's mechanic and she is so childlike in wanting to own a frilly dress, but her initial experience at the party is rough because the "socialite" women look down on her and her dress. The scene where Kaylee is almost holding court with the man at the ball is great. She is the center of attention but talking about engines and ships and all of the men are enraptured and arguing but she is the toast of this little group.

Hopefully I'll get through an episode or two tonight.

Monday, October 17, 2005

tattoo

Monday, October 17, 2005 0
On my drive home I saw this bumper sticker:

Tattoos: Not just for sailors and whores anymore.

I love it!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

a whole lotta television

Sunday, October 16, 2005 0
In the past couple of days I've caught up on a whole lotta television. I watched another episode of Firefly called "The Train Job". Two episodes and three hours in and I am loving this show already. Sandy and I watched this week's episode of America's Next Top Model. We kind of figured that Diane was going to go, and she did. The biggest problem was that she just didn't show any confidence. I'm hoping that Kim can somehow show another facial expression because she has the potential to be a finalist, but she isn't showing that much and Janice Dickinson was very frustrated with her. Janice was the guest photographer this week (her judging spot having been taken over by Twiggy). The Minnesota girl Coryn finally told Lisa that she just doesn't like her. Lisa is a bit of a snit anyways, always trying to give everyone advice so that it will be the toughest competition possible and that Lisa wants to win against the best. Blah blah.

We caught the first four episodes of this season's Lost yesterday. All in a row. Watching like that kind of makes it easier to follow characters and storylines, but I don't think we're going to let the episodes pile up again. This time it was just so that Sandy could get through all of season 1 on DVD. I didn't really think there was going to be some Belgian guy down the hatch, but when he said in the flashback "see you in another life" that was the only reason he could say that. Weird. Very weird. I'm not disappointed, but I am a little confused. The hatch gives clues about the island, that it was this research facility and as much that it was psychological research. I don't think I believe that the island will blow up after 108 minutes. For a moment there, I thought the rest of the survivors were the "Others", but they seem to be having as much trouble with the Others as anyone. It's interesting that they have gone more tribal, but they have also gone from 23 survivors to just a handful. Rose was right about Bernard being alive all this time. Odd. Why does Michelle Rodriguez always play a hardass character. I've seen almost everything that she has done, including a crappy Showtime movie caled 3 A.M. and it is always the same sort of character. So...are the back of the plane survivors suffering from the sickness Desmond was worried about?

Last week's episode of My Name is Earl is the best one yet. Earl had picked up this girl at a bar and they both got drunk and went home together. He thought she was just looking for a one night stand and she had a tatoo on her back saying something like "wanna ride?" So, he did. But when morning comes she wakes up and is all cheerful and bubbly and opens the curtains and her room is very, very girly and innocent and so is she (except for the wild sex, apparently). She turns out to be incredibly clingy and the opposite of Earl. So, to break up with her he fakes his own death. Well, now that Earl is trying to fix his karma he has to make amends here. Best episode yet. Glad I'm watching the show.

And finally (for now), I watched the second part of No Direction Home. This part followed Bob Dylan from the early 60's through his motorcycle crash in '66. What was the most interesting was his switch from acoustic folk to the electric guitar and how the crowds hated it and booed him on stage but continued to buy tickets and sell out his shows...all the while complaining that they bought tickets to a folk show. Well...no. You didn't. If you yell out "Judas" before the man even walks on stage surely you know he's not playing his classic folk and is bringing something new. He'd been doing it for a while so it couldn't be a surprise. Were they thinking that Dylan just might do an acoustic set for them even though his whole tour has been electric?

Anyone, No Direction Home is a good 3.5 hour documentary and is worth watching if you are just a little bit interested in Bob Dylan.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Firefly, Earl, Knife

Friday, October 14, 2005 3
Last night, for the first time, I watched an episode of Firefly. I don't know what took so long. It is a show created by my television Overlord Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel), so what took so long? Probably whatever took so long for Angel, the show's concept didn't sell me right away and I was late catching on to Buffy. They were just starting season 6 of Buffy when I starting buying the DVDs.

Anyway, I love the feel of Firefly. It's a western set 500 years in the future. So there is that outlaw feel and our leads are outlaws, and there is the whole untamed west (space) and it just works. The characters have heart, the dialogue is excellent and I have no idea how this show didn't last a full season. Oh, yeah, the execs didn't advertise the show well and didn't support it.

