September 25, 2005

Thanks to a nod from a friend of mine, I’m lined up to see Serenity next Tuesday, September 27th. In case you have been under a rock for the last couple of years, here is the summary:

Joss Whedon, the Oscar® – and Emmy – nominated writer/director responsible for the worldwide television phenomena of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE, ANGEL and FIREFLY, now applies his trademark compassion and wit to a small band of galactic outcasts 500 years in the future in his feature film directorial debut, Serenity. The film centers around Captain Malcolm Reynolds, a hardened veteran (on the losing side) of a galactic civil war, who now ekes out a living pulling off small crimes and transport-for-hire aboard his ship, Serenity. He leads a small, eclectic crew who are the closest thing he has left to family –squabbling, insubordinate and undyingly loyal.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m getting in free for agreeing to write a review of the movie. I’m expecting to like it (okay, I’m expecting to love it) but if I don’t, I’ll tell you about it. If I do, expect fan-boy gushing. Lots of it.



May 5, 2005

Chef! – Complete Series announced for August!

If you have not had the pleasure of watching this show, take it from me that it is simply wonderful. I’ve taped all of the shows from PBS with the exception of the very last one and watched them unknown number of times.

Just wonderful. Funny, cruel, biting… did I say funny?

Gareth Blackstock (Lenny Henry) is a master chef at Le Chateau Anglais and rules his fiefdom, his kitchen, with an iron tongue and the ever present threat of unspeakable violence (which never comes to pass). He takes on an apprentice to his kitchen, Everton, that drives him up the wall. In the first year, the kitchen staff was outstanding – the sous chef is just as driven as Gareth but quieter until she’s in charge for a bit. Gareth’s wife Janice (Caroline Lee-Johnson) provides a welcome counter part as she feels neglected (and probably is) to her driven spouse.

I’m not going to try to summarize any of the shows because I wouldn’t do them justice. Just don’t ask for the salt.

First off, let me explain something. I love Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (hereafter referred to as HHGTTG because I’m lazy). I love the original radio play. I love the books. I enjoyed the TV show once (haven’t watched the whole thing complete because of the Dr. Who style effects).

I say this to point out that I’m a big time fan – not a disinterested movie reviewer like your run-of-the-mill newspaper reviewer. I’m sure there are some reviewers that go into a movie expecting to not like the movie. I’m not one of them.

So, to get it out of the way – this movie rocks. It is WONDERFUL. Outstanding in its field. To be ursurped by only Revenge of the Sith – maybe. Well, probably.

First off, there was a set of previews which was a bit unusual for a preview showing. One of the previews starts off with Wonderful World just like this preview and it takes full on 30 seconds for me to realize that it isn’t a preview for HHGTTG but a preview for ‘Chicken Little’! They had intentionally parodied the first trailer for HHGTTG and it worked great. That was fun – I laughed out loud and long at that.

Oh, this is the first time I’ve seen the new THX opening with audio blurbs from movies over the last twenty or more years. A snippet from the pod races in The Phantom Menace was very recognizable. It will be interesting to see if the DVD has this or the standard breaking glass opening that makes my son cover his ears.

*** WARNING! ***

From this point on, there will probably be plot spoilers! Read but don’t complain that I gave something away.

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Imagine a place where you don’t stand out because you are a geek. Seriously, think about it. The people around you like the same movies you do, listen to the same radio programs, read the same books. Some may like this one more than you do and you may like that book more than they do but you all understand each other.

I got to live it for a couple of hours tonight and it was interesting. I wouldn’t want to live that way, but it was fun to experience.

I had the great opportunity, thanks to my friend Ethan, to go see “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” this evening – it doesn’t open to the general public until Friday. I’ll post about the movie in my next post, but I wanted to comment on the theater outing first.

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Not only is this my new favorite album, it may just go onto my top ten album of all time list – it is that good. Recommended to me by a friend, I dropped by CD Baby and listened to the tracks online. This is the way to sell music online, people. I was able to listen to the entire CD and get a feel for it and whether or not I liked the style before plunking down my money.

