Category Archives: REVIEW

Tinker, Tailor, FBI.

Now that I’ve had a chance to see both the new Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and J. Edgar, I want to make some comments before they’re out on video already for a year or two. It’s so rare that I get to see Oscar-potential movies while they’re actually in the theaters (last year, I had a three-movie-marathon with True Grit, The King’s Speech, and . . . I forget . . . all in one day (thanks to a regular theater, a 2nd-run theater, and a re-release to a wider audience). But I digress.

First, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy as directed by the director of the original Swedish vampire film that made me think vampires could be interesting again, Let the Right One In. A truly inspired bit of daring movie-making, that one. With TTSS, he brought along his truly wonderful talent at evoking atmosphere and style, but I was rather underwhelmed by the film as a whole. There’s really nothing I can pinpoint as any one particularly weak point (except maybe the somewhat impenetrable script — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If everything else is good, and I get a sense that the plot is making sense, I can let a dense script I’m not immediately grokking wash over me knowing I can watch it again some other time for the details). But even the script isn’t a failure by any means; the dialog was well-written with the tension-filled spareness of a Pinter play.

The acting was also quite good all-round — but I wasn’t blown away. Which is my failing. For months, I’d been so worked up about this film, about Gary Oldman, that I expected a tour de force performance. What I got was skillful subtlety, and natural and believable underplayed drama. Well, except for John Hurt, but then, his angry forcefulness was exactly what was needed and entirely appropriate for character and tone.

This asplosion not in any film reviewed here. Or, anywhere.

Did I not like it as much as I was hoping because, what, I was expecting a Bourne movie? Bond? Mission Impossible? No. I’m familiar with the book (though I haven’t read it) and the original production, so I knew it was going to be a realistic, non-explody, spy film. I loved The American, for example, even though — no, because — it was stark and understated and atmospheric and tension-building and virtually no actiony-action. (I’m actually the only person I know who liked The American.) But then, I really didn’t know what to expect with The American except that it’d been described as a European-like film — which is a plus in my book! I simply, for some unknown reason, went into TTSS with high expectations — and they were ironically fulfilled in that it’s an excellent film, but not what I expected.

Then there’s J. Edgar. I pretty much got exactly what I expected with that film, and that may be one of the reasons for its surprisingly low RottenTomatoes score (although Ebert, who I almost always agree with, gave it a high 3.5 arbitrary stars). It was a rough, uneven, hit-and-miss film with much unfulfilled potential. Part of the problem is Leonardo DiCaprio. I can’t buy him. I recognize he’s a good actor who takes on challenging roles, but he’s . . . so . . . it’s the very weird dissonance he creates in my mind where I can’t decide if he did well or not, like one of those “magic eye” pictures where if you work at it, the 3D image will pop out at you — but usually, it’s just lingering on the edge of being and you know you can bring it into focus if you try. . . . Anyway, that’s DiCaprio for me in any adult role he’s in. He was great in Gilbert Grape, perfect in Titanic, quite wonderful in Gangs of New York. But I could just barely accept him in Shutter Island (good film!), though, I’ll admit, I accepted him in Inception. But as J. Edgar Hoover, I just can’t quite bring my opinion of his performance in focus, but I’m pretty sure I see the outline of an opinion that he was out of his depth and gave a pretty 1.75-note performance. His squint gave the other .25.

Oh, and don’t get me started on the makeup! OK, DiCaprio’s was passable, but what the heck was the Play-Dough and stipple monstrosity that was “Clyde Tolson”? It looked like Odo came back from Deep Space 9 with chicken pox and a bee sting allergy. Also, the film skipped around in time indiscernibly. It wouldn’t have been a problem if it had been two or three very different time-lines that went along at their own, but chronically forward, line — but there were points in which it skipped around in time just enough where you couldn’t quite tell by any visual cue if it went forward 1 year or 15 before skipping back 30.

Those flaws aside, the story surrounding Hoover and his longtime companion and possible lover, Clyde Tolson, was nearly perfect in its level of intimacy, its tone, and its anxiety. They played it quite well. Although, unfortunately, there’s one scene in which they have a fight resulting from Hoover’s repressed fear and Tolson’s sense of betrayal, in which they’re rolling around on each other and despite the sincere drama of the moment, I couldn’t help but hear Mark Russell in my head singing, “Sexual, subli-MA-tionnn . . . sexual SUB-li-ma-tion. . . .” It was just too contrived and blatant. But, as a whole, as I said, it was well-done and dramatic as I couldn’t help but cry a little at the end in Hoover’s bedroom.

But, being the Marxist that I am, I couldn’t help but see the movie from another perspective. Most of Hoover’s career was, as was depicted in the film, an obsession with a war against terror, I mean, against the Commie Menace. Now, I know Clint Eastwood, socially and politically, is a complex guy who has a foot in both the liberal progressive and the conservative camps, so I’m not terribly certain whether he wants us to cheer for Hoover and his elimination of communism in America (after all, the only depiction we get of the people Hoover fought were legitimately dangerous and violent anarchists — which, by the way, is a different ideology from communism), and no glimpse of American socialism of the 1910s through 30s that wasn’t through Hoover’s eyes, or whether he wants us to realize Hoover’s view is a skewed and ideological one. Is Eastwood taking it for granted that the audience knows who Emma Goldman was and what the Chicago union strikes were all about? Or does he side with Hoover’s ideals, but just not as neurotic about it as Hoover was?

In any case, I booed (mentally) with the 1919 anarchist bombings, sure; but, when Emma Goldman, the mother of American anarcho-socialism, appeared (and with such an eerie likeness that I questioned the accuracy of Maureen Stapleton’s portrayal of her in Warren Beatty’s epic film, Reds), I cheered! She’s a hero in my book, and a movie very desperately needs to be made about her. (Probable sociopath Ayn Rand got a sympatheric TV movie made about her, but Emma just gets cameos.) But as I was saying, in this time of the 2nd great-ish depression, thinking about the fascist iron fist that was brought to bear down on the nascent socialist movement in America during the 1st Great Depression, makes me frustrated and angry. People today have no clue that, especially before WWI but continuing into the Depression, the socialist party was a viable and legitimate party in America with supporters from all walks of life (except the wealthy capitalists, the politicians they bought, and the police they used to protect them), from Woody Guthrie to John Steinbeck to Albert Einstein.

If the development of modern capitalism had been mitigated and wasn’t allowed to take complete dominance in America in the early 20th century, I’m just guessing here of course, but I seriously doubt we’d have the boom-bust collapse of the economy across the predominately postmodern capitalist world we have now. (But then, to be fair, capitalism was needed then in order to get us to a state where it can destroy itself by making capital wealth ownership by the few, unnecessary. Which is the state we’re now in, with capitalism self-destructing.) But, if socialism had been allowed to remain side-by-side with capitalism — even if in a lesser role — and share the “base,” then when capitalism collapsed as a viable socio-economic model, viable and evolved socialist models for the 21st century could’ve been ready to take over. Yet, thanks to the war-on-pinkos waged by the likes of Hoover (and McCarthy, whom, according to this film, Hoover disliked greatly), all reasonable ideas of socialism were lumped in with the violent anarchists and eradicated as one boogey-scapegoat. And, while Hoover’s pet project and legacy, the FBI, became enviable in the realm of criminal investigation, I’m less than pleased about how corrupt, like most of government, it has become. (Although, really, with all the bugging and wiretapping the FBI was doing in the film, often for Hoover’s own secret personal files, I guess they really haven’t changed all that much!)

