Tuesday, December 29, 2009

PROPOSAL

Watched the engaging and funny Sandra Bullock vehicle, The Proposal, and found it surprisingly enjoyable. Yes, it is unbelievable, and the ending contrived, but I really enjoyed the chemistry between Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. Most of the cast is very good. The latin stripper/shopowner/minister has some excellent parts. This is not heavy fare, but a enjoyable romp.

ANGEL'S GAME

Carlos Ruiz Zafon has delivered another interesting tale of 1920s Barcelona in The Angel's Game. Not quite as engaging or crisp a page-turner as his previous Shadow of the Wind, he returns to familiar haunts to unfold the story of a young writer who advances from assistant at a local newspaper to become author (writing under a pseudonym) of a series of popular penny thrillers, with the help of a wealthy and guilt-ridden patron, when he is approached by a mysterious Parisian published to write a fable (that will promote a new religion). Although it is unspoken, and I initially thought I might be reading a vampire story, the villian appears to by a fallen angel or even Lucifer himself. What is clear is that the protagonist is beset with misgivings and then fear, and then becomes something of a Typhoid Mary, whose activities and investigations inevitably lead to unfortunate events befalling those around him. His heart belongs to a young woman whose marriage (I will not reveal to whom) teras him apart. I think the strongest part of the story is his relationship with a young aspiring writer who insinuates herself into his life; his manueverings to introduce her to a potential husband are precious. Overall, though, Zafron sems to lose control of this novel. It does not hang together well. Perhaps his editor should have been tougher. Still, it is better than most of the fiction I have read recently.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

FOREIGN FILMS

Took another trip into foreign films last night. Obvioulsy, much is lost on the American viewer in most cases, but I think I was able to figure things out fairly well. I think.

Dubia: Kiss Me Not on My Eyes is an Egyptian movie about a young woman seeking out the meaning of love in literature, dance, and the real life, within the constraints of Muslim society. The main character, played by the very lovely Hanan Turk, is an intelligent and educated woman, who wants to learn the skill of traditional dance (her mother was a well-known belly dancer) and is selected to learn from a local master. Turk can really dance and has gorgeous dark eyes and beautiful full hair. The dancing is often quite enticing, but the underlying storylines are more important about the constraints put on women through religion and culture (including the terrible practice of female circumcision). She also continues her studies into classical love poetry as a disciple of a controversial professor amongst the more conservative scholars, who seeks to protect the publication of Thousand and One Nights. I thought that it was pretty good, and opens some windows into Egyptian culture.

I also caught Them (I do not know if it was Romanian or French, though the action occurs in Romania), in which a Freench teacher and her writer boyfriend fend off an attack by a gang of hooded youngsters. At times chilling and scary, it is not the greatest horror film, but it is still interesting. Olivia Bonamy is good in the role of Clem.

Friday, December 25, 2009

AVATAR

Took the boys to see Avatar yesterday. It was a visually impressive movie, though the story is a bit heavy handed (and will surely provoke criticism after the initial awe wears off). Yes, we know the terrible whites destroyed Native American culture, and that we are rapidly destroying our environment, but I found it a bit hard to believe that humans haven't learned anything by the time we get to that level of advanced space travel. Kind of like Dances With Wolves meets Starshop Troopers. There is no reason the story couldn't have included these messages, but the writing could have been much more stellar: I guess they sacrificed that for technical advnaces. Both boys really enjoyed it, though, and I did too for the most part. I am a bit tired of having to pay extra money to see movies (nearly $30 for the three of us, and we went to the matinee). In fact, I am not all that enamored with 3-D. I think I will enjoy it just as much when it is in HD on dvd.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

EXOTICA & Disney

Watched an interesting, though somewhat unsatisfying, movie (Exotica) about a upscale strip club and its employees, and one special customer maintaining a fictional life that soothes a terrible loss and disrupted life. Two of the employees of the club are intertwined in his tragic history, hinted throughout, and a newcomer is recruited by the protagonist to discover why he was thrown out of the club. Some of the scenes are erotic, but several subplots are left hanging and do not seem to fit well with the main story (which is somewhat compelling, and one has to wait until the last scenes to discover just how several of the characters' stories mesh). The storylines of the rare bird egg smuggler/unsure homosexual and the baby by contract do not fit well with the primary story and are basically left hanging.

Earlier in the day I watched Disney's Igor with the boys. Surprisingly, it was pretty good, with plenty of trademark puns to keep me chuckling. Not the greatest Disney film, though the animation was very good, and I would recommend it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

BROUGHT LOW BY THE MOVIES

I got my fill of depressing movies today. Well done movies, with strong acting and compelling stories, but downers nonetheless. Sometimes you can tell right off the bat that there isn't going to be much of a happy ending. In the case of one movie, The Road, I knew that if they stayed true to the book by Cormac Mccarthy, that it wasn't going to be a fun ride; in the case of Crossing Over, starring Harrison Ford, several story lines are clearly going to end badly, though not quite as badly as the earlier movie. Still, both are definitely worth watching.



Even as disturbing and well written as McCarthy's book was, and I really enjoyed it, I was apprehensive about how the movie would come out; however, I was not disappointed, as I feel the makers stayed fairly true to the original. They cut out a few scenes, but overall it was well done. Vigo Mortinson was excellent in the role of the father, and the rest of the cast was great too. Where they found all the locations to shoot this thing is beyond me. The film version is not as hard edged as the written one, but I suspect McCarthy was probably satisfied with the treatment. In combination with his No Country For No Men, I am anxious to see what he comes up with next.

Crossing Over touches on many themes relating to illegal immigration and the desperate attempts some make to earn their green cards. As they say on television, the story was "ripped from the headlines." Ford plays a large-hearted immigration cop, who tries to remain humane while doing his job. His partner, an Iranian American, looks the other way when his over zealous father pushes one son to the edge, resulting in the murder of their too-Americanized sister and her lover (this storyline bothered me a bit, because if I rememebr correctly, in the real case it was not one son losing his temper at teh alst moment, but an orchestrated hit by the family). A Mexican mother pays a heavy price tryig to regain entry after she has been deported because she was forced to leave her young son behind; an Asian boy, on the cusp of naturalization, is coerced into joining a robbery attempt; a little Nigerian girl, soon to be orphaned, is the object of concern by a immigration lawyer, whose bureaucratic husband uses his position in INS to bed an Australian starlet trying to stay in the country; a Jewish immigrant gets a lot of help (and there is a message there about the power of some groups to more readily be able to by pass the system) in earning his status; and a young, devout Muslim girl, who espouses an unpopular theme in class soon finds her family ripped apart by also-zealous Homeland Security types. The movie is clearly sympathetic to the immigrants and also shows well the meaning naturalization holds for many new citizens. There is a lot of emotion here: guilt, compassion, humaneness, paranoia, racism, intolerance, forgiveness. It is definitely worth watching.

Friday, December 18, 2009

DISCO

I here admit that I loved disco, and still do. In fact, I actively warp my children's minds by subjecting them to a healthy dose of disco; they both know all the words to Fire and several other popular songs from that era (and they know the difference between disoc and funk). Hey, I'm Dad, and I can do that! :) Yes, I liked the clubs and dancing and the music, for the most part, though unlike so many of that time I managed to avoid the drugs, diseases, and other forms of disaster. I liked the clothes and the atmosphere. It was a carefree time. So there, I admit it. In honor of this admission, I watched The Last Days of Disco tonight. Put out in 1998, it chronicles the interrelationships of a group of young New Yorkers who enjoy going to a popular disco (loosely based upon Studio 54, I think). The movie brought back some memories, though for the most part I don't remember the conversations going quite along the lines this group did (then again, I didn't attend Harvard or any similar school). I was overly thrilled with the acting, but it was a decent film. The most recognizable actor is Kate Beckinsale, way before her current buffness in the Underworld series. Her character is not appealing though. in fact, all of them seem a bit shallow. I think the dancing was a bit weak too; we had a lot more fun on the dance floor.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

THIRST

Last night, after the boys were sent to bed, I watched a Korean vampire movie titled Thirst. It was interesting and a little bit sad, about a humane priest who volunteers for a special experiment to develop a vaccine against some strange virus and is turned instead into a vampire (and whose survival makes people think he is a saint capable of healing), but who resists hurting any humans in his new manifestation. He begins having carnal thoughts and then falls in love with a woman he later makes into a vampire, but she complicates his life by refusing to follow his direction. At times the acting is a bit wooden, although I though the woman who plays the lady who raised the girl (and whose idiot son has married her) was good. Ok-bin Kim is wicked and cute in her role. The special effects are second rate.

