Wednesday, May 30, 2012

GAME OF THRONES, television

Recently, I finished the first season of Game of Thrones, and I liked it very much. Yes, it stretches the boundaries for television sexuality (which I do enjoy nonetheless), and I wouldn't let my boys see it until they are thirty five, but I find it compelling and interesting. Complex storyline, good dialogue, brave storytelling (who else kills off main characters so easily), naughty, gorgeous women, fantasy, fighting, and fiction. Ok, I could do with a little less killing of animals and chilluns. And I like the imp. But I watch others compare their favorite characters, and I started thinking, who did I like the best in season one? And I decided it was (drumroll here) the wise and brave Syrio Forel (played by Miltos Yerolemou), Arya Stark's fencing master, who despite only a slight allegiance to her father and the little girl herself, and when he could easily have turned a blind eye and walked away, he instead stood his ground against heavily armed opponents with only a wooden practice sword in order to give Arya a chance to escape. Selfless bravery. Most likely he died, but it would be nice if he escaped and comes back at a later point in the show.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Growing up, I wasn’t really an avid comics reader. Of course, I was aware of and sampled Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Fantastic Four, Archie, and other offerings; I leafed through various issues at the corner store, the offerings often displayed in this rotating wire column. I couldn’t then have told you the difference between an X-man and a Teen Titan. When I could get a copy I enjoyed Vampirella, no doubt part of the genesis of my love for dark-eyed, dark-haired vixens, and I enjoyed an occasional horror or weird stories edition. Mad magazine, I guess, counts, doesn’t it? And I was titillated when I could get copies of Heavy Metal, as much for the erotic material as for the sumptuous artwork. If there were any series I truly wanted to read and tried to obtain, they were Sgt. Rock and Sgt. Fury. A lot of my current knowledge of different comics came from my children, as they started watching shows and reading comics.

And then along came graphic novels, perfect for me because I hate reading things out of order and I want the whole story uninterrupted. Graphic novels still do not make up the bulk of my reading, and they are usually a filler, picked up while waiting at the library or bookstore, and consumed quickly. And I tend to like those with advanced graphics. As I approach nearly 100 volumes, I thought I would recount some of my favorite series.

Y: The Last Man, by Brian K. Vaughn. An excellent ten-volume series about Earth after almost all men have died off, leaving competing groups to fight over the last few specimens, including Yorick Brown and his pet monkey. Well drawn, with interesting and fast-paced storylines, a touch of naughtiness, and a dystopian world. What’s not to like. These are definitely a guy-pleasing set of stories, fantasy wise.

The Sandman, by Neil Gaiman. This series, also with ten volumes, by one of my favorite authors, was not always my favorite, as the almost constantly changing array of illustrators made my head ache at times. There were many different stories, often only loosely connested. But some I truly loved, and I enjoyed the overall series, especially Death. I also have liked some of his other comic offerings.

The Walking Dead, by Robert Kirkman. Ok, what can I say. I like zombie stories, as I was an early victim of Romero's movies. This ongoing series, which has spawned a television show that I also enjoy, continues to capture my readership. I have always liked stories about a small groups battling off an enemy horde, whether it be those at the Alamo, at Thermopylae, or Dien Bien Phu, or imaginary battles such as occurs in movies like Aliens.

Fables, by Bill Willingham, another ongoing concern, about the wars among fables who live in two communes (protected from prying eyes by magical wards) in New York. Have also enjoyed the offshoot Jack series. The series is a bit spotty at times, but overall I have enjoyed most of the storylines. I don't always like when they change illustraters, but what can you do.

House of Mystery, by Matthew Sturges. Somewhat new to this series, but have enjoyed it. By some of the same people as Fables, I believe. A group of characters are trapped in a kind of purgatory, placed in a isolated inn, and they try to figure out why they are there and how they can escape.

FreakAngels, by Warren Ellis. I came to this series online, and enjoyed it immensely, largely because of the beautiful drawings, compelling characters, and interesting storyline, about twelve young people with psychic abilities who accidentally drowned England, and their attempt to mend their mistake.

