Thursday, July 28, 2005

Bigfoot Found?

Scientists in Vancouver are testing some unidentified hair to see if it could be sasquatchian in origin. Bigfoot is one of my favorite stories. I love the idea of unknown things living in remote regions. Good fodder for stories.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

"Payola Shocker: J-Lo Hits, Others Were 'Bought' by Sony"

I don't know how much of a shock it is that the record company had to pay radio stations to play Ms. Lopez's alleged "music."

All wit (yeah right) aside, though, this story should be getting more coverage. DJ's were getting limo rides and plasma tvs in exchange for making us listen to the same horrible music over and over. When the stations were not on commercial, that is. What a disgusting and disingenuous practice. I'm sure my good friend Dave from And a Silent Q has some opinions on this one.

I Want To Take His Face...Off

Anyone who thinks a face transplant is a news story is clearly living in a cave. Face/Off came out 8 years ago, people. Word of wisdom: might want to tell somebody other than the top secret folks at work who can later be easily wiped out that you are planning on exchanging identities with the most-wanted criminal in the country. Or not. It's your choice really.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose

This movie looks pretty cool. I had heard about it before, but I didn't realize that is coming out in early September. Horror is definitely hot right now (take a look at the list of upcoming horror movies at fangoria for some impressive support). If there is a trend upward in horror, I wonder how much the frightening events in the real world lately, such as terrorism and the tsunami, have influenced it? After all, people need outlets for their fear, and scary movies are good for that. I seem to remember reading someone's theory that the Cold War and its accompanying nuclear fears inspired their fair share of horror, Invasion of the Body Snatchers being a prominent example. This war we're in now definitely shares some features of the Cold War, in terms of paranoia and fears of violence far from any readily identifiable battlefield. I think it's an interesting parallel.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Piers Anthony

Ramesh over at The Corner in discussing novels he read as a young adult mentions a blast from the past for me: Piers Anthony. I was a huge fan of Mr. Anthony when I was younger, and one bonus of being his fan was that, as Ramesh alludes to, there was a lot to read. I also agree that it would be hard to recommend that an adult should read all of Mr. Anthony's novels. Still, they made quite an impression on me at the time. So I checked out Amazon to see if I could refresh my memory on any of Mr. Anthony's novels that might be worth recommending.

What did I find? First, Mr. Anthony has apparently gone downhill a little, as evidenced by two of his more recent works: Pornucopia and The Magic Fart. Now, he always did have a bit of a preoccupation with sex, so I can understand the first title, but I have no explanation for the book about farts.

I did see a couple of the old favorites: A Spell for Chameleon and On a Pale Horse. Chameleon was one of the first "grown up" books I ever read, and my memories of it are happy. It certainly opened my eyes to certain things, such as when Bink, the main character, gets caught by his parents growing a nymph for his own sexual gratification. On a Pale Horse had a cool concept: a guy accidentally kills death and then has to take over as the new Grim Reaper.

Next I saw a book called Pet Peeve, which is the 29th book in the Xanth series, of which A Spell for Chameleon was the first. This is kind of sad, much like the fart book. The Xanth books were getting formulaic and dull in the teens when I stopped. I dread thinking about what they've devolved to now.

Thinking about the decline of one of my old favorites is sad, like having a high school friend in jail. However, I am going to tentatively recommend one book (tentatively, because I haven't read it in a long time and it could be crappy. I remember the story as being pretty intense and different, though): Refugee, the first volume of the Bio of a Space Tyrant series. It might be good.

If not, I hear things about The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Get Your Survival Bunker Ready

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Harry Potter

I finished The Half-Blood Prince last night, which makes me happy because I really didn't want to have the ending spoiled for me. I will extend the same courtesy here and make only general comments about the book.

First, this book takes the series even higher. I'm amazed that anyone can consider these books boring or, really, anything less than incredible.

Second, a very important character does die (and I mean very important; I don't know if it was just me, but I wasn't blown away when Sirius Black died), but I would venture to say it is the manner of the death that is more shocking than the person's identity.