Friday, December 11, 2009

BEYOND RANGOON

While the world's eyes most often rivet to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or to the unrest in North Korea or Tibet, often overlooked is the political oppression placed upon the people of Burma, by a military regime that some think is one of the worst on the globe. The massacres and killing of students in Tianamen Square and Tehran gained worldwide attention, but the crackdowns in what is now known as Myanmar have garned far less notice, although the continued house arrest of pro-democracy leader and Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kii does get some media play, especially after the recent incident with the crazy American who decided he was going to swim to her house. The movie Beyond Rangoon, starring Patricia Arquette (who I just can't keep from thinking looked like Molly Ringwald), tackles the issue and tries to show the world what happened there. Some of the photography is absolutely beautiful, although the movie was filmed in Malaysia. The acting and overall production was more akin to that one would see in a made-for-television movie, but it is generally entertaining an informative. Some of the acting was simply lifeless. I thought one of the best performaces was by the young man who helped Arquette on their bamboo raft trip. I probably would not have been happy had I paid to see the movie, but as a dvd selection, it is not too bad.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

CHIEFS

Keeping in the Native American theme, I watched the documentary Chiefs last night, a film that covers two seasons of basketball played mostly by Arapaho boys attending the Wyoming Indian High School on the Wind River Reservation. Basketball is wildly popular on American reservations, a fact noted by many writers, such as Sherman Alexie. The other popular sport for boys seems to be rodeo. The school has a long history of success on the court, and players are obviously revered in the community. The film concentrates on several players and has underlying themes that touch on reservation life, drugs (mostly marijuana), academics, poverty, and boredom. The has a straightforward moral message: talent without determination and hard work (several players in the first season had impressive physical tools, but were lazy, indulged in weed, performed poorly in the classroom, and basically enjoyed hanging out with their buddies) results in squandered opportunities. A lesser talented team that played hard and togeher with focus and determination achieves its goals. At times the photography is awkward, but the film captures the beauty and despair to be found on the reservation. I think it well shows the desire of parents, especially mothers, for their sons, especially, to find worthwhile goals and to face a broader world, to even leave the area if possible. You could just feel the mothers’ frustrations at times. The story buttresses familiar arguments about two-parent families providing stability and focus (in one case, supplemented by an uncle who is also a coach). There are many instances of racism exhibited by rivals toward the boys, though I wondered if editing overplayed this angle. Depending on one’s perspective, a viewer can come away from the film with positive feelings of hope and achievement, or can focus on the failures and roadblocks. This movie would be a good one to show highschoolers in order to stimulate discussion on a wide range of topics facing kids today.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

WAR DANCES

Sherman Alexie is one of my favorite authors. I enjoy his novels and for the most part liked his short stories. His most recent collection of short pieces and poetry, War Dances, however, did not live up to my expectations. I almost had the feeling that this effort was one in which the publisher or agent called and said, "Come on, Shermie baby, it's been a while since you've published anything. How about whipping something up. The account's getting a little bare." And Alexie rifled through his papers and pulled out a few pieces and they were bundled off. None of the storis or poems are all that impressive, though a few are decent. The best stories, in my estimation, were "War Dances," and "The Ballad of Paul Nonetheless" (although the treatment of his wife made me feel very sad and a little bit angry). "The Senator's Son" was ok. The pieces just didn't seem to have the same edge as he managed in The Toughest Indian in the World and The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. There was some of his typical humor, which I enjoy, just not enough of it. If you have never tried Alexie, don't start with this effort; try Reservation Blues first.

Monday, December 7, 2009

NUTCRACKER 2009

My weekend---and pretty much all of the weeknights preceding---was taken up with driving the boy to practice, rehearsal, and presentation of Columbia Classical Ballet’s annual Nutcracker at the Koger Center for the Arts. I sat through both rehearsals and was present in some capacity at all five shows. I still am hearing sections of music playing in my head. My son danced in three roles this year, a much larger part than he has undertaken before. Of course, Radenko’s company worked on the ballet for about two months.

This time I did not confine myself solely to behind-the-scenes duties (such as serving as den father to the younger guys back in the dressing rooms), but took the opportunity to catch at least three full performances, in addition to portions of others, and I got to watch from the wings as well as in the audience. I even contributed a tiny bit by cutting the round felt spots that went on the dancers’ cheeks (soldiers and bon-bons) in several scenes. Not only did I get to enjoy the pageantry and beauty as a spectator, but I got an extended peek into the backstage world. My focus, naturally, was on my son, but I managed to concentrate a little on the work of those dancers whom I have come to know and like, particularly those I count as friends. Although I am largely unschooled in the nuances of ballet, I am learning. I will record observations, wrong or right, of things I saw and experienced during the weekend. One thing I found was that each show has a different dynamic, even when all the dancers are the same--- there are subtle shifts in delivery and attitude, in spirit and showmanship, in enthusiasm and enjoyment.

Firstly. . .my son. Joey danced wonderfully. He was the star! Well, for me at least. He reprises his usual role as one of the party boys, which he has been for about five years now. He was so handsome. You can tell when he is on the stage, because his posture improves and that rare smile sneaks across his face. He loves the part when he gets to run through the party scene with his saber held aloft. He then served as a member of the troops during the battle scene with the mice. They marched and danced and fought. All of them looked great in their red uniforms. I marveled at their precision on stage, fraught as it is with potential collisions and such (especially as the fog got quite thick at times), even more so this year as it seemed there was a larger group of young dancers involved, but it was colorful and flashy and the group carried it off in fine fashion. Then he was a bon-bon in the second half, dressed in shiny black and white; he tumbled and danced with the best of them. Unfortunately, he and most of that crew were not afforded much of a curtain call, but I knew he was there, standing to the rear, and I was so proud and happy for him. He really loves the Nutcracker.

I must say that the children and younger dancers were quite professional and efficient backstage. I was surprised how well-behaved they were. Much credit for this preparation and behavior should go to Renata, as well as to the parents and volunteers who managed the miniature hoard. Although there were typical mishaps (a broken hat, a wig malfunction, a lost shoe), they were quickly repaired and unneeded drama was kept to a minimum. And the kids seemed to have more activity on stage, which was nice. Both Claras (Ella Shealy and Dylan DeJames) danced wonderfully and were quite impressive. Vision is following in the steps of his older brother. DeeDee, one of the professional corps, danced as Louisa and was good in the role.

The women of the professional troupe were stunning (as always) and the guys were handsome. It is truly special to be able to see them performing up close. Despite being shorthanded due to unexpected visa problems for two male dancers, the men carried it off splendidly, though at times you could clearly see that they were weary (especially during the Friday night performance). There were some missteps that normally I would not notice, but after seeing it over and over, you start to catch things. A few dancers slipped on the snow and I thought one was going to fall, but she caught herself as she slid a foot or so. Another dancer somehow got himself turned around in one scene and was clearly out of position. It was interesting to watch the dancers come off stage---sweating, grimacing, and breathing hard---and talking to each other about how they thought things had gone. Afetr one of the snow scenes (that I thought had been crisply and cleanly performed), a ballerina came off muttering: "That was crap, crap, crap!" At least she didn't throw anything. When one thinks about the physical effort and precision required, I am surprised there are not more mishaps; no doubt as artists they are always striving for perfection, seldom reached. For me, however, I thought almost all of the dancing was lovely (well, except for the giant foam heads in the nightmare scene).

Zolton Boros was a good Drosselmeyer, and I was so happy they dispensed with that awful grey wig. The leading man of the troupe is now Journy Wilkes-Davis, who was featured prominently, which is quite an advance since he is one of the newer members. He did a very nice job and I predict a bright future for him. The other guys also were excllent. Lauren Frere is gorgeous, with long lines and precise movement, and her dancing was wonderful, especially in her role as the Arabian princess (danced in tandem with Journy). I bet the guys were lining up to take pictures with her during the meet-and-greet. I could go down the line and praise all the dancers, because they all looked great and danced splendidly. They didn’t seem to have as much time to relax as they have had in past performances, and they were kept constantly running in order to make quick changes and get back on the stage.

What a pleasure it was to see my friends Renata Franco and Waldilei Goncalves dance, not once but several times, together on the stage. They are such a wonderfully nice couple (my neighbors for several years, as well). My only complaint about their Devil Dog scene. . .was that it was too short! I wanted them to keep on dancing. They also were paired in the Spanish scene. Waldilei was also one of the Cossacks, always a crowd pleaser. No doubt Renata must have been worn out this weekend, because she served not only as the ballet mistress, but she appeared in most major scenes with the corps.

My favorite dancers, the three Japanese ballerinas, were fabulous. Kaori Yanagida was a beautiful and excellent Columbine (dancing alongside Kazuki Ichihashi). I also liked her Sugarplum fairy, though on one occasion my heart was in my throat when she almost hit the deck; thankfully she was caught at the last moment. You really have to admire the bravery and confidence these women have that the guys will always catch them. When you think about all the practice time involved, it is a wonder more are not injured. The lithe and alluring Akari Manabe, who always has a beaming smile when she performs (and in real life too), stands out with her long delicate features and graceful dancing. The newest member, Riiko Kitayama, did well in several roles (Nanny, Rat, Chinese dancer); it was nice to meet her mother, who came all the way from Japan to watch her dance.

The Koger needs to get new smoke machines. . .one spewed as if it were a 1940s bus and a few times it was so thick one might have thought the cast was in San Francisco. They should also retire Edward's wig. . .quite often by halfway through each Marzipan segment he looked as if he had just woken up and was having a very bad hair day.

Monday, November 30, 2009

CHIMO ON FOOTBALL

C: Dad? Why do they have all these commercials?

Dad: Well, that is how they make money.

C: They sure take up a lot of times.

D: Yes, they do.

C: I think they do it just so that I can't see the cheerleaders.

DAD SMILES

Saturday, November 28, 2009

GAMECOCKS

Despite some initial outbursts when they let Spiller slip through with a runback to lead 7-0, I felt pretty good for the rest of the game as the Cocks clearly outplayed the Tigers. Yes, they have outplayed them before and still lost, but something was different this year. All of the breaks didn't automatically go against us; in fact, we got a couple of lucky bounces. For once it actually looked liked our O-line outplayed a defense convincingly. The score could have bene even worse for the Tigers, had we not touched that muffed punt. And I thought there were two clear uncalled back-to-back interference penalties that went uncalled, but overall I was just delighted with the performace. I am going to miss Norwood. At least for one year I get to savor the defeat of the Orange. GO COCKS! I hope we do well in whatever bowl we get selected for. And I think it is legitimate to point out that both ACC division champions went down to middle of the pack SEC teams today.