I should also include a few series I read occasionally, often based on television shows I enjoyed, such as Buffy, Serenity, Angel. I also like The Punisher and 100 Bullets, and the occasional single graphic novel. You can always check out my selections on Goodreads.


Yes, I've got some. I guess it is the right of old guys like myself to complain once in a while. So what's got my shorts in a bunch, other than the fact that I am overweight? Let's see: a group of five women and girls, sitting near me at the movie theater, after I have committed a significant amount to take myself and three boys to see a flick, who decide to loudly converse and take phone calls and tweet and walk back and forth as if they are in their livingroom. Despite what I am sure were intense eyeballs of hate aimed at them, and then a rather stern admonition for them to shut the hell up, they only managed to tone down their interruptions to barely ignorable. What could be done, I don't know, but it sure was getting my back up.

Panhandlers inside of restaurants. It is bad enough that in Columbia one often has to wade through a phalanx of bums while trying to enter eating establishments, but having them come up to your table? Not right. Especially irritating when I have on occasion been turned down---yes, turned down---when I offered to purchase a meal deal, because they wanted cash. Conclusion, you can't get beer with a big mac. The area around where I work at times looks like a weird ocean scene with small black bags reminiscent of jellyfish floating, used by the local convenience store when they sell beer. Of course, the storeowners love it, or why would they offer 50 cent beer and little glass vials with miniature flowers inside that everyone knows are used as crack pipes?

I would include recent revelations about my wife, God protect her, but will leave that for different venues.

Why do moped drivers---or as I like to think of them, DUI bikes---not have to be licenced? I may be wrong, but I don't think they have to be tagged either, but they are taking up and using the same road I drive on. I don't necessarily dislike moped drivers per se, and I realize it is an economical alternative, but if you aren't allowed a license because you are uninsurable or often incapable of piloting a car, why should you be allowed to motor on the streets on any vehicle?

Drivers in left-hand turn lane who refuse to pull out into the intersection.

Sports radio announcers who have now incorported personal ads within their commentary, which is irritating as hell. Even moreso when there are three or more talking heads. The traditional commercials are still in place. And while I'm at it, the product placement sponsorship and commercial plugs attached to almost every action in a ballgame: and JT slides in safely, that slide brought to you by P & J Slide Builders; and he goes down swinging, so don't strike out, buy blah blah blah; it's a fly ball into the seats, and while you're think of seating, think . . . You know what I mean, if you listen to any sports on radio.

Trailers that practically show you the entire movie, including some of the most interesting shots, and others that hint at important spoilers.

When authors write like this: "the most important being John Major. John Major began his career. . ." I see this construction ALL THE DAMN time and it drives me crazy.

Ok, I feel much better. Was getting a bit grumpy there.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


Watched today a nice documentary film Rescue Men: The Story of the Pea Island Life Savers (2010), funded by the North Carolina Council for the Humantities, covering the valiant and professional service of a group of African American lifesavers at Pea Island, North Carolina (on the barrier islands) during the post Civil War period. Led by the stern yet fair Richard Etheridge (a former slave, decorated Civil War sergeant and Buffalo soldier), who fought to keep his crew in topmost readiness, as well as countered racist criticism and worse. The segregated crew managed to obtain an almost perfect record of saving lives, including a daring rescue during a hurricane (which would not be honored for more than one hundred years) in which crew members swam out into the surf to bring the entire crew of a grounded ship to shore, without the loss of any lives. Coastal lifesavers eventually melded with the Cutter Service to establish the U.S. Coast Guard, and this film reveals a forgotten part of the story. I recommend it for teachers and personal use, and applaud the historians who uncovered and wrote about the story of these brave men.