So, what was Eastwood’s point? Does he share his contemporary, Beatty’s, leftist sensibilities and made Hoover into a murkily depicted ideologue who changed history on his own terms? Or as a flawed hero who but for being sadly repressed (I know, fortunately, Eastwood’s liberal progressive opinions on homosexuality) and conflicted, did the right thing, badly? I can’t tell. And I don’t think that ambiguity, useful in arthouse films, is a good thing in this very Hollywood biopic.

No Dragon Tattoo? No Hamlet or Requiem, either.

Here soon will be the release of another major studio remake of a popular and critically acclaimed foreign film, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” And already I’ve had the debates with people over the inherent “evilness” of remaking foreign films into English versions. “Why should anyone bother,” some people say. “After all, there’s already perfectly good English subtitled versions available on DVD and Netflix. American remakes are just crass ploys to make money and cater to dumb Americans who can’t be bothered to read,” so the argument goes. Invariably, in these debates in which I offer the counterpoint to this position, in which I offer that not only are remakes not evil, but are inherently good, I end up pissing people off for some reason. I hope to be able to make my case here, for your consideration, and I’ll try not to offend, if you’ll bear with me.

If you believe no one should remake movies, especially foreign films, then you’re an arrogant elitist.

Gawdangit, I just did it, didn’t I? Got offensive? I’m sorry, but honestly, I can’t think of another way to describe the belief that, sight unseen, even before it’s finished, a movie can be judged as unworthy of existing because it dares to use a pre-existing script as its source. If works of art and/or entertainment are inherently bad for that reason, then why do we bother doing Shakespeare? Why do we get all excited about this version or that version of Hamlet? Why do we discuss our favorite version of Romeo and Juliet? Why is it OK for a director to make a version of a work of Shakespeare that’s “more accessible” to modern audiences? Where’s the cries of, “If you can’t be bothered to understand Elizabethan English, you don’t deserve to watch Shakespeare?”

Why are there countless CDs of countless classical works of music arranged in countless ways and performed by countless ensembles and orchestras and soloists, and no one bats an eye about that? Isn’t the London Symphony Orchestra’s 1968 recording of Beethoven’s 9th good enough? Why do we need the Cleveland orchestra to do it too? It’s been done already, why bother?

Look, I get it. I’m a card-carrying elitist myself. Subtitles are far preferable to dubbing, NASCAR is for rednecks, wine appreciation takes a sophisticated palate. I used to think foreign films are “better” than American and if you don’t like them, then go back to your “American Idol.” Maybe it was my Marxist education, maybe it’s my education and experience as a stage actor and director, or maybe I just realized after seeing one too many incomprehensible and pretentious art-house film, that there’s nothing written in the immutable laws of nature that says foreign films are inherently better, and that film is somehow prohibited from being remade like we do plays and music.

Why do plays get a pass? The usual response is: Because they’re made to be performed live, that’s the expectation. OK, sure. Then why make movies of plays? Anything by Shakespeare to Tim Rice. From Othello to Death of a Salesman to The Producers. Why does a play not, once it’s been made into a film, get the remake embargo? But more importantly, what law of nature says it’s verboten to give the same allowance to a movie?

“Because the Americans just want to make money.” Sure they do. So do the French and the Swedes and the Germans. Very few people, no matter what language they speak, put a film up for major release without the intent to try to make some money off it. But OK, let’s say that the American studio producer is just a cynical d-bag who sees a successful foreign film and decides, “Hey! Let’s make it here and get rich(er)!” The film doesn’t then just appear from out of the will of the producer. It needs a script writer, it needs a director, it needs cinematographer and costume designer and actors. Are some of the above, and the scores of others who appear in a film’s credits, completely mercenary? Will do anything only for a paycheck? Sure. But I would hazard that most of the people involved in the creative part of the film, not just the grips and the seamstresses, actually care about their craft. Gasp! Yes, it’s true! They do. Most directors, most actors, take on projects and roles because something about it speaks to them. Something about the themes is compelling, something about the characters is interesting, and so the creators do it for the same reason the director of a play stages another version of Macbeth, the same reason an actor portrays another version of Willy Loman.

Do you think that Rooney Mara took the role of Lisbeth in Fincher’s “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” simply because it’s a paycheck? Or maybe because, as an actress, she lives to play interesting and compelling characters, and wants to see what she could do with the role the same way a stage actor wants to play Lady Macbeth? Don’t you think director Matt Reeves took on “Let Me In,” the “remake” of “Let the Right One In,” only to become rich, or, like a theatre director, is compelled to want to bring to life an interesting work in his own way? Should creators of art be prohibited from plying their craft and using their own vision simply because, “Nuh-uh, that film has already been done, bucko! No one can do it again!”?

I find it interesting that the people who railed against the American version of the novel Låt Den Rätte Komma In seem to have no problems with the fact that the original Swedish film is a translation of a novel in the first place. Hey! They story’s been done already! If you can’t be bothered to read the book, you don’t deserve to see the film!

“Well, Americans just can’t read and are lazy so they hate subtitles and that’s why they’re making an American version.” OK, see all the above — it still applies. But you know what? So what if some, many, people don’t like to read their movies. Me, I’m fortunate in that I can read fast and have great comprehension, which allows me to quickly read the words then look up at the facial expressions and listen to the tone of voice. But I’m lucky in that way. If I had to read slower, I would hate subtitled films, because it’s a film! I get most of my enjoyment from the film by looking at what’s going on, looking at facial expressions, hearing the inflection of voice. And so do most people. Does that make them lazy? Uneducated?

And when you come right down to it, if a film is all that great, that much of a masterpiece, then answer this: Is it better for the film not to be seen at all if it can’t be seen in the “original” subtitled version? If your answer to that is “yes,” then you are exactly the definition of an arrogant elitist.

Finally, really, what in the world does it truly matter if someone remakes a film? Does it do you any harm in some way? Are you being forced to see it? Are you being taken against your will to the remake? Really, who the eff cares. Especially if the originally is still around and available. In fact, very often, an American remake of a foreign film gets the original a bus-load of attention and new fans it never would have before. Virtually no one but the most edgy j-horror fans knew of “Ringu” before the American remake, “The Ring.” Now, I wouldn’t be surprised if the number of Americans who have seen and appreciate “Ringu” only because they heard of “The Ring” is more than double-quadrupled from before the remake. After an American remake, the original often gets repackaged, re-released (or even released in the first place!) and finds its place on shelves and Netflix where it wouldn’t have before.

Oh, but, maybe that’s a bad thing? Maybe you don’t want more people to know about the original? Maybe you want to be part of the exclusive in-crowd who knew X was cool before it became popular? If so, guess what: arrogant elitist.

I really started this with the intention to be calm and friendly, but something about arguing (even against an imaginary opponent… boy am I sad!) against the presumptive arrogance that a movie is “bad” without anyone having seen it, for nothing more than the sin of being made into English by an American, just really gets my blood boiling. I need a nap.

Dies the Book

Book: Dies the Fire(This review originally published on my GrogMonkey blog:

As a new year’s resolution, I’m hoping to do more quick, literary themed writing, i.e.: book reviews and the like. I’ve been reading a lot of books lately (e.g.: the entire Vlad Taltos series, again) and would like to review them. (Actually, I’m in the early process of writing a scholarly paper on Steven Brust’s Dragaeran books and their use of Marxist theory.)