Friday, November 27, 2009

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA

It is always a bittersweet experience for me when I come to the end of a series that I enjoyed. In the case of Battlestar Galactica, a show I thoroughly enjoyed, watching the final season was doubly melancholy. It was the last television series that both my wife and I enjoyed together, though the latter half of the series I was forced to watch alone. Many times while watching it I would think about her. At times the show was a little more preechy and convoluted than I would have liked, and I didn't always like the trajectories of several characters, but I eagerly anticipated each show. I was always impressed by the quality of the program, and the good acting. Edward James Olmos (Bill Adama) was wonderful. Mary McDonnell (Roslin) was great. I had a crush on Grace Park (unlike most men, who probably were totally smitten with Tricia Helfer). I am a sucker for stories about small groups of determined souls fighting off incredible odds (Alexander's Greeks, the gang in The Warriors, the British troops in Zulu, Star Trek Voyager, yeah. . .you get my drift). Although I must applaud the actor who played him, I realy disliked Gaius Baltar. [I would not be surprised if someday they reprise the theme, possibly following the journey of some other group of ships that headed off in a different direction.] Despite my love for Star Wars and Star Trek, I liked that there were no aliens in the story. The sets were awesome and the photography gritty and, well, real life (right, can one say that in science fiction?). The use of Starbuck as some harbinger, or angel, was troubling, but then again, why not. Apparently there are future spinoff, and I hope they do a good job with them.

COLUMBINE

Before 9-11, one of the most traumatic experiences for America, and definitely Colorado, was the massacre of students at Columbine High School. Twelve youngsters, one teacher, and two killers lay dead after an assault that could easily have claimed hundreds of additional victims (several bombs failed to ignite). The event dominated news for weeks. "Columbine" because synonymous with student shootings. People wanted to know how and what had happened, but they also wanted to know why. Some victims were pegged as heros, others were looked upon as villans; many people quickly concluded that the murderers were picked-upon outcasts, members of a goth group known as the Trench Coat Mafia, and that they targeted jocks and evangelicals. Dave Cullen's Columbine corrects many assumptions and myths, and presents a compelling argument for reevaluating the crime and what drove Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold to attempt to destroy their own school, as well as conflicts and struggles of a comunity in the aftermath of such horror.

Cullen's style is somewhat unusual for a normal nonfiction account of such an event, often going back and forth chronologically, touching on this subject and that, laying out trajectories of many paths, but carefully picking apart arguments, while assessing blame and providing insightful explanations of what lay behind the murders. Much cannot be covered in this review, but there are some important observations. Probably the most important is that these boys did not simply "snap," nor were they victims of anything other than normal peer pressures and disappointments---Harris was a psychopath, possibly from birth, and Klebold was a depressed suicidal who Harris needed to complete his plans (he had hoped to recruit other participants). Local authories were provided with numerous opportunities to stop the duo, and later actively engaged in a coverup (a conspiracy in fact) to hide the fact that at least one family had correctly pointed out that Harris was a danger. The police very likely were too slow in aggressively engaging the pair during the attack, and missed an opportunity to save some lives (but it may be too hard to criticize their decisions on the ground). Most likely the teacher (and possibly soem students) bled to death because of poor decisions by initial responders, although it is unclear that the students could have been saved. One of the most revealing things about the book is how people react to stressful events, and how witnesses see and report their observations. Eyewitness testimony is not always accurate. The media comes in for some blame in running with stories that were untrue, although there does not seem to have been some active effort to defraud; clearly they did not ask the right questions nor determine how accurate some of the claims were. Some evangelicals can be blamed for continuing a fiction that they knew was untrue (after the truth came out) because it benefitted their worldview---Cassie did not give her life in confessing belief in God (actually, another young lady, who survived, was most likely the genesis of that story, although she was vilified and accused of being a copycat). The two killers were not part of the TCM. Proponents of lax gun laws deserve criticism, especially in allowing easy access to weapons (though much blame deserved to be put on the two adults directly responsible for providing the guns and ammo). However, if the duo had been delayed, the likihood is that they would have eventually gathered their arsenal and attack; the only advantage would have been the possibility that their plans would have been fully discovered. Eric did not target any one group of students: he hated all humanity, or at least those who he felt were inferior, and he may not even have seen his victims as human. He was filled with hate. One could criticize the parents (possibly more in Dylan's case), but Haris was an accomplished psychopath, and they are often effective liars. Most sad was how the events were used by unscrupulous individuals for monetary gain and the promotion of specific agendas. Cullen's description of how parents and community dealt with the aftermath of tragedy was instructive.

There were heros. Several victims heroically refused to let their serious injuries keep them from experiencing life or achieving goals. Several teachers, particularly, acted bravely and decisively in getting children out of the path of danger. Some reporters ferreted out the truth. One FBI agent worked steadily to uncover causes and transmit his findings to others, so that warning signs could be taken more seriously in the future. The students deserve much credit for refusing to let their school die and for regaining control of their lives.

This is an excellent work. Not having read other accounts, I may be giving praise too easily, but I was impressed by the thoroughness of his research and arguments, and believe that most of his conclussions are accurate. There is much for parents and school administrators, and possibly health professionals, to learn from this book.

Monday, November 23, 2009

BLUE SEA OF BLOOD

As the WWII juggernaut of Japanese forces streamed southward early in the conflict toward Australia, its naval and air forces systematically destroyed much of its Allied opposition. American naval strength was found largely in the outdated and under-armed Asiatic Fleet, including a group of four-funneled flush-deck destroyers, among them the USS Edsall. Written off as expendable and with inadequate provisions, they were often sent on sacrificial operations with little military benefit, but for political expediency. Their crews, nonetheless, committed themselves resourcefully and bravely despite the staggering odds. In March 1942 the Edsall blundered into a Japanese fleet (possibly as it entered dangerous waters to rescue the survivors of the Pecos, which was ferrying men southward), and despite the gargantuan challenge arrayed against it, managed to hold off some of the best Japan had to offer, eventually and predictably succumbing to dive bomber attacks after a two-hour engagement. A few men survived the engagement, only to disappear in the hell that was the Japanese POW system, and no known crew made it out of the war. A small number of bodies were later located, having been executed and buried. Adding to their plight, their bravery and sacrifice was largely ignored and unreported, if not actually hidden from public eye. Donald Kehn tries to rectify this oversight with A Blue Sea of Blood.

Sadly, the effort was unsatisfactory. One can applaud the author’s research and efforts, as well as the wealth of information he provides, especially in light of the paucity of available materials, both governmental and personal, but he falls short in his storytelling. The strips of available information are lightly tacked to a sparse set of bones. One almost gets the feeling that the project should have been smaller, perhaps a large article in a major naval publication, but that in making it a book it became unwieldy, repetitive, and ultimately of lesser quality. One also gets the feeling that an inferior editing job was done. The story just doesn’t flow as well as some similar efforts, such as Ship of Ghosts. And this is sad, because the story is an important one. Another minor quibble is that Kehn to often puts himself in the story (this material should have been put in footnotes, or a separate appendix).

Sunday, November 22, 2009

DEATH

I have always been somewhat conflicted about the death penalty. Part of me thinks it is an appropriate penalty for murder, especially the most heinous cases (particularly against those who kill children), but in accepting this stand I have always believed that it should be absolutely as difficult as possible for the state to take a life, even if the convicted spends many years waiting for his final day. Death cannot be reversed. As I grow older, I come down, maybe even vindictively, on the side that even if they committed the crime, it is better they suffer in their cell, forced to think about it, than to have the easy way out by death. I know that the death penalty is not a deterrent. . .one only has to look at the rising numbers of individuals on death row, in startling numbers in some states, to know that argument does not hold water. And too many innocent people have been released because of scientifc evidence.

It is with this mindset that I watched a powerful and moving documentary, At the Death House Door, featuring the story of Carroll Picket, a minister present at more than 90 executions, who now is in the forefront against the death penalty in Texas (one of the most active state killers), and the story of what appears to be an innocent man put to death. I was impressed by the strength and wisdom, and quiet purposefulness, of Pickett. I felt for DeLuna's family, especially one sister. I know that in many cases the families of the murdered suffered even more, and I know a hateful demon would rise up in me if one of my sons was ever a victim. But I think many people may come to different conclusions about teh effectiveness of the sentence and the honesty of some of our public officials should they have the opportunity to watch this excellent film.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

DREAM

I am a vivid dreamer, and apparently unlike many people I can often remember at least some of my visions, occasionally in detail. And although I don't know if it is usual, some of my dreams seem to be like long-running serials, as I return repeatedly to a specific dream to take up an adventure or finish some storyline. Last night was one such visit, though a sad one.

While I was in graduate school, and had just moved to Columbia, I started having a dream about a nonexistent reading room, perhaps some coffeeshop/bookstore/giftstore type of place run by a nun-like group of women who were quiet and reserved. I would go there to read or reflect, and often to catch a quick nap. Yes, I was napping in my dream. Perhaps when I felt rested I could get sleep in the real world. Maybe it was a way to handle the stress of living away from family and dealing with graduate studies. I remember that there was a lot of wood and glass in the place, with lowered lighting, and there was a room off to the side that one could use to lie down, perhaps on one of those sleeper couches you see in psychiatrist offices. I developed friendships with some of the women, and they seemed welcoming and genuinely happy to see me and make me comfortable when I was there. I recall that sometimes we would sit and have discussions. I remember that I could walk to this spiritual oasis from wherever I lived and that it was in an urban area, though somehow it sat apart from the noise and bustle of a normal city. It was peaceful.

Last night, I visited it again, after a long hiatus, but when I arrived I realized that they were closing shop. Silent, unseen women worked quietly to pack the belongings and then I watched as the last boxes were removed and the workers walked away down a path, and I was left alone in the room, sunset light filtering through the stirred-up dust particles floating in the air, and I cried. I wonder now where my dream entity will go to find that same sense of peace.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

CHIMO CHICKEN


My friend scanned this drawing from about a year ago. It is only about four inches tall in real life, but I have it pasted to my work computer, and I thought I'd share. It was drawn by my son Chimo; he sketched it at work while waiting for me to get something done on a weekend. Notice that in addition to a beak, this chicken has lips. . .hence the smile!