The first episode was called "Serenity", which is the name of the ship and just happens to be the title of the Firefly movie which just came out. Hopefully it is still in theatres when I finish the series.

I caught the 10/4 episode of My Name is Earl last night as well. Man, I'm behind on my tv. In this one Earl decides that he has to fix the wrong he did by fixing a high school football game and also denying his brother a chance for a touchdown. His ex-wife is still trying to get his lottery money. You know, this show is really growing on me. I like the combination of Jason Lee and Ethan Suplee. Nothing as classic as the previous ep's scene of Darnell admitting to Earl that he is bringing poisoned cookies from the ex, but still a good show. But...what exactly is the relationship of the Mexican maid to Earl and his brother?

More Wheel of Time goodness here: When Mat first met this man named Noal Charin I wondered who this old guy could be. The man was missing some memories and had been messed with by the Shadow, but I didn't see the importance. Noal Charin is actually Jain Charin. Jain Charin is (and this part is fact) Jain Farstrider, the guy who wrote Rand's favorite book "The Travels of of Jain Farstrider". The book and the author were mentioned so much early on in the series and why throw a Charin in and not have it be Jain? That doesn't make sense. And everything seemed to click, including Noal's age, his memory loss stemming from the Shadow, and how he seemed to be more than he is.

Well, Robert Jordan pretty much handed me the answer in Knife of Dreams and proved me theory.

"Are you any relation to Jain Charin, Noal?" (asked by Mat)...

The old man's face went still as stone, and Mat had torn off a piece of bread and eaten that as well before Noal answered. "A cousin," he said at last, grudgingly. "He was my cousin."

"You're related to Jain Farstrider?" Olver said excitedly....

"Who is this man with two names?" Tuon asked. "Only great men are spoken of so, and you speak as if everyone should know him"


Noal then proceeds to call Jain a fool for abandoning his wife to die alone in her bed while he was off traveling. Olver protesting, saying some of the good Jain did and Noal admitted that Jain did do some good, but that what sort of man leaves his wife like that and Noal sounded very sad when he said it.

This was a great scene and conversation and all but straight out says that Noal and Jain are the same person. I've been sure of it for several books and I have no doubt it'll be revealed for sure later. I wonder what Rand would think...

Thursday, October 13, 2005

No Direction Home: Part 1, Knife

Thursday, October 13, 2005 1
After three days I finally finished the first part of the Dylan documentary No Direction Home. I'm not sure how much of the life and career of Bob Dylan this doc will cover, but the first two hours started with his childhood and into the early part of his career before he became big, and then as he was starting to become big. I think it only goes into the 60's (so his Christian albums will probably not be covered). There is a lot of old concert footage and photographs as well as interviews with Dylan today and his contemporaries.

It seems to be a fairly good documentary. I haven't been able to give it my full and undivided attention since I have to keep an eye out for what the puppy is doing, but it was interesting to see how Dylan became so successful. He is a very talented artist and an excellent songwriter...and as much as I like some of Dylan's songs, it is tough to listen to Dylan sometimes. His voice isn't that strong and sometimes it is difficult to understand what he is singing...and yet people bought tickets and he is a legend. Funny how that works. And for that we have Blowing in the Wind, Hurricane, Rainy Day Women, Not Dark Yet, Shelter from the Storm, and many other great songs.

Last night I was able to begin reading Knife of Dreams, the eleventh volume in the long running never ending Wheel of Time series. Thus far I am 140 pages into the book having read the extra long prologue (clocking in at nearly 100 pages), and one or two chapters. The prologue held a nice event with Galad killing the Lord Captain Commander of the Whitecloaks, but the rest of the prologue wasn't that big or special or necessary to be a prologue. Simirhage did make an appearance. We need more Forsaken in the books.

Supposedly this book does resolve quite a few loose ends and sets up the potentially final Book 12, so I'm very interested to see how this goes.

No Moiraine quite yet. I doubt she'll reappear in this book, but I've been hoping since she passed through the doorway with Lanfear (who has since died and been reborn as Cyndane).

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

On Beauty

Wednesday, October 12, 2005 0
I read Zadie Smith's On Beauty a month ago and I just never got around to blogging about it. But I just read an article on CNN.com about Smith and the novel and I decided to give a brief mention.