Anyway, here’s my first review of the year, and it’s a bit of a cheat…I didn’t finish it. I couldn’t finish it. It’s S. M. Stirling’s Dies the Fire: A Novel of the Change. It’s the first in a trilogy, which is itself the first of two trilogies (so far). The conceit is really fascinating: for some unknown reason all modern (circa last 1000 years) technology stops working: electronics, gunpowder, internal combustion. The book follows two separate groups as they deal with what’s happened, find and join with other people, and try to find a place to set up and survive. One group led by a competent ex-Marine and pilot, the other by a stereotypical red-haired Celtic music playing Wiccan and her merry band of Wiccans.

The setting is compelling and intriguing and has so much potential! But it’s utterly squandered by Stirling. This is the first book, I think, that I’ve ever intentionally put down half-way through (as opposed to just kinda forgetting about and losing interest in). To review why requires spoilers:

Continue reading Dies the Book

“The Despot Lincoln”

This post may get me back into the good graces of my libertarian friends (hi, Tony *grin*). Got clued in via Twitter to a recent review titled “The Despot Lincoln” of a 2002 book, The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War. (Seems the Republican penchant for unnecessary wars goes back a ways.)

To be fair: I’ve not read this book, only the review of it, so I’m kind of talking about something twice removed. But that’s ok–I’m actually going to be talking around the subject and about the review itself anyway.

So, evidently this book deconstructs the legend and the myth of Lincoln and really gets into the reality of his politics, policies, and socio-political beliefs based on his actions during his presidency and his time in Illinois politics. It turns out that an overarching belief of Lincoln was a strong federal government in control of social organization, individual state affairs and commerce, and the structure of mercantilism (which, by the way, was the socio-economic base preceding true and modern capitalism). And the Civil War was less to do with slavery than about federal (and imperial) control of the resources and wealth of the South.

Years and years ago, even a little into my teens, long before I had any ideas of libertarianism or especially Marxist criticism, I thought there was something wrong with the whole Civil War story we’re taught through both school and culture (the former really being a tool of the later, anyway). War itself is wrong, but that’s beside the point: What’s really going on that half a nation would want to split from the rest, and the side that controlled the organized military should act just like the empire we fought not a hundred years earlier to be free of in using armed force to prevent it? The idea that it was all about freeing the slaves didn’t ring true to me and seemed implausible, and for some vague and esoteric idea of simply keeping One Nation together is an even worse idea. (You don’t wage bloody war against your brother for some phantom notion of nationalism–at least, no rational person does. And if they do, how horrifically immoral and vile of an act is that!?)

No, even back when I still thought Marxism was the equivelent of Satanism, I understood it must have to do with economics, wealth, resources. (Later, as a Marxist, I’d learn that all wars are fundamentally about economics and resources.)

Ironically, this review of the book (and presumedly the book itself) while critiquing Lincoln’s political and war motivations as being economically motivated, (which is what materialist Marxism is all about doing), the review (and, again, evidentally the book) spends some time railing against some early 20th century American Maxist-Leninists who were working hard as historical revisionists to white-wash Lincoln and put a positive spin on his fascio-socialist politics. Now, these guys the review/book mention may very well have been Marxists, I don’t know. I’ll grant them this. And if true, the review/book is factually correct on this count and that’s fine. But the strong implication of both is that this is evidence that goes to the arguement that all Marxists approve of fascism and imperialim and seek to promote the kind of centralized goverment control of all resources and wealth that Lincoln appeared to want. And this mischaracterization simply points up yet again how very little libertarians, conservatives, capitalist bulldogs understand about Marxism.

For example, while it may be true that these particular Marxists the book likely cherry-picked were of the pro-fascism ilk, most of the Marxist critics, democratic-socialists, anarcho-socialists I’m aware of from the same time period would have been appalled at the kind of federalized control of commerce and wealth Lincoln was moving toward, and most especially the idea of waging war to secure that wealth and resources for federalized control. It was Marx and Engles who, before and during the very years of the American Civil War, were in Germany writing about how capitalism was the corrupt foundation upon which unjust, unnecessary, violent, wars just like the Civil War are based upon. They decried the very basis of wealth and resource and labor-exploiting economy that fueled Lincoln’s alleged desire to federalize and command.

Socialist activists like Max Eastman, John Reed, Emma Goldman, fought and were imprisoned for their views on wealth-inspired wars and their anti-war activism… In the 20s. Early anarchists like Bakunin (sp?) fought for anti-federalism (anti-governments in general) and were also socialists and believers in Marxist criticism. Marxist critics like Max Weber and Erich (sp?) Fromm (who identified as a libertarian socialist) were staunchly anti-war and anti-centralized power based on accumulation of wealth and resources! Modern libertarianism owes it’s existance to the early Marxists and scads of anarcho-socialists and libertarian socialists!

But nearly every current (American) self-proclaimed libertarian I know, knows nothing of their movement’s history, knows nothing about the various forms of socialism, erronously groups all socialists as Stalinists, and has no understanding whatsoever of Marxism. And sadly, they tend to have no interest at all in even acknowledging any differences. The differences, for one example, between a Soviet communist and an anarcho-socialist are as stark as night and day. But, when I try to even point this up, I’m usually met with a wall of righteous dismissal and the evident desire to remain ignorant as additional information would simply complicate their black-and-white ideological blanket hatred.

Hmm, OK, this will do nothing to improve the graces of my libertarian friends. Chances are, this may be the end of friendships. 😛

Back to the Lincoln review/book: their anti-Marxist diatribes aside, their critique of Lincoln seems to make complete sense given the evidence. We live in a nation where the federalist North won, and the winners get to write history (and craft the general cultural message of why they won and what it was all about in the first place).

Now, don’t misunderstand me, and no offense meant (…OK, maybe a little offense, sorry…) I’m not only not a Southerner but I really don’t in general like the South. Besides their past hanging on to abhorrant slavery (which, again, had little to actually do with the war and the North was for a long time also a supporter of and a longer time a beneficiary of), I hate their current general racism, scientific ignorance, mysoginistic bigotry, religious zealotry, and food. (*sigh* OK, a lot of offense. Sorry.) In general, stereotyped broad strokes.

But even before I knew the word libertarianism, or the concept of anarcho-socialism, I believed in the message of the Declaration of Independence that stressed that any people have the right to rid itself of government it finds intrusive, abusive, overly controlling, domineering, and counter to the peoples’ desires for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And the 10th Amendment that states that all rights not expressly dictated by the Constitution fall to the states and to the people. I believe that includes the right to secede from the union should the constitutional, federal government grossly overstep its rights and bounds and violate the limits of the Constitution and the spirit of the Declaration of Independence. (Did I get you libertarians back?)

Beatles Rock Band; early reaction.

Beatles Rock BandWe got the Beatles Rock Band game last night and played it for a couple of hours; here’re my initial reactions: I’m underwhelmed.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s a very well-made game. It’s beautiful to look at and they made some improvements over Rock Band 2, including vocal pitch selector and melody or harmony choices! Although, I’m not sure I’m liking the softer, washed-out colors of the scrolling grids and buttons. It muddles the field and makes it harder to see what’s coming, and keep an eye on your bandmate.