CHRISTMAS GORE, GOODIES, AND GUFFAWS

No current writer seems to make me smile and chuckle with wicked certainty than Chris Moore, and his The Stupidest Angel is no exception; in fact, it might be one of his more enjoyable stories. The third novel to feature the sleepy but cursed Pacific coast town of Pine Grove, plagued as it has been by man-eating demons and vengeful sea sepents, the locals now have to deal with brain-eating zombies stirred up from their eavesdropping sleep by an intelligence-challenged archangel run amuck. Around five years after our last visit, several familiar couples have found their relationships on the rocks. Theo, our good-hearted stoner lawman, and Mollie, psychotic ex-warrior screen goddess of the B-movies, are caught in a storyline not unlike O. Henry's "Gift of the Magi," with some seriously odd twists. Other couples include the socially awkward biologist and his upper-crust psychiatrist as well as a bitter women fresh from accidentally dispatching her former husband and a horndog private pilot (now working for the DEA) with his talking Malaysian fruit bat (CM fans will know who this is). Any fan of Moore who hasn't read this book yet, will be in for a treat. For those unfamiliar with his wacky sense of humor, irreverance, and sexual innuendo, you may want to try one of his earlier stories before jumping into this one. Moore likes to throw in little tidbits of perversion, less to tittilate than to catch the reader off-guard. . .for instance, you can be assured that there will be at least one (and in this case more) references to some sort of beastiality, as well as off-hand remarks on just about every area of kink. But unless one has stringent fundamentalist morals, one can only laugh. Students at, say, Bob Jones or Regent University most likely will not be carting his books around campus, and I wouldn't let anyone under 21 read it (partially because they would not have the experience to understand most of his references); but for most thinking and open-minded adults, who enjoy a little sexual mischeviousness, you just can't go wrong with Moore for a fun ride.

RUSSIAN VAMPIRES

Night Watch is a decent Russian movie about the forces of good and evil, played out over the centuries as a tense relationship between two warring factions of Others. The walkers of the night, of course, are vampires. An agreement has been forged between the leaders of the sides that each will provide watchmen to assure that rogues (although Palin was not in this movie) will abide by their pact. But, of course, some stray, and the decision of one individual will have repercussions that will unleash. . .yes. . .another series of horror flicks. People walk the street, often unaware of their special powers, until some even triggers the realization that they are different, and then the individual must choose between light and dark. Although this movie is not up to the technical achievement of American and Western cinematography, such as that shown in the awesome Underworld and Matrix series, it is nonetheless enjoyable, if not a little clunky at times. I am sure it is a tad better for native Russian speakers, but the dubs were not that off-putting. I am looking forward to getting my hands on the second part, which I believe is titled Day Watch.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

LOST SYMBOL

Just finished the much criticized The Lost Symbol, and really guys, do you expect every book that people read to be a masterpiece. How about just a story that is fun to read and doesn't take half a year to slog through? Is it great literature? No. Is it a decent story? Yes. Was I totally happy with Brown's effort? Well, errrr, no. I figured out too much in advance (possibly just by guessing right) and I thought it easily could have been trimmed, say, 200 pages. But it was still an enjoyable story, and will no doubt make a good movie. Most of the people who saw me walking around with it, and stopped to chat, seemed to have enjoyed it as well. I like a good story once in a while, and I don't even try to figure out if all the information he provides is 100% accurate. . .I'm going to forget it all in a day or two. Like Chinese food. . .fun to eat, but you'll be hungry fairly quickly.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

THE WRESTLER

Just caught the The Wrestler, starring Mickey Rourke. I thought he did an absolutely wonderful job portraying an aging wrestling star, The Ram, who is forced to deal with a career coming to an end, money woes, medical problems that threaten his life and livelihood, a relationship with his daughter that is little more than nonexistent, and his desire as well for a romance with an older stripper who is afraid to establish anything more than a dancer-client arrangement. Although Rourke clearly has problems in the real world, he still can produce a stirring role on the screen. Marisa Tomei, in addition to being a beautiful woman, also gives a strong performace. I liked that the director did not try to make it too sappy. This is a solid, enjoyable movie. I think the best scene is when The Ram is at a signing event for former wrestlers, and he looks around at all the broken bodies and dreams.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

KOREAN FILMS

Went on a bit of a tangent in the foreign-film department over the last few days, selecting two Korean movies that were interesting and disturbing, but well done and intriguing. They couldn't have been more unalike.

First, The Uninvited, is a psychological ghost story concerning a interior designer (soon to be married) who suddenly finds himself dealing with guilt and two small ghosts (their death he witnesses; he fails to even try to help, though he could not have known). Their presence shakes him severely and forces him into an arrangement with a deeply troubled woman, who has special powers, in which his repressed past is startingly revealed. The whole story is really about how the revelation of terrible truths can haunt and destroy---in fact I thought it was interesting that the director employed nazi symbols in at least one scene. It is a deeply troubling film (definitely not something you would want someone under about 16 to see), and the main victims in the tale seem to be children and mothers. The colors used are often depressing; lots of rain. There really isn't much humor in the film, although there are several quite interesting observations, as when his fiance points out that if a crowd has come out of church, only to have the worshipers caught in a sudden downpour, they will run off, but not go back inside the chapel.

The second film, Untold Scandal, is an erotic, beautiful story about a manipulative, jealous matriarch in eighteenth-century Korea, who manuevers her philandering male cousin (a real cad, who revels in seductions, especially of women who are more difficult to corrupt) into several trysts that she thinks will benefit her and punish her husband (for taking a much younger concubine). As in all tragedies, the fates are more powerful than human action, and unexpected prices must be paid. The costumes and scenery are absolutely gorgeous, as are several of the actresses (sue me for having a weakness!). The movie provides some interesting insights into Korean culture of this period. Yes, there is nudity and sex, but I would recommend it, especially for lovers of sad romantic stories.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Beth & Gabby

This is a picture of my sister Beth, who was born about 10 months after I was, and her grandaughter Gabby (whose Mom is Falon). Beth still lives in Florida, but Falon and her family (which has a new addition, Kara, whom I haven't met yet), now reside in Colorado. Thought some of my readers, the few that you are, might enjoy this pic.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

SOUTH OF BROAD

If Pat Conroy published a shopping list, I would probably search for it and read it. Ever since around 1980, when my mother recommended The Lords of Discipline to me, I have been a faithful fan. Part of that devotion may be my having lived on the edges of Charleston (up to fifth grade) and the fact that some of his upbringing roughly parallels that of mine (military father, marshes, South). I loved Great Santini, Prince of Tides, and Water is Wide. I even tracked down a copy of Boo. Although I am seldom awed by the famous or wealthy, I was somewhat starstruck when I finally got to meet Conroy in person, while he was giving a talk in Columbia about his memories of poet and novelist James Dickey. He turned out to be as gracious and pleasant as many of the Southern characters he pens. I have often found myself trading away hours of sleep in order to avoid putting down his latest novel (although I confess that the only thing I haven’t read of his is the cookbook). I enjoyed his nonfictional My Losing Season, as well as Beach Music (though it was probably my least favorite of his novels).

So, I was very excited when I heard Conroy had a new novel, South of Broad, coming out, roughly ten years after his last effort. I immediately lost much-needed rest. Dysfunctional families and individuals are his stock and trade, and this book is chock full of them. The story is placed during the cauldron of desegregation and high-school life (primarily the exploits of the integrated football team) in 1969 Charleston, as a small group of disparate and damaged souls comes together and forms a strong (yet often disputatious) bond that lasts into adulthood. The star the group circles around is protagonist Leo King, a young man recovering from the loss of an adored older brother (suicide) and the parenting of a stern, rigid, ex-Catholic nun mother (who is also the principal of his high school), a role that is moderated by the love and attention of a softer, understanding, and supportive father. King---who is ending several years of probation (having taken the rap for a drug crime he didn’t commit), extensive mental care, and slave-like community service (for a crotchety antiques dealer)---is asked to be a moderating influence between the races in the newly integrated public school and on the football team, as well as to serve as shepherd (similar in ways to the story in Lords of Discipline) to three high-society kids, forced out of their private school; several orphans, including a brother and sister from the mountains of North Carolina; and two damaged, but talented, twin neighbors---one a beautiful, uninhibited, and rebellious girl (Sheba, destined for stardom in Hollywood) and the other a beautiful, flamboyant gay boy (Trevor, destined for local fame in San Francisco as a pianist). King, although apparently rather homely (but well-known because of a long-standing stint as newspaper delivery boy), has a deep heart and manages to achieve his tasks of maintaining racial harmony and stability for the group, but he pays a hard price after marrying Starla (one of the NC orphans), who suffers from borderline personality disorder. He becomes best friends with his black co-captain (whose father is the new coach). While their youthful actions and bonding are important to the tale, the major storyline occurs twenty years later as the truth of their lives unravels while several members of the clique attempt to save Trevor from a terrible fate in California, as well as defend themselves from the twin’s evil father and the onrushing hurricane Hugo.