Friday, May 25, 2012


Usually I don't review movies with big stars or big budgets, except perhaps to mention them in passing as to whether I enjoyed them or not. But tonight I desired a light romantic comedy, and I really like Tom Hanks' style, as well as Julia Roberts, so I picked Larry Crowne (2011), and I actually thought it was a good movie. Low key, sweet, predictable, easy-going, with a little of the Hanks' silliness that makes him so endearing. He seems to be one of those people that would be really great to sit around in a backyard and share a drink and some laughs. The movie makes some jabs at the results of economic downturn, the behavior of cold-hearted corporations, and the housing mortgage crisis, as well as the perils of middle-aged unemployment. And there is romance, though never outlandish. Rita probably would have smacked her husband. I know, I'm such a girl sometimes to watch and enjoy these movies, but maybe down deep there is a romantic lurking.

Also caught Quantum of Solace (2008), which is one long stunt, but it was a fun diversion. The opening song, however, was the worst one of the series, I think. And I watched the remake of Footloose, which I thought was fairly well done.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


A picture of Chimo, as he finishes fifth grade, and his special teacher, Ms. Ambrose. The huge stuffed beagle dog was a gift from Chimo. She is off to Savannah. Chimo matured so much over the last few years and greatly improved his academics. A lot of credit must also go to his main teacher, Mr. Treece.

Monday, May 21, 2012


Watched two Japanese gangster movies recently, one the classic black-and-white Pale Flower (1964) by Masahiro Shinoda, the other the modern Outrage (2010) by Takeshi Kitano. The former is a dark look at an older hitman, Muraki (Ryo Ikebe, who appeared in more than one hundred films), recently released from prison, who as he gets bearings on his freedom meets the carefree, mysterious risk-taking Saeko (played by the lovely Mariko Kaga). Although he has a faithful woman who has waited for him to get released, he is smitten by a beautiful petite gambler with a pert nose and dark eyes, who is willing to risk everything for a little excitement. The movie is visually beautiful, though somewhat dated; some of the scenes do not reach a high level of tension, but the film does not try to glamourize yakuza life either. The latter film reflects more of the violence of our age as well as in the Japanese underworld, as a manipulative Yakuza boss decides to destroy one of his gang offshoots and rival drug dealers, while pitting his underlings against each other. The director (and writer) takes the lead role as the older yakuza, Otomo, as he gets caught up in the machinations and blood flows. No one is safe, and life means little. One overall theme is that gangsters should never get complacent, because there are always underlings ready to take you out and gain the mantle of boss. What is it with the finger cutting however, as both films included this way of signalling one's apologies. Both films show a highly structured and hierachical world, although the freedom and aggresiveness of Saeto flies in the face of societal norms that women are usually portrayed in. Both movies are entertaining, and no doubt Pale Flower is avidly watched by film buffs.

I also watched Kuroneko (1968), a classic Japanese ghost/horror story about two women raped and murdered by samuri (who aren't really that far from yakuza themselves), who are turned into vengeance ghosts by a black cat with the goal of killing and drinking the blood of all samuri, and the son/husband who earns a lucky battlefield promotion to samuri and is sent to quell the monsters. It is about love and honor, and reflects the low esteem samuri had for common folk. Done in black and white, it is an interesting movie.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


Obviously, only a handful of ballet companies have the deep pockets to stage extravagant new productions, and when they carry it off the result is both spectacular and riveting. Such is the case with the Royal Ballet's presentation of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: Ballet in Two Acts (2011) [available on dvd], with a full orchestra and new score. The ballet is a feast for the eyes, with awesome sets, exciting video projections, humorous turns, and stunning costumes. The special effects took nontraditional routes, and are smoothly incorporated into the overall beauty of the show. Cudos must go to Lauren Cuthbertson, who is on stage almost every second as Alice, is wonderful and pert. Edward Watson is great as the White Rabbit. I loved that the Mad Hatter was a tap dancer. The Cheshire cat, performed by black-clad dancers holding various parts of the feline against a ebon background, is a delight for the eyes. The set designers created many interesting scenes, especially the Butcher Shop and Pool Scene (with a wonderful collection of animal dancers). Loved the unique tutus for the dancing cards. I recommend highly this show to anyone who likes lavish staging in ballet, because they will truly enjoy it, especially if they have children.

Friday, May 18, 2012



My boys selling popcorn with another scout.