The disappointing aspect is the music itself. Now, I’ve been a HUGE Beatles fan since Jr. High. Given the choice of listening to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, or Elvis–the Beatles without hesitation. But, let’s face it, their music is not exactly complex and challenging. In fact, their first half of their career up to and including most of Rubber Soul, they’re the Ramones of pop music: all you ever need is just 3 chords.

They started experimenting and branching out with Sgt. Pepper, and had a lot of diversity in the White Album (my general favorite), but the music is still relatively simple with a few exceptions. (Like, Abbey Road’s “I Want You/(She’s So Heavy)”. The last third of that song is heart gripping and amazing, although very repetitive.)

Now, I should note I’m coming at this from the point of view of the guitar. Lyrically the songs can be challenging, and I don’t know about the drums. But let’s face it, Ringo was no Neal Pert. I play Rock Band and the Guitar Heroes exclusively on medium, and that’s been getting a little boring–but that 5th fret on hard is a real challenge for me. Still, medium in Rock Band 2 does still provide me with some entertainment. But medium in the Beatles is like the easy setting. If it weren’t for the fact I enjoy the music and find the animation interesting, I’m not sure I’d bother playing (and truth be told, I kinda hate pre-Rubber Soul Beatles). I feel I’m being forced to play on hard if I want challenge… which is not a bad thing since it IS a game. We’ll see how much hard setting adds challenge, whether it eliminates the fun in place with controller-throwing frustration. (I’m looking at YOU Castlevania for SNES!)

We, my wife and I with daughter guest appearing for a bit, played only on Quick Play, we haven’t played Story Mode yet, which I’m really looking forward to in hopes of unlocking some exciting songs. I’m hoping “Norwegian Wood” and “A Day in the Life” are in there. But, I’m leery. I understand you can’t move to the next chapter of the game until you play EVERY song in the current chapter. No options for skipping any you just don’t like. Also, one of the fun things about Rock Band is being able to create characters and outfit them–none of that with the Beatles.

So far the game doesn’t look worth $55+. I’d say maybe $35, $40 tops. But I tell you what: if they ever come out with a Rock Band: Pink Floyd, I’m buying two copies–one to play, and one to take into the warm embrace of my arms and do things with that most religions outside southern California would hate.

Watchmen; better for the geek failure.

First, I have to say that now that the semester’s over, I’m going to need to start blogging more to clear out my backlog of topics. I can’t use my work PC for anything non-work related, so every once in a while I check my collection of RSS feeds on my iPhone and Instapaper it for latter blogging. Maybe if I do 3 to 5 a day I can get through them in a month. 🙂

Last meta topic: Facebook readers: this post came from my official blog; the auto-transfer to FB tends to strip any embedded images.)

watchmen-ozymandiasI finally got to see Watchmen at a 2nd run theater this weekend. (Just to get that out of the way: the sound was meh. Mediocre quality and an audio channel or two would cut out now and then. If possible, always see highly visual/auditory movies in a good theater. But, $2 to see a film in a theater isn’t a bad thing either!) And my general reaction: A-frakkin-mazing! I was totally blown away! I even had chills watching the incredible opening credits.

Chances are most people reading this will have already seen Watchmen or have decided not to. Instead of an in-depth review of the movie itself, I want to express some of my personal background and reaction to it. Hey, it’s a personal blog, after all–not a news ‘zine. 🙂

I was aware of the Watchmen comics when they first came out in the 80s, but I never read them. The covers were compelling, and even though I didn’t have comic book fan friends, I was still aware of some kind of buzz surrounding these comics. But, I never got into comics at all, really, despite my really wanting to. Once, as a kid, I had gotten a copy of Ghost Rider, and it has some action which was cool…but what it mostly has was a confusing plot that depended upon previous issues of the comic in order to understand what was going on. And that very early experience with comic books prevented me from ever really picking them up as I realized some of these comics had been going on for years! How could I possibly get involved in X-Men or Teen Titans much less any of the Super- or Bat- characters if I’d be lost without the years of backstory?

It doesn’t help that I didn’t have any comic book-loving friends (even though we were definitely geeks–we played D&D pretty much every weekend and rode our bikes to see every scifi and fantasy movie we were allowed to go to), nor any comic book shops nearby. Well, not that I knew of. I mostly grew up in suburbs of Denver, yet the only hobby store I knew of was a train and model store I’d get my model rocket parts from. I always got my D&D stuff from Waldenbooks. So…I was never given any advice in how to get into comic books in the middles. In high school I used to walk to my mom’s work after school, stopping by 7-Eleven, and I started getting The ‘Nam and Groo from the beginning, but I always saw them as pale substitutions for real comic books. (Mmm, that was also the beginning of my love for chili picante Corn Nuts!)

watchmen_rorschach1Ironically, I didn’t get into Watchmen for that reason despite the fact it was a finite story that was published over a year or two. Once I was older and realized it was a limited story, the excitement of Watchmen had turned into legend and reverence and the comics were re-issued and collections were published. I could have gotten into it then. But something else turned me off: the artwork. In my opinion, it was and still is pretty horrendous. It reminded me of Sunday comic pages. I understood by that time that Watchmen was unlike anything that had come out before. There was something about it that elevated the comic book to literature status: it was mature, it was deep, it deconstructed the super hero, it was revolutionary. But still, every time I was reminded of it and I told myself “I’m not worthy of geek status until I read Watchmen, I would look at the old style inking and terrible coloring, and couldn’t bring myself to actually read it.

And now I’m glad! Because I think the movie freakin’ blew me away exactly because of this specific condition I find myself in. For more than 25 years I knew of the cult status of Watchmen so when the trailers for the movie started coming out, I could join in the excitement of it. (And even if I knew nothing of the history and legend of Watchmen, the trailers were freakin hawsome! I got chills the first time and the 20th time I’d watch the trailers.) But since I had no early impressioned love of the content of the comic books, I could enjoy what the movie did without expectations or criticism for not sticking to the script, adding something, or leaving something out. I could enjoy the movie for what it was.

But then, I’m pretty forgiving when it comes to movie adaptations. I’m very aware of how impossible it is to translate a book to film and not have to change things in order to make a coherent and enjoyable movie. For example, I love the original Dune novel, every time I read it I get something completely new from it–it is so amazingly rich and deep. But I liked David Lynch’s movie just fine, enjoyable on its own terms, as it’s impossible to film that book. Likewise Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings was probably the best that could possibly be done and capture the themes of the novel(s) and still make a movie that would make sense, and be enjoyable. I thank goodness there was no Tom Bombadil in the film!

Since seeing Watchmen, I’ve tried to find scans of the original comic book online so I could see what the differences in dialogue may be, and honestly, from what I’ve seen, I think the movie did a better job. Some of the dialogue in the movie was a little stilted or odd sounding. Not much, though. But while most of it was word-for-word from the comic book, the movie would eliminate some dialogue that was in the original that was even worse. Almost ridiculous. From my limited experience, I think the film-makers did an amazing job keeping the best of the original. And I like the little details. For example, I noticed in the film when Rorschach was in the prison interview room, his had both hands on the table, as if he may have been required to do so, or he was ready to strike out if need be. I later saw, in that image from the original above, that you can just see his hands flat on the table.

Watchmen was an absolutely amazing film, whether you’re into super heroes or not. It was pretty violent and gross in places, but not too bad. (All the violence in this movie doesn’t even come close to the horrific two instances of violence in the French drama, Irréversible, but that really is for another blog post.) I really need to see it a couple more times before it leaves the theater. Am I getting the DVD? Hellsyeah!