Conroy loves and understands Charleston and The Citadel, particularly, and the strengths of the book are place and character. Readers familiar with his books will feel pretty comfortable. However, the first part of the book seemed rushed---almost cramped---as he tried to jam things together, to situate the characters, and provide the bedrock of the story. . .it almost felt that he might have written the first section last, and in a hurry. King’s character seemed a bit unrealistic at times, and some of the wordplay seemed outside of that which I was familiar with. Yes, people call each other terrible things, even in jest, but I simply can’t see some phrases tumbling from the lips of most Charlestonians I knew, even the most racist (if they were upper-class). I really enjoyed the love story between King's parents and descriptions of the area (a city that I really like, but do not want to live in). Once the story morphed into their adult lives, it seemed to flow better (even accepting certain scenes that didn’t ring true). Perhaps there were just too many subplots (coverage of which could have accounted for an addition 200-300 pages), but perhaps he was under length or time constraints. There are a lot of disturbing parts (incest, pedophilia, AIDS, racism) that one might want to consider if a young adult choses to pick up the book.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, and heartily recommend it. It touched me personally in several areas. . .particularly Leo’s relationship to Starla. He is a classic codependent personality who cannot give up on his crazy wife. Been there, done that! (Though I got enough help to finally cut the ropes that were dragging me down into the abyss). I just hope we do not have to wait an additional ten years for his next story.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

HALLOWEEN

For me, there is still something special about shepherding my boys through the streets, this time Shandon, on their yearly quest for candy. I am sure it is so for every parent. But things sure have changed I some ways from when I was a kid. I got so excited, and I practically ran from house to house, determined to fill by spoils bag to the hilt. My sons, however, are much more deliberate. After only about two hours, Joey announced that he had collected enough goodies, and seconded by his brother, declared that it was time to head home. It may have partly been the unexpected high temperatures, which somewhat foiled the heavier clothing I utilized in anticipation of cooler weather. Joey went as Darth Maul and Chimo as a ghostly soldier. It is interesting to watch my boys and how they react to things. Joey is much more matter-of-fact, and critical, but still polite. He made sure he thanked each person as he walked away. He complained, though, about people who didn't answer their doors, or did it too slowly,, and about those individuals who left all their lights on without any intention of delivering sweets. At times, he didn't seem to be really enjoying himself. Chimo, on the other hand, just loves talking to people. I wonder where he gets that from? He chats and compliments, notices peoples' decorations and yards. One man said to Chimo, "Ah, and you are the ghost of a soldier?" And Chimo replied, "Yes sir, I died in Vietnam." Not sure exactly where he got that from. Overall, it was a nice night. The horror of the night, however, was all the sweet gifts the Gamecocks gave to the Volunteers!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

FOX NEWS

A good op-ed by Leonard Pitts, of the Miami Herald, on Fox News, published on Oct 4. A snippet is here included:

"But Fox is in a class by itself. In its epidemic inaccuracy, its ongoing disregard for basic journalistic standards of fairness, its demagogic appeals and its blatantly ideological promotions it is, indeed, unique - a news source in name only. That's not just an opinion: A 2003 study found Fox viewers more likely to be misinformed than those who get their news elsewhere. . . Fox forfeited any expectation of being taken seriously by serious people when it made itself an echo chamber less concerned with reporting news than with affirming the ideological biases of its viewers."

Friday, October 23, 2009

FISH

My second foray into foreign film this week came with the viewing of the Iranian film, The Fish Fall in Love, a quiet, almost sad, story of a man who was jailed as a political prisoner when he was young, destroyed his relationship with his fiance. While he is in prison, she is married off into a marriage that soon goes bad, but she has a daughter, and her husband disappears. Most likely the daughter is Aziz's, the protagonist, but this is only hinted at in the movie. The film begins with Aziz returning after more than twenty years to his hometown in northern Iran, probably on the Caspain, originally with the intention of selling his family's property, only to find his former fiance and his daughter occupying one house that they have turned into a well-attended restaurant. He moves in upstairs, and the four women running the establishment try to make him stay by feeding him delicious meals (many of them looked scrumptious). But he is so stoic, and does not rise up to accusations nor does he ever step in and explain himself, which is frustrating. And she is strongwilled. I think the end of the movie was on a high note, but I am not sure. I do not know the actresses well, although Golshifteh Farahani is very beautiful. It was a nice movie, and it gives some insight into a part of Iran that few people probably even know about. It is not heavy handed in its criticism of the government, but it is there.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

MORE MOORE

I declare that I am a member of the ever-expanding cult of Christopher Moore. His absurdist-humor-fantasy novels usually leave me chuckling and grinning, retelling the story in segments and anecdotes to coworkers and friends in attempts to get them to pick up his books. I am a Moore ambassador! Just finished reading Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings. Although it is not quite as openly humorous in ways as some of his earlier books, I loved it just the same. And it seemed that he went deeper in depth into the story, in this case whale research, than he has in a few of his lighter volumes, and I relished what I learned as well as the enjoyable story. He likes to take light-hearted jabs at institutions (whether it be the Church, history, vampirism, or, in this case, research academia). Most of his writing, it seems to me, is character driven. . .you get to know and usually like all the characters, good or bad, especially the wise-cracking everymen. I loved the first half of this book, but still enjoyed the weirdness of the latter half. Without giving too much away, it is about an absorbed whale researcher and his photographer buddy, as well as several cohorts, who stumble onto knowledge that causes them to get acquainted with a mysterious underwater world. Moore likes mixing stereotypes and creating vivid personalities. I loved his telling of how Nate Quinn met his third wife, and her later conversion to lesbianism (which brings up another thing. . .Moore has a dabbling fascination with beastiality in almost every one of his books); his merry description of the "whaley boys" (you will have to read to finds out about them); Kona, the rasta-surfer-blonde-stoner dude with a large heart and inherent wisdom and smarts. Moore has an interesting warped mins, and I greedily await my next foray into his off-kilter world. How some of the stories haven't been turned into movies is beyond me.

ABSURDISTAN

I’m back to watching a few foreign films. Last night I caught the movie Absurdistan, a delightful little comedic romp, done almost as if by an amateur crew, about two star-crossed lovers anticipating their first night together and the complications that embroil them in a struggle of the sexes. The movie was apparently filmed in Azerbaijan and it looks like most of the crew may have been local (although well casted). The story is basically about a contest of wills between the women of the town (14 families) who decide they are going to withdraw their sexual attentions to their spouses (who have a reputation for being oversexed), led by the young female protagonist and her gypsy-like grandmother, because their basically lazy, not-to-be-bothered menfolk have refused to fix the aging water system and the town has been doing without much water. The story mixes a little magical realism with the age-old battle-of-the-sexes theme. The acting is often rough, but the cast was enthusiastic, and the story is easy to follow. In the end, you realize that is was a nice film and you smile. Sure, it isn’t slick, but very worth the time.

I also watched Fragments, about how a group of survivors from a mass shooting in a small restaurant deal with the experience and the loss of loved ones. The cast was good, but there was simply too much going on, and although it wasn’t bad, I wasn’t too impressed either. Unless you can’t handle subtitles, Absurdistan is a better choice. I thought Dakota Fanning and Josh Hutcherson, both young actors, were very good in their roles, and most of the rest of the cast were good, but these fragmented multiple storyline movies are often less than satisfying. Kate Beckinsale is very pretty and she did a good job. Forest Whitaker is a great actor, but he seems to be getting smaller roles.

Monday, October 19, 2009

ACTIVITIES

On Sunday, we attended a "play" about Sherlock Holmes, but it was a bit over the boys' heads, so we opted out and went to dinner and to play for a bit, then caught Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which wasn't bad a t all.

Tonight we attended the South Carolina Fair. . .ok, actually, we attended the Midway, using the "all-for-one-price-ride-ticket". The boys had a grand time, and Chimo was able to do almost all of the rides. He missed out on the giant slide (why he wouldn't be allowed on that, I am not sure), but then Joey couldn't play on the Raiders set, so they were even. Chimo did well on most rides, but the Pharoh (basically a giant swing), which he rode, still scares him. . .and I saw him up there, huffing and puffing. Joey loved the rides that went fast backwards. I think they would have ridden the flume ride over and over, had I let them, but it was simply too cold for that. The first priority when we arrived was to ride Crazy Mouse, since last year we used up about an hour and a half, or more, waiting in line for it, only to have it break down. Once we got it out of the way, they reluctantly accepted the challenge of the Inverter. . .and once they saw they would surivie, it was off to the races. Joey was flashing the grin he so seldom shows. I had fun watching them, though my wallet took a beating. Joey really wanted friend mushrooms and pizza, so I relented. Wasn't much I could eat, so I had a turkey leg. Did not eat any fried flour goodies. They really liked the SuperSwing.

Friday, October 16, 2009

HUNCHBACK


The boys and I attended the Columbia Classical Ballet production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame this evening at the Koger Center. Choreographed and staged by Radenko Pavlovich, it was a very nice first production of the season and both boys seemed to enjoy it, especially Joey, who I think not once took his eyes off the stage. Even Chimo was in minimum-wiggle mode. Many thanks to Myra Nelson for blessing us with tickets.

The Forest Acres-based company has grown to more than twenty dancers now, and at times the stage seemed, well, a bit overpopulated at times. In fact, one of my few criticisms of the show would be the crowded stage---the constant distraction, for me, caused by the moving about and chatting and posturing of the background characters, especially with such a large large support cast. . .both regular dancers not currently involved in the performance, adults in costume, and a large portion of the kids' company. Not that it was that much of a problem, but I felt at times that they took away from the performance of dancers being spotlighted on the stage. And those dancers were wonderful.

The costumes and set were very nice. The boys thought it was funny that we could see the reflection off the stained glass, even in the darkened state, when the Notre Dame was raised and lowered; I chucked that maybe the secondary title should be, "ballet of the Flying Cathedral." I liked that there was a much greater role for the kids in this performance than in the Wizard of Oz, and I thought the younger dancers comported themselves professionally and well.