This is the book I've been hoping Zadie Smith would write. She was acclaimed for White Teeth which was well written but nothing that I loved. The Autograph Man didn't thrill me, but it had something. On Beauty delivers. It's one of those Literature with a capital L and doesn't necessarily have a plot that goes from point A to B because life goes on after the ending, but it is the journey of experiencing the two families that just works for me. I loved this book.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Peacemaker

Tuesday, October 11, 2005 0
“Peacemaker” is the debut novel by author Dan Ronco. Ronco has experience in the software industry so it is with personal knowledge and experience that he crafts the story of artificial intelligence and the future of the technology industry. Ronco presents this novel as what could be a worst case scenario with software terrorism and a future where this could be an issue as serious as nuclear war.

Dianne Morgan is the CEO for VantagePoint Software, the maker of Atlus, the most popular computer operating system in the world and one which is in nearly ninety percent of the world’s computers. This obviously brings to mind a company called Microsoft. Morgan brought to trial by the United States government in an anti-trust lawsuit and her company is broken into smaller companies. This is something that has happened several times in our nation’s history. Her revenge is to unleash a computer virus called Peacemaker. Peacemaker has the capability to infect and shut down nearly every computer on the planet. Her goal: nothing less than global domination. The only man who can stop Peacemaker is Ray Brown, a software developer who helped make Atlus the most popular piece of software on the planet.

The novel becomes something of a cat and mouse game as Ray stumbles across Peacemaker and learns of the scope of this virus which is so sophisticated that it is an artificial intelligence. Dianne Morgan is preparing to unleash Peacemaker on the world and while she needs to stop Ray she also wants to convert Ray to her side since they share a past together.

The concept behind “Peacemaker” with the ideas of software terrorism and the artificial intelligence and just the scope of the issue is fascinating and helps the reader press on through the book because I certainly wanted to know how things played out. The problem is the writing and the characters. The characters seem to be mainly one dimensional and Ray’s inner struggles regarding his alcoholism seem somewhat childish. The other characters are not any better and most are even more one dimensional. Before each chapter there is a one or two quotes from a future newspaper or novel regarding some of the characters. What this does is let the reader know a little bit how the events of this novel will play out and affect the world years down the road. It kind of takes some of the tension out of the book.

Ronco has a good deal of potential as an author because he has one very important gift that can’t be taught: the ability to come up with a very interesting story idea. I have no doubt that his skill as a writer will come as he continues to write. “Peacemaker” was a very fast and easy read, but it is not without some serious flaws in the execution of the novel. It is difficult to recommend “Peacemaker”, but the positive is that the concept behind the novel is a good one.

Monday, October 10, 2005

The Light Ages, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

Monday, October 10, 2005 3
I somehow managed to get through two books on my vacation. The first book I read was John LeCarre's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. This was LeCarre's third book back in the 60's and it is the one which really made him famous. It is the story of a British spy, a former great one who is in the downswing of his career. He had great successes but now everything has been failure. He is brought back to England in supposed disgrace and is put out to pasture. At least that is the story being presented. The real deal is that he is going back in the field one more time trying to be recruited by the East Germans to eliminate one particular man who is causing great trouble for the Brits. But as the rather slim novel progresses (200 pages) things are not quite what they seem.

It's a good book. I was surprised by how much I liked it. I'm going to read more LeCarre in the future and I appreciated how slim a volume this was compared to the 500 page monsters I expect from folks like Tom Clancy. Actually with Clancy I expect an 800 page monster, but that's another point.

The other book I finished was Ian MacLeod's The Light Ages. This one is an urban fantasy with a feel for the Victorian Age of England even though I think the timeline is more modern than that. But three hundred years ago a substance called aether was discovered that allows people to augment machines and tools to make them stronger and better. It is in this Third Age of Industry that our story begins. There has been no real innovation in decades if not a century because with aether, why bother? Robert Borrows is a young man we see grow up from a poor family to be a man seeking some answers about who he is and what some of the secrets of his family's past are.

There are fantasy elements here, but not they are not exceptionally strong. The fantasy imbues the setting, the kind of world this is and how England had changed.

There is no question this book is very well written and is high quality. The only problem is that it wasn't that engaging and that I couldn't get swept up into the world despite blurbs from Tim Powers and Michael Moorcock saying how much they were swept away. The story felt real and natural, but I didn't care what happened or who the characters were. It's a flaw that may be as much me as it is the novel. I tend to not prefer the urban fantasy and would rather read the fantasies set in a more midieval world with swords and magic and stuff like that. There are more modern and urban fantasies that I've loved, but in general...
 
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