Final fraking BSG.

The more I think about it, the more I really dislike the final Battlestar Galactica episode. It had OK moments, but in general, it was a slap-together, haphazard, poorly thought-out, seat-of-the-pants, plot-hole riddled, bad ending to one of the greatest scifi shows of all TV/movie history. One of the best TV shows evah.

The apparent fact that they must have been just making it up as they went along, and had no idea how they were going to revolve anything until like the week before shooting the episode, seems painfully obvious.

So much of it didn’t make any sense, and most of the rest of it strains credulity. I wanted to like it so bad, because of how the series has been in general…. For example, the episodes with the final appearances of Gaiden and Dee were simply, utterly amazing. *sigh*

I miss BSG.

Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears; redux.

I read Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears (edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling) when it first came out in 1995. I bought and read…no, devoured all of the collections of “modern fairy tales” when I was an undergrad those early 90s–Snow White, Blood Red, Black Thorn, White Rose, etc. Now, the series is being re-released for a new audience and I’d like to take the opportunity to review the third book in the series…in what I’m afraid is a rather mixed review.

The edition I’m reviewing is a reprint–and when I say “reprint,” that’s exactly what it is. The version of the book I received, as the new reprint, has the cover seen here and a publishing date of 1996 under Prime Books. The original mass market paperback I have was from Avon Books and released 1995 (although Barnes and Noble is showing it published in a different year and publisher than I’m looking at right now in the book itself). Amazon shows another cover for Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears also published by Prime, but listed as 2008. There are a couple more covers and ISBNs available through Amazon and B&N. Regardless of this very confusing collection of Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears iterations, one thing I can deduce from my looking and primarily from comparing the two editions in my hands, is that while there may be a multitude of covers the insides are exactly the same. Exactly! From the table of contents and the introduction straight through to the intros for each story and the very page numbering, the contents of the books are identical.

Now, I find this to be a huge disappointment. Partly because it makes the book and the editors seem a bit daft to the reader coming to the book anew. For example, the introduction to Susan Wade’s story mentions “Her first novel, Walking Rain…was recently published by Bantam” (8). Ten years ago.

The other most significant reason for my disappointment comes from the un-updated volume introduction. One of the best parts of this modern fairy tale series are the, well, scholarly essays about fairy tales and their modern versions and descendants–why the tales came into being, their history, their impact, common themes. (Well, at least until their fifth collection, Silver Birch, Blood Moon. By then the introduction becomes a short collection of trivia and recommended reading. While still very interesting, the regular reader may have become spoiled by the breadth and depth of the previous introductions.) The new release of the books have nothing new from the editors on the subject, the genre, past nor present. Not even from an additional introduction author who could have been commissioned to write a supplemental introduction providing new insight or criticism on the subject should Datlow and Windling have been too busy to update their material (which I’m sure they are. After having apparently exhausted their thoughts on the matter pretty obviously by the last installment of the series, perhaps it should also be obvious they’d have nothing new to add to reprinted versions of the series). But, it has been ten years since the series was introduced–there could certainly be new thoughts on the subject by other scholars and essayists since then as surely as there have been new authors and stories.

Which brings me to my third though admittedly least significant disappointment: no new stories. As reprints, one doesn’t expect there to be new fiction content, nor did I really. (Although new or additional introductions or prefaces aren’t that unusual for reprints. But, I think I’ve beat that horse enough. Except to say one more time that new story intros would have been highly advised at the very least.) Though, after really looking at it, the last in this series, Black Heart, Ivory Bones, did come out in only 2000. That’s not terribly long ago. Plus, Datlow and Windling have put out other related anthologies such as A Wolf at the Door and Other Retold Fairy Tales (2000), The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest (2004) and The Coyote Road (2007). While these may be for a younger audience than the Snow White, Blood Red series, it perhaps proves that Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling have not abandoned the subject and new authors but have perhaps redirected their efforts in different directions. If one wants new fairy tales with a modern and possibly an adult twist, you’ll just have to turn to their Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies or Ellen Datlow’s Inferno.

Now, all that being said, let’s get back to the content of the primary book in question: Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears. As with the other books in the series, this one has a mix of stories that range from mediocre to heart-wrenchingly good. Certainly the likability of a story is quite subjective to the person, and the situation! For example, I recall when I first read the opening story of this anthology, Wade’s “Ruby Slippers,” I adored the sardonic and ironic twist put on the Wizard of Oz tale. But now, after reading and viewing a decade of “twists on a familiar tale,” “Ruby Slippers” seems trite and tired. Like something I would have read from undergrad creative writing class.

But this kind of story is rare; most of the stories in this collection, while certainly retellings and often twists on a theme, go far deeper and evoke greater emotion in both range and intensity. And in general, with better writing. But occasionally it’s taken too far, such as Anne Bishop’s “Match Girl.” This story manipulates the pathos in such a way as to become grotesque, in content and manipulativeness. I recall when I first read this story, when I was about 24, the horrific events that the title character encounters made me appropriately angry toward her persecutors and tormentors and rooting for her vengeance or at least her release from torment. I didn’t get the feminist ideology driving the narrative at the time, I simply enjoyed the story. Now, older and hopefully wiser, I reread this story seeing it as a thin allegory for the trials and tribulations the female sex has to endure in a negative, demeaning, abusive patriarchal society. While on the one hand I applaud and support this agenda, I have to say I enjoyed the story much less because of how thin the veil is. I was no longer reading a story, I was reading a blatant polemic. And with this new awareness, what I read as a bitter-sweet ending ten years ago, I see now as a frustratingly antagonistic and arrogant attack against the author’s own gender in general.

As the editors discuss in their wonderful introduction to the book, much of folk, fable, and fairy tale have been “rather subversive,” until the patriarchy of the Victorian Age and Disney reshaped them (3). This is an aspect of the fairy tales of the past, and the modern versions of the present, that I greatly enjoy–no one loves subversiveness more than I. (Go Marxism!) But I dislike when the rage and anger at the hegemonic ideology is mixed with blatantly ephemeral allegory that ends up, in my opinion, doing a disservice to both the narrative and the message.

Fortunately this is also rare. Most of the stories in this anthology find a balance in theme and narrative so that the story can be enjoyed for its own sake, but the subversive message is there if you care to look. A wonderful example of this balance is found in Ellen Steiber’s “The Fox Wife.” Like many of these stories, if you’re not shedding a tear by the end of it, you’re a heartless bastard. This story, while the message of subverting gender roles and tradition and expectations of marriage is evident, the wonderful storytelling enraptures the reader in the all the best ways. It’s a story that leaves you thinking about it for days.

There’s no reason to read editions in the Snow White, Blood Red series in order, even the introductions are nicely self-contained. If you want to pick up Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears and start from there, it’s a good of place as any. Honestly, if you already have an earlier copy, there is no reason to buy the new re-release–there’s nothing new in it for you. But if you’re new to these modern fairy tales for the grown up, this is a must-read!

Review: Steganos Privacy Suite 2008

Last week I wrote an article where I briefly discussed some options regarding security and privacy software: On the issue of privacy and protecting civil liberties. In it I mentioned Steganos software and some of their free online options. I’ve been given the opportunity to review their flagship home security package: Steganos Privacy Suite 2008*–here’s my more in depth review.