Overall, I enjoyed the second half over the first. This was a new production for me and it was a nice change; there were also quite a few newcomers to watch, as well as some holdovers from the last few years. Zolton Boros did an exceptional job as Quasimodo, a role that must be fairly difficult for a dancer, having to contort oneself when dancing. He was expressive and convincing. Kaleena Burks sparkled as Esmeralda, though at times I think they could easily have incorporated a little more "gypsy" music and moves into her role, maybe made her a little more alluring (not to say she isn't beautiful), even let her hair down at some point (although that may not be how it is done in ballet). One of the lead male dancers, Aoi Anraku, had a bit of an off night as he struggled with some of his lifts, stumbled and fell on a spin, and almost lost it at least one other time. Yet, in portions he was wonderful, and had some nice, graceful leaps. I think they should really rethink the costume of Frollo though, making it a darker, more menacing style. Our friend Waldilei did not have as much of a role as I would have liked. The young Journy Wilkes-Davis is maturing as a dancer right before our eyes, getting stronger with every performace. I bet the women loved it that he had trouble keeping his torn shirt on in one scene. One of my favorites, Akari Manabe, was as lovely as ever and I can't help but to watch her when the corps is on stage. She and Kaori dance nicely together.

Luckily, in the second half, which I thought was much better---more colorful and exciting (except perhaps for the crowd in the background)---my friend Renata Franco (the company's Ballet Mistress) got a much large role, and she was wonderful. Her partner in much of her section, Kazuki Ichihashi, was also very strong. I admit that I am not exactly sure how Diana and Acteon fit into the whole story, but I enjoyed it nonetheless, and I think the crowd did as well. Oleksandr Vykhrest and Lauren Frere were also solid in their performaces. I think the march of the monks could have been accompanied with slightly more "churchy" music (maybe organs)---in fact, overall I was not impressed with the musical score. . .it just didn't seem to mesh well with what was happening in the dance at times. And, someone should tell the female dancers not to wear large earrings when they are in the monk habits! :) I am not sure why that bothered me.

Overall it was a very nice performance and was well received by the audience. Attendance was pretty good, which we need to support dance (and we have quite a few companies locally). I got to meet some parents of former CCBC dancers, and a dancer from Starrett's company came over and chatted as well. I look forward to seeing the Nutcracker and Alladin. Good job guys and gals.

Friday, October 9, 2009

PEACE OBAMA

Now, I like President Obama as much as the next guy, and a heck of a lot more than the wacko wing-nuts, and overall I think he has done a good job so far. But the announcement that he had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize was a bit perplexing. Sure, he has attempted to move the United States toward a more peaceful path---despite being saddled with two wars not of his making---and I commend his efforts to reduce the nuclear stockpiles and reduce tensions with the Muslim world. But the Peace Prize? Already? Hmmmmm. . .I was thinking maybe this was a "preemptive awarding"! Perhaps the Swedes were worried we were planning on bombing them? Well, maybe they were just so delighted to have the warmongers in the Cheney (I mean Bush) White House replaced by the more pacifist Obama, that the committee members decided to award the prize as a hopeful gesture of future good behavior on behalf of Washington? But the Literary prize organizations better not start awarding prizes for forthcoming volumes!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

YOU SUCK

Just finished Christopher Moore's You Suck, the sequel to Bloodsucking Fiends, and I found it highly entertaining. I laughed out loud several times, and have recommended to others. No doubt we will meet these characters again. And I can't wait.

Friday, October 2, 2009

GRUPO CORPO

I encourage anyone who is interested in or enjoys dance to take the opportunity to watch any show put on by the Brazilian dance troupe called Grupo Corpo (Body Group). Some of their shows are available on dvd and online, and they apparently make frequent trips to the United States. This unique company of twenty dancers, hailing from the city of Belo Horizonte, mixes classical ballet and music, with modern dance, Brazilian rhythm and moves, and not a little of Cirque de Soleil (okay, maybe going overboard on that last one, but they did employ a bit of gymnastic-like activities, such as hanging from pipes suspended from the ceiling). Their performances are riveting and visually impressive, a wild mix of colors and often nontraditional movement, although some of the pieces seem to drag on at times, and they might have worked better had they been chopped up a bit. Often the scenes work best when all, or most, of the dancers are on the stage at the same time. I actually liked when you could feel the ballet coming to the forefront, as opposed to the gymnastics. Never have I seen as physically strong/built group of dancers---I cringe to think what their workouts and practices are like. Often there does not appear to be a real story being told; rather they seem to be trying to express emotion or experience through their dance. I didn’t enjoy everything they did, and some of the outfits were a bit off-putting, but overall they are simply wonderful. The lighting and backdrops are simple, for the most part, but effective. What seems interesting is that there doesn’t seem to be a hierarchy, though several dancers stand out. Overall, I can’t see how anyone would not have a great time attending one of their shows.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

MOVIES

Watched a really nice little movie last night, Sugar. It follows a Dominican baseball pitcher as he deals with the U.S. minor league system in Iowa and then in New York City, when he leaves the team. It was well done and beautifully photographed, and softly handles many of the trials and issues faced by immigrants to this country (language, friendships, work). Well worth checking out.

I also viewed The Soloist this weekend. It was ok, about a homeless classically trained cellist in Los Angeles who is befriended by a journalist looking for a good story, but the movie seemed to lack something. I thought Morton Downey Jr. was wonderful, as was Jaimie Fox. Perhaps I am losing a little sympathy for the homeless, as I think their are other ways to deal with the mentally challenged. What they portrayed certainly is not the answer, despite the hard work done by the agencies and groups who reach out to the underclass.

Monday, September 21, 2009

BLOODY FUN

Read Moore's Bloodsucking Fiends. Many of the characters you will see in other of his books. I really enjoyed it, and look forward to sinking my teeth into the sequel. I like Moore's style, the lighter humor, the playing around with fantasy.

Monday, September 14, 2009

GOODBYE SOLO

Watched a delightful, though sad, movie last night, titled Goodbye Solo. It is about a Senegalese cabdriver who takes on the mission of trying to thwart the apparent desire of one of his regulars, an older white man, to kill himself by jumping off Blowing Rock in North Carolina. Solo, played by Savane, is wonderful, as he struggles to reach for his desire to be a flight attendant, keep his pregnant girlfriend and her daughter happy, and his self-appointed rescue mission. There are many lighter moments as the plight and relationships of immigrant workers in the country are lightly touched upon. The photography is very nice. I wouldn’t watch it if you are seeking an uplifting experience, but it is a very worthwhile movie.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

CARAMEL

There is something special and appealing about a movie that delves into the universal themes of love and longing, especially when it opens windows into a different culture. Director, screenwriter, and actress Nadine Labaki (Layale) presents the excellent film Caramel, a story about a group of Christian Lebanese women who work in a beauty shop (and a couple of women associated with the business). The title refers to the caramel mixture they use to remove (wax) women’s faces and legs, though it also serves as a metaphor for dealing with the unwanted detritus of relationships gone bad. Ladaki, gorgeous and sultry, is caught in the familiar "other women" role, sadly waiting for a man who will not leave his wife. The other women each wrestle with their own desires: an aging commercial actress and mother of teenagers trying to latch that elusive spot; a lesbian woman in the midst of a very traditional society, whose heartthrob enters the shop one day, and keeps coming back; a bride-to-be worried about masking the fact that she is not a virgin; a older seamstress suddenly offered a chance at a relationship; and a cantankerous, naughty, intrusive, senile crone, who provides much of the comedic sideplay in the movie. Enjoyable too is the role of a clumsy, love-smitten traffic cop who has fallen for Layale. All the women have to deal with a patriarchal and restrictive society (one women being forced to accept, and then redecorate, accommodations in a bawdy location because no one will rent her a room unless she can prove she is married) with many rules on behavior for women. The more I see films from the Middle East, I realize that many want to tell the story that despite oppression, women find many ways to resist and challenge the roles they are expected to fulfill, even if they cannot totally escape the parameters set for them. One of the best scenes occurs when Layale waxes and removes hair from the face of her smitten admirer, and the glow on his face as he leaves the shop. Hopefully she writes a sequel in which they are a couple. The only disappointment is that some storylines might have been explored, and they is little reference to broader themes of society in this contentious location.

Friday, September 4, 2009

LET THE MAN SPEAK

The rabid rabble-rousers of the right have gone too far. To complain about a president making a speech to children encouraging them to stay in school and work hard, is pushing the opposition envelop a bit too far. Shame on them. I guess now that any pat on the back or encouragement from this president "automatically" has sinister political connotations! I hope America is ready for the Third Red Scare. Yet presidents, and for that matter all levels of politicians and government officials, have made talks at schools and in classrooms across this nation. The minions of Rush and his ilk scream about what Obama might say, without ever seeing his speech, and claim it is just another attempt to promote socialism (what bosh!), while they engage in politicizing to promote their racist, exclusionary, wrong-headed agenda that only maintains the status quo and allows for no improvement in society. What hypocrites these folks are. Anyone with half a brain can see that dropout rates are unacceptably high and only result in disillusioned youth, higher criminality, and rampant delinquence down the road. Will a speech keep kids on the right path? Probably not, but it certainly can’t hurt. Bush felt perfectly free to lecture children about staying off drugs (can we say "hypocrite" once more?), and all manner of public officials during the Bush years, if my memory serves me right, preached about abstinence from sex and other issues to the nation’s children. If the President says something objectionable, then take him to task. . .but at least have the courtesy to let him make the speech in the first place.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

THOUGHTS/DOINGS

After a bit of moving stuff into the truck yesterday for Dave and Arina, and a quick trip to McDonalds, I took the boys to see UP, which turned out to be a delightful, if not at times melancholy, story about an old man trying to recapture some of his past love, of special love itself, and adventure. I really enjoyed it; probably laughed harder than the boys. We also took along my friend's three-year-old Luba. She was very good in the movie and seemed to enjoy it too. The Pixar animation was wonderful, as always. I highly recommend it to adults, for the main message is for you!