Now, about the music – it is fabulous. The disc starts off with a wonderful track, Too Bad You. It has a great story but even better is the music; it is soft, then strong, catchy and then it throws them all back at you again. It has a great hook and a real joy to listen to.

Mocking Bird, the second track, is slower but still keeps the great storytelling mixed with great music. There are great little musical explorations throughout, most of which don’t make themselves evident until you listen with headphones. In fact, I missed the scratching completely until the sixth or seventh listen – not that it is hard to miss, but it fit so well with the rest of the song that until I listened a bit more critically I didn’t notice.

Dirty Wings is a more traditional Americana style ballad, which isn’t meant as a distraction by any means. I really enjoyed the guitars under the chorus; the variety keeps it interesting after several listens.

Captain Madness is just fun to listen to. Megan’s voice weaves itself in and out of the other instruments and insinuates itself inside your ear in such a way that you just don’t want it to end. She has great range and control and uses both aspects to integrate with the music.

A couple of quick notes here; first, I’m a big fan of Kate Bush. She uses her voice as an instrument to expand the music to places that most performers can’t go. Megan does this on Captain Madness to a large degree and on the other songs in varying degrees. Listen closely and you can hear her using her voice and the words as a percussion instrument or a string.

Second, at times a song would start and I’d go “Who is this? Jewel?” I’m not comparing Megan to Jewel but there are a couple of phrases here and there that are very evocative of Jewel.

This is the quality of album that I wish Gwen Stefani would have put out instead of the boring dance remix thing she released. Lose Me, Give Life, and Nearly Almost Always Nearly Almost Anything are a little more like Dirty Wings in that it is a traditional rock ballad style. Gorgeous singing, wonderful guitar contribute to make these really enjoyable.

Forget is another voice as an instrument song and what an instrument it is. Holding off falls in the same vein; I see a pattern here, don’t you?

The problem with reviewing a great album is how do you single out one great song over another. This is one disc you can put in your machine, hit play and leave for a while without feeling bored.

I really like It’s All My Fault (But I’m Not Sorry) though, not to detract from the other songs but it is just fun. The staccato almost rap on the chorus is fun to listen to and then it slows down into a light ballad before jumping back up.

I haven’t mentioned much about the lyrical qualities of the songs and for that, I apologize. I haven’t really had time to sit down and read the lyrics in detail while listening so much of my enjoyment comes from the superficial understanding in passing. Hopefully I’ll get to digest the content soon, since what I’ve got so far I really enjoy.

This is a great album. No arguments. Hopefully, she’ll make it big and tour outside the northern California area, but honestly, I’d be willing to make the drive to see her play live. There are only a hand full of artists that I’d do that for, she is that good on the disc.

Back in the dawn of time, I used to haunt the Waldenbooks at Fashion Place Mall. If I didnt’ have any spending money (I was a teenager in high school then) I went to the library. However, if I had some money I was in the book store looking for something new to read.

At the time I didn’t draw a line between science fiction or fantasy – they were both great escapes for a somewhat shy kid that loved to read. I would look at the covers and then read the back teaser paragraphs and find the one or five that I wanted to read. It was during this time that I discovered some of my favorite authors: Larry Niven, Barbara Hambly, Roger Zelazny, Harry Harrison, Frank Herbert, Spider Robinson, Ann McCaffrey, Katherine Kurtz, Steven Brust and Julian May.

Julian May was definitely an impulse buy – great cover, enigmatic teaser and it promised more to come as it was labeled Volume I of The Saga of Pliocene Exile. I thought it was a fantasy – the cover looked it and the teaser spoke of a ‘one way tunnel’ to a different world. I thought it was going to be something like Witch World (Andre Norton, another early favorite). I took it home and … was confused. It was a futuristic science fiction novel! On top of that, it was building these characters that were, well, very flawed. Now, most of the protagonists of the stuff I like to read are flawed to some extent; that is part of what we like about them. These people, at least some of them, were downright sociopaths. Fun though.