First of all and most importantly, the greatest strength Steganos software has is its user-friendliness. The biggest reason why most, average computer users don’t use security and privacy software is because of it’s technical complexity. When I first started looking into privacy options many years ago, PGP software was the popular package (back when it was shareware before it was bought up by a major corporation) and it was a wonderful and painful solution to use. If something is hard to use, people will be reticent to use it. And if it’s something which people aren’t even convinced they really need to use–being even slightly difficult to use will kill it. And let’s face it, most people have no idea how necessary it is to use privacy and/or anonymity software. (See my earlier article, On the issue of privacy and protecting civil liberties. Alright, last shameless self-promotion, promise.)

Steganos Privacy Suite 2008 menuSo, by making the package easy and appealing to use, Steganos wins the battle of making their software accessible to the ordinary computer user. When you start up the Privacy Suite you’re presented with a friendly menu that gives you the options: Safe, Portable Safe, Private Favorites, Password Manager, E-Mail Encryption, File Manager, AntiTheft, Internet-TraceDestructor, Shredder.

You can access these tools from the menu, or individually from the Windows menu, or using right-click menu options where appropriate (such as Decrypt, Encrypt, Hide, and Destroy when right-clicking a file). But it’s not my goal here to explain exactly how each tool works, allow me to give highlights.

The Safe is likely to be one of the most used applications as it allows the user to create a virtual drive which one can hide any kind of file, encrypting the drive away as a single (non-hidden) file. When creating the drive, you can use your own password (rated by the software on its security), have it provide you a password, or create a “password” using a series of image icons you can select in a particular order as your password. Intriguing idea. You can also choose to store the password on a removable device (like a USB drive or MP3 player) which is required to be connected in order to open the safe. Also incorporated into the Safe is an easy to use Mail and Documents encryption tool for easy protection of your most used personal data.

The downside to the Safe is that it’s a visible file, even if encrypted. If someone knows where to look, or what to search for, they can easily find that you have a secured “drive.”

The Portable Safe is pretty handy. You can install a portable version of the safe on a USB drive or even a non-rewritable media like a CD or DVD. The Suite places the appropriate drive-opening software on the media so you can use it on a PC that does not have Steganos Suite on it. The only annoying part is that the only way I can find to open the portable safe is to plug in/insert the media and use the “use Portable Safe” option that comes up. If the media is already installed, I can’t find a way to open the Portable Safe. There may be a way I’m missing, but I’m coming at this with the mindset of an ordinary user without much patience for something that might not be convinced yet I need. Even with this annoyance, this is a cool tool.

The Private Favorites is handy for storing bookmarks, using the same password protection methods as the Safes. The problem is that to add or access a private bookmark you have to use the Suite application; it’s not integrated into your Web browser. That makes it a little more troublesome to use, and anything that’s a little troublesome becomes so much increasingly less likely to be used.

The Password Manager can store all your passwords. You can use it as a reference for remembering your passwords, or as long as the Password Manager is open, it will insert a saves password into a form or application for you. The downside: it only auto-populates so long as the Manager is actually open. Not just resident down in your status bar, but actually open open. Which is very annoying. But used a secure and encrypted repository of your passwords is alone very useful.

The E-Mail Encryption is a stand-alone application in that it’s used on its own and not integrated into your e-mail program. For example, you can’t be in Outlook, write an email, and then encrypt it. You have to write the email (including attaching any files you want to send) and then encrypt it with a password you’ve presumably shared with the recipient. When you send it, then is sends the encrypted message through your chosen default mail client. But, the good bit is that the encrypted message is then sent as an .exe or .cab file along with instructions for the recipient to open the file. So, your recipient never needs to have Steganos installed as well, or any encryption program or key. Just the agreed upon password. Handy. Although personally, it’s just a step away from too proprietary. I’d prefer a program that incorporated into it PGP/GPG so that anyone with the open source key could make use of it, or be the recipient of a Steganos user’s e-mail and be able to decrypt it with their GPG program of choice, like Enigmail.

But for e-mail encryption for the average person and the not technical user, this is extremely useful and a perfectly reasonable solution.

The File Manager allows you to select files to encrypt (or decrypt) individually or en masse. This feature is integrated into the Windows file manager (and right-click options). The best feature about it is the steganography option, allowing you to “hide” the encrypted file into another file. This is the only hiding ability I’ve found in the Privacy Suite, and it’s very useful! If you don’t want someone to even know you’ve encrypted something, just hide it in another file like a wav sound file or bmp image file. You can select a file, or let it search for one for you. The problem with this program, I’ve found, is that you have to select a binary file large enough to incorporate the hidden data. It doesn’t tell you this, and if you select  file too small you’re given an error that doesn’t mention that issue. What would be handy is if it were to tell you “You need to select a file of X KB in size or larger.” Maybe in a later release, I hope.

The AntiTheft feature is for notebook PCs. Once you activate it, it regularly sends out your current IP address to the Steganos servers. Using the access key you received upon activating the application (you better have saved it to a location over than the notebook in question otherwise this is pointless) you can access a Steganos site which allows you to see what the last IP address was the computer was logged on with. Providing this info to law enforcement may help them in tracking down the stolen notebook. But, I probably wouldn’t rely on it. Just remember that if anyone steals your notebook all your data may have been compromised and copied. So, encryption before it’s stolen is vitally important!

The Internet Trace Destroyer presumably eradicates dozens of different data types: temporary files and cache, recently used document references, password and forms entered, “useless” files and swap data, etc. I haven’t done a full test of the efficacy of this tool, but I can presume it works reasonably well. I at least like all the options it provides.

And the Shredder which deletes both data and free space in a variety of depth from a “fast overwrite” to a much slower Dept. of Defense standard of overwriting to an “extremely time consuming Gutmann method” which overwrites the data to NSA standards eliminates all drive meta-file information on the file removing any trace that the file even existed. You can set up a schedule for automatic free space wiping as well–something that PC users should often use. When you “delete” something, it’s not even remotely deleted unless something like this is done.

The competition: A good review should also include how the subject compares to its peers. Unfortunately, I don’t have experience or access to any of Steganos’ direct competition, such as the products endorsed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Anonymizer Inc. They have some very similar tools, such as a shredder and an anonymous VPN connection (a Steganos tool available outside of the Suite), but their shtick is mostly Internet anonymity versus Steganos which does both anonymizing and data privacy. There are various free or shareware options, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, that do individual tasks quite well, such as TrueCrypt for complete drive or partition encryption and hiding, GPG4Win for e-mail encrypting (and Tor for basic and moderate ‘net anonymity).

But there’s something to be said for an all-in-one package, and if you have the $80, Steganos Privacy Suite is a fantastic solution incorporating all the most important tools in a single user-friendly package, despite its few quirks like vague error messages and slightly cumbersome Password Manager usage. (Internet anonymity sold separately.)

* In the interest of full disclosure, my afore mentioned post on privacy and civil liberties was later picked up by Steganos PR and reprinted with my permission on their site. But they have in no way asked me for nor paid me for this review of their product.

It’s easy to make your point when you use lies and fantasy.

It’s hard not to comment on the horrific screed that is the movie “Expelled”. I’ve not seen it, and I’m not sure I want to (just as I’m not interested in seeing Michael Moore’s manipulative and half-truth pseudo-docs). But Scientific America has a great article listing a few things that the movies gets horribly wrong–and not accidentally!