Thursday, May 17, 2012


There is love, and then there is deep-hearted love, an emotion that can be bruised and battered but never truly diminished once the contract between two hearts has been written. Life for women in China was, and probably still is, difficult. Even the wealthy or high-born women suffered, as in olden times some girls were forced to bind their feet to create dwarfed sculptures, which were considered beautiful in the culture (though today one might argue it was an extreme form of patriarchal control), but the practice was painful and limiting. Upper-class men seemed to covet the tiny feet more than the women to whom they belonged. Women often married men they did not know and sometimes never loved; they also had to conform to the homes and domains of older mother-in-laws, who demanded obedience. In response to the reality that they might never develop a truly loving relationship, some girls formed lifelong bonds with a favored playmates, known as laotong, and this relationship (sometimes actually arranged at first) apparently could become what some would call a soul-mate bond, along chivalrous lines, as there does not seem to have been a sexual element (although it was hinted at). In Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2011), a movie based on the novel by Chinese-American author Lisa See, the director portrays the generations-distant parallel relationships between two women (both pairs played wonderfully by Gianna Jun and Bingbing Li), as they struggle to maintain their bonds despite different fates, and to overcome strains caused by divergent fortunes. Beautifully filmed, with wonderful scenes and good acting, the movie is sad, and melancholy, and touching. It is hard to to cry. Hugh Jackman has a minor role. There are some good scenes of modern China, depicting the rapid development and destruction of traditional areas, as well as some glimpses into the lives of young modern upwardly mobile Chinese. I don't think this movie did well at the box office and I don't know what the critics thought, but I really liked it and think people should give it a chance on dvd.

Friday, May 11, 2012


I was deeply disturbed and disappointed to hear tonight that American Catholic bishops have decided there is a need to investigate the Girl Scouts of America. I really shouldn't be surprised however, as this hypocritical mysogynist cabal should see the organization as subversive, because indeed it does teach girls and young women to be confident, assertive, competent, moral, and life-long contributors to society. No, this increasingly Taliban-like hierachy is more concerned about women excluding men from controlling their bodies and minds, while (at least some) of these church leaders continue to deny their corrupt participation in looking the other way while hundreds, if not thousands, of youngsters were abused by devils in priest collars, who were then allowed to continue serving communities and churches. I hope enough intelligent and brave priests and churchgoers stand up against this travesty (though I won't expect it). They should acknowledge that their policies have been eroding faith in the CHurch and have been driving people away from its cathedrals. They should be worried that they are assaulting the good deeds and accomplishments of probably around 20 million current and former Catholic scouts. What the bishops should be doing is not investigating girls in green and brown, but finding ways to get women into white cassocks and collars, and gold or purple vestments, as well as serving at the altars---and hopefully one day as leaders in the Vatican. This I Pray Oh Lord.