So, they go down the magic tunnel and I’m expecting now it will become the fantasy novel I expected. Nope. Fantastic elements, yes, but still rooted in the ‘real world’ of the novel. This isn’t a criticism, by the way. At 38 and re-reading it for probably the 10th time I am still intrigued by the detail and texture Julian May pulled out of this first book. References to events that don’t happen until the eighth book (which I don’t think was planned at the time of this first book’s writing) and detailed backgrounds on the social structure these people were leaving helps you to understand some of the forces that shaped these very flawed people.

Ms. May points out (which you will realize as you read it) that many of the characters and personae are drawn from the myths and legends of Europe and Western Asia. There are exotic, beautiful aliens as well as some rather nasty aliens as well; history and biology lessons woven into the tale; and a great story.

There are a couple of plot holes, but I didn’t notice them when I was sixteen and I barely notice them now. For me, this saga is very comfortable now but I remember it as making me think about people and the way they affect their environments on previous readings. It is a great start to a wonderful series. On top of that, I’m reading it more than twenty years after its first publication and it still holds up to the thousands of books I’ve read since. That is quite an accomplishment to me.

A wonderful account of the travels of Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine as they careen around the world looking at some of the animals on the brink of extinction. From lemurs in Madegascar to gorillas and rhinoceros in Africa to the kakapoa in New Zealand and even a dolphin on the Yangtze river they travel and photograph these amazing and often tragic creatures.

Even more wonderful than the travelogue is the wit and writing of Douglas Adams. Funny, insightful and at times poignant, it was a true joy to read. I read aloud several passages just to get the feel of the words; I don’t know if that is how Mr. Adams wrote his book (I suspect it wasn’t) but this reads so well out loud it seems intentional.

There are so many wonderful stories in here that it is impossible to pick one out over another. The pursuit of a prophilactic in China is quite humorous as well as descriptive of the cultural differences. The Latvians (heh) on the way to see the Gorillas, the poisonous venom specialist, the kakapoa tracker all are wonderful characters painted on Mr. Adams paper canvas.

If you can find this book, buy it, borrow it, do whatever you have to but read it.

You won’t be sorry.

I really miss Douglas Adams. It has been nearly four years since he died suddenly (at the time of this writing) and I have finally had the courage to read Salmon of Doubt – Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time. As long as I didn’t read it then I could deceive myself that there was still more of his writings to discover; kind of putting off the realization that he was truly gone.

Mind you, I never met him in person. In fact, I had read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the rest of the trilogy (before that label didn’t fit) a couple of times before I realized that what I was reading was just brilliant. It was a great story, but hidden under the layer of the story was a commentary and satire on human society that was biting and loving at the same time. In my defense, I did read them when I was rather young and naive; now I’m just old and naive. More adventures of Arthur Dent and company and then wham! Dirk Gently explodes onto the scene! Outstanding.

One of my cherished hardcovers is a first edition of Last Chance to See by Douglas and Mark Carwardine, chronicling the possibly last glimpses of fascinating animals nearing extinction. The view of these animals is wonderful but it is his commentary that brings this journey to life. Here is a glimpse into the mind of Douglas Adams and I was startled to discover just how wonderful a place it must be.

Anyway, Salmon of Doubt is a collection of unpublished works, newspaper articles, biography and other items that sketch an outline of Mr. Adams. There are excerpts from Last Chance To See, which he had professed to be his favorite work. His first published item is there as well, a letter to a magazine when he was but a lad.

The book is organized around the title of one of his novels, Life, The Universe and Everything. I didn’t read it in a single sitting, as I’ve a habit of doing. Instead, I read a story or two at a time and then set it down, picking it up again later in the day for a helping or even the next day. I found myself going back and reading bits because they amused me or were insightful; sometimes just because it felt right.

If you are looking for a critique of the book, well, this is the wrong place. However, if you have even remotely enjoyed any of his books, I suggest you at least check this out from your local library and give it a whirl. Set it in the bathroom, put it in the car for lunch breaks and see if you don’t enjoy it. I dare you.

“Everyone, meet under Adams.”