♦ Six Things in Expelled That Ben Stein Doesn’t Want You to Know…

For example:

During Scientific American’s post-screening conversation with Expelled associate producer Mark Mathis, we asked him why Ken Miller was not included in the film. Mathis explained that his presence would have “confused” viewers. But the reality is that showing Miller would have invalidated the film’s major premise that evolutionary biologists all reject God.

(Ken Miller is an evolutionary biologist, AND is publicly religious.)

And, they cut and edit Darwin’s writing to make it sound like he’s the father of “social Darwinism” and advocates the eradication of the weak…when he actually wrote the exact opposite!! It’ll make you plotz when you read this.

Beer review: Blue Fin Stout

Blue Fin StoutBeer review: Blue Fin Stout
Brewed by:
Shipyard Brewing Co.
Maine, United States

Style / ABV:
Irish Dry Stout / 4.70% ABV

C- / 2.65
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 1.5 | feel: 2 | drink: 2.5
rDev: -41.9%

I received a bottle of this at a conference I recently attended.
I love stouts, but this one was a bit too coffee for my taste.

A- Beautiful appearance. Deep, dark opaque black/brown with a roasted nut brown head. Not too thick, very nice. Didn’t last long and the lacing was slight.

S- An almost sweet scent. I barely got an aroma of coffee, but very light and not in the least strong enough to give me a clue as to what the taste would end up like. A simple aroma.

T- Awful, for me. I admit to hating coffee (which makes trying a new stout a crapshoot for me.) I love bitter, and hoppy, just can’t stand the coffee. And that’s what this tasted like to me, like drinking tepid coffee.

M- Watery and somewhat fizzy. Thin. Added to the tepid coffee experience.

D- I ended up doing something I never do: I poured it out after about half. Just couldn’t stand it.

Serving type: bottle

Reviewed on: 03-26-2008 03:59:53

Really is “the most magical place on earth!”

My wife, daughter and I returned from Orlando, Florida yesterday after a 5-day vacation. It was simply amazing! It exceeded all my expectations, fulfilled nearly none of my fears or worries, and quite simply–I didn’t want to leave. Even now I feel a mixture of happiness and elation as well as depressed longing as the memories begin to fade and the acceptance of being back in the mundane and troubling “real world” sets in. More on that later.

Now, I’m going to try to describe the experience chronologically:
Arrival and Animal Kingdom
Magic Kingdom
Kennedy Space Center, Shuttle Launch, & the Beach

(Picture sets, probably Flickr, to come soon.)

(continues below the fold)
Continue reading Really is “the most magical place on earth!”

The GrogMonkey lives! And pontificates.

The GrogMonkeyOK, so my 3rd blog is up and running now:

The GrogMonkey

Here’s the “About” page on the site:

This blog is designed to feature my work in English/Cultural Studies education.

I’m currently working on my Master’s Degree in English with a focus on Creative Writing. While I don’t plan, at the moment, to put any of my fiction up here, I do plan on publishing my non-fiction works–of which I’ve done more this last year and a half than I would have thought I’d have in me two years ago. After my M.A,, which should be finished in another year and a half, I plan on going on for my Ph.D. with a focus in posthuman fiction and cultural studies. (Over on another page I plan on profiling some of the people in the field that I’m modeling my career path on, such as Slavoj Žižek.)

I plan on submitting some of what I will be placing on this site to journals (both academic peer reviewed and otherwise), and some I wouldn’t normally want anyone to see–but there may be something to it that compels me to put it out there for critique, entertainment, or for some twisted sense of vanity. (Yeah, that’s probably the most likely reason.)

I encourage anyone to read what I’ve put out, comment, and even debate or argue some of the presented points with me. Some of what I’ve written and will write about I’m only scratching the surface of my understanding and would love to better my apprehension of the subjects in the crucible of debate (how’s that for some fancyshmancy grad student prose?)

While this blog is pretty esoteric and comments on general issues: tech, news, politics, etc., The GrogMonkey is going to be only for my scholarly work. Probably mostly reprints of papers, occasional posts on issues and events that deal directly with my studies and education. I anticipate that site will have even a smaller audience (than the 2 or 3 this one gets…) but that’s OK. I’m doing it mainly for my own benefit. (What that benefit is, I don’t quite know yet.)

At the moment there’s only one post up there. I have probably around 10 to 15 papers I can upload, but I don’t want to inundate the site just now–I’ll probably upload a file a week. If you’re interested, check it out.

Review: Sweeney Todd

Sweeney ToddSaw Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd last night, featuring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter:
IMDB: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Rotten Tomatoes: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
I haven’t reviewed many movies lately, because I haven’t seen many movies lately. Well, some lame TV movies, the really good Ratatouille, and The Devil Wears Prada a couple of nights ago on DVD. So it was really nice to be able to go out with friends and watch a grown-up movie in a theater. Unfortunately, my wife and friends didn’t care so much for Sweeney Todd due to all the “gratuitous” blood; I loved it! I thought the nearly campy-level and comedicly over-the-top blood in the movie was necessary and matched perfectly with the tone and style of the movie.

I was very impressed with Depp and his singing, considering he doesn’t sing, and especially his characterization. A little one-sided and shallow, but with brilliant moments of touching emotion and depth. But then, I’m in love with Johnny Depp and he can do no wrong in my mind. Alan Rickman was fantastic as always as well! Helena Bonham Carter was also fantastic, but she usually is. She’s an odd one in my mind. One moment she’s very unattractive, the next she’s gorgeous. (Not in this movie, just in general.) One moment she seems annoying, the next she’s fascinating. In Sweeney Todd, she’s playing a murder complicit dreg of a pie maker, disheveled, but still strangely attractive and even sexy. OK, maybe it’s me who’s “an odd one.” 🙂 The entire ensemble is perfect. But Tim Burton has always had this amazing ability to make the odd and unusual heart-felt and touching. The young and innocent daughter of Todd, played by Jayne Wisener, is also a bit unusually looking yet stunning, and her young and innocent love interest, Jamie Campbell Bower, is likewise unusual, but has a sort of rock star charisma. The kid who ends up unwittingly helping Todd and Mrs. Lovett the pie maker, has some hilarious reactions during an early scene where Todd is messing with his snake oil barker performance. The ending which involves the kid, is simply sad, creepy, tragic, just, heart-breaking. OK, it’s not so simple an ending.

I have a B.A. in theatre, but I have to admit I’d never seen Sweeney Todd performed before. But then, I’m not really a big musical fan; I prefer risky, thought-provoking, gutsy and gritty theatre. I hate popular mainstays like A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Annie and, crap. Give me David Mamet, Harold Pinter, Sam Shepard any day. And even those guys are a bit close to too conventional for me. But that being said, I also have to admit that I like more musicals, once I see them, than I like to admit. I admit. Admittedly. Into The Woods, another musical by Steven Sondheim, writer of Sweeney Todd, is one of my favorites. Hmm, but Sondheim makes gutsy and thoughtful musicals. Unlike Andrew Lloyd Webber who makes pure sap-filled drek. Anyway, I was familiar with the story, and I knew a little bit of the music, but all in all I walked into the movie with no preconceived notions and expectations based on previous stagings of the play. Which I’m certainly glad for! I was able to watch it fresh, taking it all in, and enjoying the ride Burton and cast took me on. (Well, except for much of the last half after my cell phone fell from my pocket and I couldn’t get it, so half my mind was on worrying about my phone going off under my seat since I’d forgotten to turn it off. Fortunately it didn’t and I got it back at the end. But I know I missed some of the 3rd act subtlety and drama, like when Carter’s Mrs. Lovett has a touching, sad, and frightening scene with the kid who is beginning to suspect something about Mr. Todd.