Finished reading Del Toro's The Strain. It is the first in a planned trilogy. If you like vampire stories, I think you will enjoy it. Nothing radically new from what you have seen or read, if you are a fan, but an enjoyable story nonetheless, fairly well told. I look forward to the next installment.

Chimo observation, while talking about recycling he did on his vacation: "Wow, Dad, you know, they drink a lot of beer in Connecticut."

I saw this very attractive woman and said, "Boy, she sure is pretty." Chimo looks over and says, "Well, if she had a better face." I was dumbstruck. He is 8.

Joey tried to get out of doing his vocabulary, which was supposed to be turned in on Friday. Guess who is in his room on Sunday doing old homework! :)

Monday, August 24, 2009

BONILLA VISIT

Last month my friend and graduate-school roommate, Clark, brought his lovely newlywed-wife, Eva, through Columbia on their way down to Charleston. It was delightful meeting Eva for the first time. We had dinner at Yesterdays, which happens to be the first place Clark and I ever ate together. It was a nice visit, albeit too short. Not sure why Chimo is grinning like the Cheshire Cat.



Thursday, August 20, 2009

WHY THE LIES?

The current health-care debate is heated and getting uglier. Despite the fact that there are clearly problems in coverage (too many not covered, or underinsured, or financially burdened by the coverage they can afford) and decision-making based on crass profiteerism, rather than making sure all Americans get adequate and compassionate care, the conservative pundits and politicians---who seem to be in the pockets of BIG Insurance and other BIG financial interests---employ scare tactics and outright fabrications to thwart any positive improvements. There are legitimate and worrisome details for conservatives, and even liberals, to consider, but the Right has decided to employ major lies to scare people? Why? Because it is effective? Do Americans simply swallow everything Beck & Limbaugh say without thinking? Well, yeah. How can smart people misconstrue the funding for poor people to make legal decisions about the end of their lives (like most middle class and wealthy already do) before they are incapacitated, be misrepresented as encouraging euthanasia? What part of their asses are these people pulling their grossly wrong assessments of foreign health care? Do these people not look at all at the sound bites the insurance PR people supply them before they mouthing them? These little McCarthys simply assume that people will accept the lies, and if found out, no one will hold them accountable. We need constructive debate on a host of issues in this country, not rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth reactionary posturing. I guess there is nothing wrong with people getting heated up by policies that directly affect them, but the level of dishonesty recently is appalling.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Dad on Sennett

My old man served aboard the USS SENNET from around 1966 to 1968. I just found these pictures on a website devoted to the submarine (I think provided by him in most cases). Thought I would share them here as well. This is the boat:
My mom must have come aboard to visit Dad, sometime around 1968.

I think this pic was taken during a cruise around South America, most likely in port in Montevideo, Uruquay. My Dad is standing far right. The other officers (l to r) are identified as Larry Brownley, Victor (Gene) Clemons, Bob Burnett, Art Thompson (C.O.), Tom Luckman, and Jim Abbey.

Dad is in front of the trio of officer standing behing the speaker, his cap jauntily tilted forward!




Monday, July 27, 2009

PRETTY WINGS

I have really been enjoying this new song from Maxwell, Pretty Wings. I particularly like the use of the chimes. I attach here a link to the Youtube video. I will keep my music notifications to a minimum, but I really like this one.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mLfC2kkvPw

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

DEATH THUMB

A couple of days after I assured my son that his lonely sunflower, which had reached about three feet and was starting to flower, was safe and sound in his Dad's hands, it suddenly took a startling turn, grew limp, and perished, as if a miniature heatwave had gripped it by the stalk and melted it. In just two days it withered. I knew I had been keeping it watered. Only thing I can think is that perhaps I didn't dilute the Miracle Gro enough. Now, I have to figure out a way to get a replacement. He is going to be so upset if there is no flower here when he gets back. I am mortified! Bad Daddy! Bad Daddy!

Monday, July 13, 2009

A GATHERING OF SAINTS

I have always been somewhat interested in the Mormon Church, particularly after being introduced by a former professor (shout out to Nancy Hewitt) to the religious upheavals that swept through the "burned over district," which helped spawn much enthusiasm and not a few splinter churches. It was further fueled by a history of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. I never bought the Moroni & the golden tablet story, and to some extent think that Joseph Smith was little more than a successful con man (not unlike so many other charismatic preachers with devoted followings) who liked the ladies. But I respect the notion that churches are about people finding community, even if others do not agree with the details of faith or their foundings; the few Mormons I have known always impressed me with their faith and actions (although they tended to be a bit too conservative for me, and in some cases distant). Although these friends frowned upon many behaviors, I never once felt pushed to join their faith, possibly beyond a polite inquiry, and never felt pressured to not have that drink, or whatever. And as a (not-very-good) Catholic, I understand religious rigidity in accepting change and abhor my own leaders’s refusals to accept gays, or to provide better opportunities for women in the church (I believe women should be priests---I was influenced greatly in this belief by Sister Adrienne). And, though possibly not for religious reasons, I have never accepted polygamy as anything other than men finding an excuse to cheat, but being able to do it "legally." (I do understand that some women defend the practice as reducing the demands upon any one individual, but I just don't buy it.)
So reading A Gathering of Saints, by Robert Lindsey, opened a giant window into many of the beliefs and fears (paranoia) of members of the Latter-Day Saints, both those who wish to protect the church (from outside criticism as well as internal dissent) and honest searchers for truth and faith. This interesting foray into a secretive world, as well as the dealings of sketchy (and greedy) historical-document dealers---sparked by the bombing murder of two Salt Lake City residents, as well as another bombing that opened the doors to a determined police investigation---was worthy of a thrilling mystery novel. The killer, Mark Hoffman, was outwardly a devout Mormon channeling possibly damaging documents (at a nice profit) to church leaders eager to cover up potentially embarrassing information, who turns out to be a master forger and cold-blooded murderer who apparently had little faith at all, other than getting rich. So many people were duped, largely by the skillful maneuvering of Hoffman, or the failure to do proper legwork, or simple gullibility. I found some of the information on forgery quite good. The story lagged a bit, but it was compelling enough that I wanted to know "why" Hoffman killed and just how extensive his forgeries went, and indeed he fooled a lot more people than just the Mormons, all the way up to the specialists at the Library of Congress. I was especially interested in attempts by the Mormon hierarchy to silence academic inquiry (particulalry by critics), which I hate no matter who is putting up the roadblocks, be it church or government. There will be some who see "Mormon bashing," but I think Lindsey tried to take the middle road, letting others critique and he report. The second half of the book is a great detective story of a group of determined investigators (of mixed backgrounds and beliefs) who doggedly tracked down the truth, all over the country, and forced Hoffman to come clean about his crimes.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Waiting


Here is another picture of Joey, standing under the poster for OZ, waiting for his turn of instruction from Pavlovich.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

RECENT MOVIES

Just caught the recent Johnny Depp vehicle, Public Enemies. It was an enjoyable movie, though often historically inaccurate and way too bloody than what really occurred, but it did I think capture some of the feeling of criminality and the role of Hoover's FBI during the Great Depression (though things seemed a bit too clean to me). They did a great job with wardrobe and settings. I don't like the glorification of criminals (although certainly there were those who admired bank robbers during this era). Depp did a good job in the role of John Dillinger, and his supporting cast was good. I wasn't swept away by Christian Bale or Billy Crudup. Marion Cottilard was cute, as Billie. The shooting sequences were pretty impressive.

I caught the dvd of Frost Nixon, and was very impressed with Frank Langella. There is no way I thought that Nixon was anyone but Nixon, a feat considering how well-known Langella's face is. Also watched on dvd Doubt, which was excellent too. The acting of Hoffman and Streep is wonderful. Definitely not an action movie, but it leaves you thinking and in awe of the characters.

A big thumbs-up for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I thought Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett were absolutely wonderful, as was Julia Ormond and the rest of the cast. Whoever was responsible for the makeup deserves a lifetime achievement award. The story was melancholy though.

I enjoyed Tommy Lee Jones in the film In the Electric Mist, based on a novel by James Lee Burke. It didn't reach the level of anticipation and excitement I would have liked, but I thought it portrayed Robicheaux fairly well.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

IRANIAN HYPOCRISY

How come no one has countered Ahmadinejad's and the clerics' condemnations of nonexistent British and American meddling in their internal affairs, when they have been major players and funders of Hezbollah activities in the Middle East and in Iraq? Who knows how many terrorists have been funded by them, directly or indirectly.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

AHMADINAJED TUTORED BY CASTRO?