[In response to some criticism I received for above, I amend my post with the following.]
I can't believe you would equate KKK or Nazis with Planned Parenthood. I am Catholic too. And if you remember, my mother was a lifelong strong supporter of the Girl Scouts, as are my sisters. As a Catholic and an American, I have every right to comment on actions I find objectionable. You also seem to forget that this is a pluralist society. I do not wish the abortion option upon any woman, but I stand firm in the belief that women have the right to make decisions independently for their ownselves about their own bodies. Women alone have to live with the burden of whatever choice they make---so I believe it should be informed (not controlled solely by any faith), and if one decision is made, as safe as possible. My sisters, nieces, and female cousins are smart women and are all capable of making decisons about their own reproduction and bodies, personally, and without interference from anyone (especially male-dominated institutions). Two Catholic women were more important in my spiritual development than any priest, though I have known, respected, and loved several priests as well. If you do not believe women are capable of being a priest, I have no quibble with your stand. I think the Church would become more moral and upstanding if women had a larger role in its running. I simply do not accept that men have some divine right to control women. If government mandated that every man be tested for DNA, and that any man found to have fathered a child be forced to provide for that child financially, how quickly would men drop their objections to PP. I also noted the irony that the Church hid the fact that some priests were committing horrendous acts, and often covered up the deeds. Those are known facts. Certainly not all priests, but there are still those in power with that sin on their hands. I don't believe Catholics are any more guilty of the crime than any other sect, but as a Catholic I condemn any priest who committed such an outrage and anyone who protected them. WE also are fighting a war, partly in response to the narrowminded and mysogynistic religious rule of Islamic fundamentalists over women. I don't want America going down that path.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Right up there with the conspiracies and mysteries that forever seem to beguile our collective imaginations---such as who exactly killed JFK or the more recent ones concerning 9/11---there remains one that goes back four centuries: Who was the true author of the Shakespeare plays and sonnets? Many still believe it was the historical bard from Avon, and why not, because even the son of an illiterate can be a genius, or was it a noble in the Elizabethan court, such as Edward, Earl of Essex, whose history, travels, and background easily fit the profile some academics believe is needed to have produced these masterpieces. Newer theories even posit that the plays were written by several men, working together, as was common amongst playwrights of almost every era. No matter, say I, though the conundrum is delicious and enticing, for what was bequeathed the world is so beautiful that it ultimately doesn't matter and thank God the gifts were somehow preserved. And only a few of the common folk, even dedicated actors and scholars, will spend that much time ferreting out more facts. Short of finding an actual manuscript in the hand of one identifiable person, the mystery is likely to forever baffle. But that does not prevent writers and amateur detectives from continuing their labors, nor does it preclude screenwriters and directors from tackling the issue as well. There have been some wonderful film efforts: indeed, I really fell for Shakespeare in Love (1998), a rather lighter-hearted traipse that entertained quite well. But tonight I was introduced to another angle of the story, beautifully told (even if I question many of the conclusions and historical details) with verve and wonderful acting, that I was impressed and well entertained. Roland Emmerich's Anonymous (2011) is a delight and I highly recommend it, no matter where you fall on who Shakespeare actually was. The movie is even more about the political intrigues within the ruling class. Vanessa Redgrave was marvellous as the elder Queen Elizabeth, and her daughter Joely Richardson was perfect to play the younger woman. I thought Rhys Ifans was excellent as Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, as was Sebastian Armesto, Edward Hogg, Rafe Spall, and the rest of the cast in theirs. I loved the costumes and sets, and the story itself was smooth and convoluted enough. I know---purist and historians will cry bloody horror at the inaccuracies, but if one can just suspend some belief and enjoy the tale, they will be happily rewarded. Although there is little here that would shake a youngster's mind, a few uncomfortable questions will be raised if your kids understand exactly what is portrayed. If it widens interest in the historical search for truth, so much the better. What is really grand is that the movie celebrates Shakespeare and shows just how important he was to his time, and how powerful words can be.

Monday, May 7, 2012


What do we fear more than death itself?
It’s that memory will be put on a shelf,
forgotten quickly---generations three,
I know it sometimes even worries me.
Some will have a granite monolith,
or a marble headstone carved with
a few nice lines, a couple of dates,
is that all sweet memory rates?
Books do rot, a person’s papers too,
even the famous are not held true,
only those close will ever recall,
what was private, or personal.
But alas, fear not your fates
strings of souls the future waits,
aligned in clusters, or pearly strands,
washed upon celestrial sands,
children of children who had not met
will gather together and never forget.

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Watched tonight the Soviet-era Ukrainian film Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965), which follows the life of tragic Carpathian farmer Ivan, who is unable to break from the depression and pain of his Romeo-and-Juliet love affair, after his girl Marichka drowns while he is working with the sheep herds. I wish my mother was here to answer questions raised in the movie about the culture and customs of the the Hutzul people, highlanders whose music sounds a lot like a mix of Scottish and Austrian. My mother gave me several pieces of Hutzul pottery and carvings, and she loved the area, having camped and hiked in them many times, she said. Although the cinematography is often rough, there are extremely beautiful scenes, especially of the clothing. Clearly life is hard in the mountains, but there seems also to be a somewhat straightforward approach to life. The movie seems to mix in mythology, culture, and a bit of black magic. No doubt I misunderstood many of the messages, but it was interesting to watch what may be my first Ukrainian film.