I am SO glad that I don’t live in one of those areas I hear about where the movie audience yells at the screen and consistently laughs in the wrong places and are constantly talking. I mean, I saw it in the worst way possible: in a multiplex frequented by teens and college students in a SW Missouri town, so you’d expect bad and ignorant behavior. But I have never had a bad audience experience seeing a movie (except for Medicine Man when the woman behind me constantly ruined coming events with her explaining to her friend what to pay attention to, but that was just one woman,) and has usually been favorable (South Park was a stupid movie made hilarious because of the audience experience)–but this was a musical of all things, in a filled to capacity theater, I expected the worst. …and was amazed to find the audience receptive! There was a little laughing at the wrong places, but forgivable. No one talked, I sensed no general surprise or dislike of the music (after all, the trailers don’t really point up it IS a musical,) and people seemed to enjoy it in general and remained politely subdued. I think I’d have to leave a theater that had people talking at the screen and cheering and commenting as I’ve read about on IMDB forums.

Well, enough babbling; I really enjoyed the movie. I feel terrible that the people I went with didn’t much like it, since I kind of steered us in the direction of Sweeney Todd. (We were actually originally going to see No Country For Old Men, which I really want to see, but I don’t think they realize it’s at least as if not more violent and gruesome, and made worse by its realism. I mean, one of the characters is a psychopath who relentlessly terrorizes and kills his victims with a compressed-air cattle slaughtering gun.) I was getting kind of worried about Tim Burton (Planet of the Apes was OK at best and not at all his level of entertaining, and Depp’s Carol Channing impersonation in Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was literally painful to watch. (Even though it ironically just reinforces for me that Depp is absolutely an amazing actor. I hated his Wonka, but when put into his oeuvre of characters through the years, just goes to show he can do anything, and be convincing at it!)

Beer Review: Double Dragon

Double DragonDouble Dragon
From: Felinfoel Brewery Company, Ltd. in United Kingdom (Wales)
Style: English Pale Ale

overall: 4.2
appearance: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | mouthfeel: 4.5 | drinkability: 3.5

A- Deep rich amber. Clear, but rich! Beautiful thick tan head. Stays a good couple, few minutes. Leaves a nice lacing on the glass and layer on top.
Almost too pretty to drink.

S- A slightly sour, sweet scent. Some savory fruit, like peach or apricot. Something a little grassy, or woodsy, but not spicy or of any herb per se.

T- Also sweet/sour. Not very bitter, hoppy. A little malty, but mixes well with the sweet for a nice balance.

M- Very nice, medium-bodied. Creamy but doesn’t linger too long. Doesn’t sour the back of the palate.

D- Rich enough to fill you up. You know you’ve had a good, solid beer. But quite drinkable, almost refreshing.

[ serving type: bottle ]
[ read my review ]

Video Sci-Fi Podcast: Fascinating!

The Slice of SciFi podcast had an interview last week with the creator of a new video podcast that’s really interesting:
Stranger Things
It’s an amateur project with an incredibly professional feel. Filmed in HDTV, it’s meant to be a “Twilight Zone” or “Outer Limits” for today, focusing on stories of speculative fiction like sci-fi, supernatural, horror.

Good for them, for creating quality content available to anyone, done out of their love for the topic and craft.
Check it out.

Oh, shouldn’t have to be said but I often discover it actually does: you do NOT need an iPod to play podcasts, visual nor audio. 99.9% of podcasts are MP3 files, playable on anything including your PC. the M4A’s that video podcasts are saved us require Quicktime, I believe. (I use MediaPlayer in Linux and I just had to install a bunch of video codecs, so I’m not sure which one plays M4A’s.)

Vote for my Story? (sort of like MySpace, but a little more grown up and meant for writers and artists and essayists, etc, vs. for goths, emos, and angsty teens and predators of teens,) is running a short fiction/non-fiction competition where the winner gets to have their previously unpublished story put on Amazon Shorts–a place where people can read short stories for .49.

The site has been for known and previously published authors, so this Gather competition is nice for people who normally wouldn’t qualify. Like me! *grin*

So I submitted a story for the competition, and for a limited time people can read and rate it.

In the judging, viewer rating is only a part of the score that decides the winner, but any little bit helps.

Not that I have any chance of winning. The story, to be honest, isn’t that great. It’s one of my early ones and has only gone through a couple of drafts. But I thought hey, why not!

So, check it out, and if nothing else, maybe send me a comment on what you think of it.

I Am A Pod-Person!

As much as I’d like to be a bodysnatcher, what I mean is, I’m addicted to podcasts!

Podcasts are like audio blogs. Amateur radio shows. Some are music based, like on-line radio, some are interview shows, review shows, etc. I’m a fan of the sci-fi and skepticism shows. There’s a lot that are quite well produced and professional sounding, and those are the ones I tend to listen to. I use a program (for Linux) called Akregator which manages my podcast feeds, regularly checks for new episodes, and downloads them. iTunes works just as well, but Akregator is just so streamlined and easy to use.
In fact, here’s my updated list of podcasts I listen to:


  • Dragon Page: Cover to Cover — Sci-fi/Fantasy book review and author interviews.
  • Dragon Page: Wingin’ It — Silly drinking podcast with lots of great beer information and reviews.
  • Dragon Page: Slice of Sci-Fi — Sci-Fi/Fantasy all media review and entertainment show.
  • Geeks On — Show on all things geeky hosted by four people in the movie and electronic gaming industry.
  • Dragon’s Landing — All things role-playing gaming. Excelent tips and tricks and advice for your RPG’s, for the player, but mostly the Game Master. Hosted by a couple of guys in my own town, actually!
  • Kick-Ass Mystic Ninjas — Great sci-fi/fantasy discussion and review show. Really gab the heck out of a given topic like Dune (movie, book, and mini-series,) Ladyhawk, Logan’s Run, and the like.
  • Geek Fu Action Grip — Blog and show on general topics (usually geeky) from the host of “I Should Be Writing”, below.
  • The Vintage Gamer — Discussions of older gaming, role-playing, board, and computer/console. Like old “Top Secret” RPG and the original “Castle Wolfenstein” (the non-3D one!).
  • Weekly Anime Review Podcast — Review of classic and new anime.
  • Penny Arcade — Just the recorded discussion between the creators of the Penny Arcade Web comic.


  • Michael A. Stackpole Podcasts — A few different shows he has regarding writing tips and advice. Highly regarded and published sci-fi/fantasy author.
  • I Should Be Writing — Blog and show regarding writing from a struggling author, giving tips and advice and interviews from more published authors.

Science, Skepticism and Freethinking

  • Bad Astronomy Blog — Oops, that’s a blog, not a podcast, but it’s the only blog I have in my Akregator to regularly let me know of knew editions. Blog on astronomy, skepticism, and science.
  • Point of Inquiry — Great interview and news show for issues of skepticism, rational thought, reason, and freethinking. Very professional.
  • Skepticality — Great news and interviews for things skeptical and science and social news issues that don’t get much mass media exposure. Possibly dead podcast, though. No updates in quite some time.
  • Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe — A group of skeptics discussing all things urban legend, scientific, news-worthy fallacies, in the realm of rational thought. Great new addition, “Name That Logical Fallacy”.