For most of his long reign in Cuba, Fidel Castro made a habit of scuttling any improvements in relations with each successive American administration, largely by doing something to incite his neighbor to the north (such as shooting down aircraft piloted by anti-Castro partisans). But everyone should know that what he was doing was making it so that he could blame every ill in his country on America; had the embargo ended, he would have had a much more difficult time explaining his repressive policies and the economic hardship his people were subjected to. Now President Ahmadinejad, and his clerical handlers in Iran, seem to have taken a page from Fidel. Voting irregularities? What irregularities??. . .it is but the meddling of the nasty Americans. Neda shot in the chest by a Basiji militiaman? Oh no! It was one of the protesters, surely, incited by the Americans, who are causing trouble for the Iranian police and people. (I wonder if we Americans were also guilty of not allowing Neda a proper burial and that we also have helped harrass and depose from their home her family, as well as send the doctor who tried to help her scurrying from the country for his safety?). We haven’t violently put down a peaceful expression of opposition to a rigged election and imposed a reign of terror on anyone thinking of political and social reform. . .oh no, we are just closing ranks in front of those foreign devils, the Americans and British. How dare President Obama criticize our beating, maiming, terrorizing, and killing Iranian citizens? He is such a meddler. Too bad there is a sizable percentage of Iranians who are blinded by the clerics and their own closed-mindedness to see that the mullahs and Ahmajinedad are no better now than the brutal repression laid upon the Iranian people by the Shah and his Savak! I am getting sicker and sicker as the iron fist of an untrue Islam smashes the yearnings for freedom, throttles the people’s will. The question now is if the people will be brave enough to risk their lives now, beyond making nighttime calls from the rooftops, or releasing green balloons. I hope a contingent of Iranian taggers start writing messages of hope in green on the walls of the city. Maybe the beating of basiji as they storm into people’s homes will send a message. The Iranian people rose up once to shed an oppressor, I hope they can do it again. The Iranian Revolution I was derailed. After thirty years it is time to get in back on the tracks for the benefit of all Iranians. Americans are not the enemy. The enemy is within.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

NEDA


I watched in horror as blood suddenly streamed from her mouth, then nose, as it filled her lungs to capacity and spilled out into the street. She thankfully did not seem to be in pain, but in shock, her dark eyes rolling to her right, as if to watch the camera/phone being used to film her demise. Her eyes seemed to be saying, "Why me?" Her music teacher called to her to be strong, to stay with them, but the damage was too severe. Her name was Neda Agha-Soltan; she was a mid-twenties Iranian beauty who was attending (but it is unclear if she was supporting) anti-election protests in Tehran, when she was shot by a militia sniper. She has become an accidental hero. She is but one victim of the conservative religious thugs that police morality in the streets of Iran. They have been a brutal stifling presence in the country for thirty years, and one wonders how many they have beaten, harrassed, and even killed. But we know they killed this time! For all the world to witness. Perhaps as many as twenty others (who knows!) may have perished at the hands of these thugs, but hers was a death captured for all to see. Many Iranians have protested their societal in-home detention by the religious fanatics, protesting behind closed doors and gated garden, as well as underneath their scraves and chadors, but not often in the violent streets, until now. Iranians, especially the youth, orchestrate a daring dance of defiance. And it is women now who have stepped to the forefront---in the election and political protest---and it is only right, as it is they who suffer the cruelist penalties for independent thought and action. Bless them. I do not know if the youth/women/reformist movement can withstand the crushing blows of clerics and their minions, and I fear many will be disappeared (as happened in Argentina and many other societies in the 60s and 70s) or will be murdered. Do we really need another corps of black-clad women walking/praying in a public square in protest of the untimely demise of their children, who only sought freedom? Do we need new Kent States and Jackson States, Pettis Bridges, Wounded Knees, and other infamous occurances where brave protestors and often innocent bystanders paid with their bodies and lives to protest discrimination and oppression? Repressive regimes cannot last. . .they can only prolong the suffering of their people. They will always fall. The mobster mullahs (religious-shahs), and that is basically what they are. . .organized criminals leeching off society so they can thrive without truly working and can lord it over a terrorized populace. I do not oppose those who seek salvation in the embrace of Islam, but I do denounce any religious fanatic who believes they have a right to impose their views and beliefs on everyone (whether they be overseas or here in America). Long live this rebellion. May green wave proudly. Give strength to those who stand up to their oppressors. Maybe one day there will be a truly free Iran, and Saudi Arabia, and the rest of the Middle East (heck, the rest of the world, for that matter).

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day Blues

Had just come home from the ole Golden C
hoping my family would be waiting for me,
but no one was there, not kids nor my wife
silence so thick you could cut it with knife.
It seemed odd to me that on this holiday
there’d be no welcoming party, to say
"We’re happy to see you, was work today hard?
Here is some chocolate and we got you a card."
I lay on our mattress to get me some rest,
calm myself down and unburden my chest,
when the boys arrived from their lunch at McD
wife clearly had nothing to say then to me,
she turned right around and just walked away,
so I asked my boys "How has been your day?"
They jumped on the bed and snuggled up near,
and what from the youngest went into my ear?
"Mom says its your fault and she’s leaving you."
Out of my mouth a gasp must have flew,
the elder then added, my heart could not save,
"And we got to meet her old schoolfriend Dave."
After I finished a short cry and shudder,
and managed to regain control of my rudder,
ushered them off with hugs and some kisses,
guess that my marriage was one of those misses,
but my heart was broken, and this I can say,
it was a helluva way to spend that Father’s Day.

CONCERTS

Last night I attended a free concert on the river featuring the old-timey country band Sugarmountain Boys (bluegrass?), who were pretty good, followed by the new cd-celebration-party stylings of the very enjoyable Black Bottom Biscuits. I don't usually go for too much rockabilly, but it was a different sort of treat. They played an upbeat and entertaining mix of songs. My friend Fred, who grew up with three members of BBB, called my attention to their concert and I decided to give it a whirl. Glad I did. I was especially taken by several songs in their second set, which included many crowd pleasers (and they do seem to have a following locally) such as the delightful "Fish Beer," humorous look at the urbanization of the countryside in "Don't Pave My Road," and funny looks at lost love in "Double-Wide Love Left Behind," and "Even the Roaches Miss You." Can't remember for sure, but there was one song I really liked, I think called "Can't Stop the Lightning." What I enjoyed the most was their sense of humor, especially in the confesssional story-like songs. No doubt they sit around drinking beer and reminiscing when one of them tells a funny story and another writes down a few lines, and the next thing ya know. . .a song! Lead singer Arnie seems to be a bit of a goof, in a funny way, but that also lends to the charm of the band. They all play pretty well and I certainly enjoyed it. The only downside to the evening was the extreme heat and the fact that my boys missed it. We are broiling down here. I wanted to jump into the Congaree several times.

Not to overlook another concert I attended a week earlier, I caught the smooth jazz of guitarist Terence Young, who was absolutely excellent, at a concert in Findlay Park. He is better known in these parts as a gospel musician, but I was very impressed. There were some other local acts in the mix, a couple quite good, but he headlined and I am glad I didn't miss it. I definitely will try to catch him in action again. Next to The Soul Mites, he may be my second favorite local artist now.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

TERMINATOR BOYS

A couple pics of my sons with new hairdos and wrap-around glasses. We'll be back.




Sunday, June 14, 2009

CHANGELING

Watched an outstanding and troubling movie, Changeling, tonight. I thought Jolie was excellent. I loved the period costumes and scenes. The story also touches a bone, when children are hurt and parents destroyed. What makes it even more angering is that it apparently is based on a true story. One of the better "normal" roles for Malkovich, who was very good. I wonder if anyone else thought the guy who played the lawyer Hahn thought he looked disturbing like ex-LAPD chief Gates.

Friday, June 12, 2009

MOORE MARATHON

Just finished a mini-marathon of Christopher Moore novels. Anyone who likes absurdist humor writing, with naughtiness and ironic criticism of sacred cows, and not a little bit of grossness and weirdness, then I encourage you to pick up some of his books. There are times when reading his work that I simply can’t stop giggling. He has become one of my favorite authors.

First up was The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, a return visit to the community of Pine Grove, whose denizens first had to deal with a human-eating monster in Practical Demonkeeping. This time the human-eating monster is a horny, shapeshifting water dragon whose intense vibes can draw his prey willingly and cause uncontrollable horniness in depressed humans. Desperate to wreak revenge upon a blues singer for causing him much pain, he causes confusion and chaos in the small coastal community. Wacky characters include a pot-smoking, but likable and honest local lawman; a greedy, porpoise-loving (and I mean "loving") pharmacist; a confused biologist who studies rats; and an ex-B-movie starlet who falls in love with the giant lizard. I regularly think Moore might have an interest in zoophilia himself, if not all brands of kinkiness. Nevertheless, the troubling arrival of the lusty lizard leads to the uncovering of mysterious going-ons on ranch land that boarders the town. Overall, it was a fun read, though not quite as good as Practical, and not nearly as good as some of Moore’s other books.

From the coastline of California we turn to the isolated Pacific island of Aluala in Island of the Sequined Love Nun, a tale of a disgraced private-jet pilot who had worked for a Mary Kay-like boss, but who is now given a shot at redemption as a pilot to medical missionaries---but he soon discovers a dark undertone to his new job. Another set of unusual characters populate Moore’s new world: a cross-dressing Filipino navigator, a determined old cannibal intent on reestablishing the old ways of his people, a talking fruit bat, a ghost of a WWII bomber pilot, and an outspoken (feminist?) pleasure woman for the island’s males. The protagonist, Tucker Case, fits the mold of many of Moore’s heros, wise-cracking never-the-wells with sympathetic, and often just, hearts. This story was excellent and enjoyable.

The two previous novels worked well in preparing me for the best read of the three. . .A Dirty Job. Now, for anyone who watched and enjoyed the television series Dead Like Me, I encourage them to pick up this novel. Charlie Asher has just had his world turned upside down, with the death of his beloved wife and the duties of taking care of his newborn daughter; he soon discovers that he is responsible for delivering souls, and that his daughter has sinister powers. With his new job come perils posed by a trio of nasty feathered female demons from the sewers and foot-tall creatures that seem put together haphazardly from various animal parts, often sporting unusual dress. The required cast of crazies includes a lesbian sister who likes to wear her brother’s expensive suits; the Emperor of San Francisco (who I think is based on a real historical character in the city), a goth clerk who accidently finds out the true nature of her boss; an ex-cop searching for his true love on the Internet; an intrepid, world-wise detective who has his eyes on Charlie; and a pair of huge hellhounds. I enjoy the character Minty Fresh, a giant black man with a penchant for saving his friends and who falls for Lily (the goth girl); he was a minor character in the very enjoyable Coyote Blue. Pulled together with humor and weirdness is are underlying themes of love, family, spirituality, and responsibility. No one I have talked to who has read this book has said they didn’t enjoy it.