Third, this book is the most satisfying so far in letting you in on some of the secrets that have been withheld in the first five books. It's nice to finally get an idea of what's going on. Related to this, I think people who criticize the use of the Penseive are off-base. At this point in the series, Rowling had to start filling in some background on the history of the various characters, especially Voldemort. The Penseive allowed her to show the action of the past instead of having someone tell the story or read about it. A very potent device.

Finally, in this book Harry finally really seems to take up his mantle. His behavior is much more mature than it was in past books, and for the first time, he really seems superior to Ron and Hermione instead of just luckier.

I'm looking forward to the final episode, even though I'm sad that it will be the last.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Minding the Store

We watched the first of the two episodes last night of the new show "Minding the Store" with the much less odd Pauly Shore. The ads for the show piqued our interest because they made the show look different from a lot of what's on tv, with the potential for some odd storylines and characters. The show focuses on Mr. Shore's (and yes, I do feel ridiculous typing "Mr. Shore," but it has been my custom so far on this blog to address people I don't know in that manner, and I don't see a reason to deviate from it in this case) attempt to manage "the world-famous Comedy Store," which is a comedy club. The first episode featured Mr. Shore's idea for a "Hot Girls of the Comedy Store." This was his attempt to increase the attendance at the club. Was it good? We thought it was okay. Mr. Shore is a fairly charismatic individual, especially now that he's popped the Weasel person, and there were some pretty funny moments along the way. It was at least good enough to get us to watch the second episode, which we have stored on the DVR. I will report back.

Review of Vampire Junction

Just before the weekend and the coming of Harry Potter, which I am currently devouring, I finished Vampire Junction. As a part of my "summer of the vampire," not to be confused with the Summer of George, Vampire Junction was certainly a worthy successor to The Historian. VJ was much closer to a traditional vampire book, especially in its approach to the legend. It had plenty of gore, and it really dealt well in the later stages of the story with the horror of seeing one's entire family turned into vampires. In fact, that part of the book, which was set in a small town in Idaho, was probably its strong point. The desolation of the winter landscape combined with the near complete vampirization of the small town are very effective.

However, before you run out and buy this book, thinking it to be a fun, run-of-the-mill fright fest, I would caution you that there are some pretty odd elements in it. I will point out the two of these that I think are the most glaring. First, the book examines the vampire legend through the lens (and jargon) of Jungian philosophy. Now, I don't know much about this field, so I didn't find the occasional meandering conversations into archetypes too distracting. If you really dislike either Jung or his philosophy, this might be a deal-breaker, though.

The second strange think about this book is that the main vampire is not only twelve years old, but he's also a pop star. Sound familiar? I thought so too, but it appears that S. P. Somtow beat Anne Rice to this idea by about a year. From what I can tell, VJ came out originally in 1984, while The Vampire Lestat burst onto the scene in 1985. So in one decade we have little Timmy Valentine in VJ crooning the song "Vampire Junction" ("it will suck your soul away"), and Lestat doing whatever he does in his self-titled book (I have to admit that I only know that Lestat was a rock star because I saw the movie Queen of the Damned, which actually defied my expectations and turned out to be halfway decent. I liked the music, especially Disturbed. Anyway, I don't feel guilty for not having read the book, mainly because I don't particularly care for Anne Rice. I read Interview with the Vampire, and while it had some attraction because of her unique style, I just didn't really like her vampires. To be blunt, I found them lame.). Thus, VJ is definitely not a by-the-numbers work.

I wrote in the summer of the vampire post that Robert Bloch had called this book "the closest thing to a nightmare ever put on paper." Was he right? Sadly, I think the answer is "no." VJ had a lot going for it: good characters, solid plot, disorienting-but-still-followable writing style, but it did fall just short of such high praise. Whether it is the strange psychological musings or (probably) Timmy's desire to explore his emotions (yikes), the book never quite rises to the level that I think it could have. In conclusion, I would rate Vampire Junction as a very solid entry in the genre, well-worth reading, as long as your expectations are at least somewhat tempered.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Harry Potter...

...and the Sorting Hat Ceremony.

Want to Get Sorted?
I'm a Ravenclaw!

How disappointing. The Gryffindors and the Slytherins are the good ones. Ravenclaw is only an afterthought. At least I'm not a "Hufflepuff." shudder

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


Nice comments by Governor Granholm (by the way, what's the deal with using "Gov." instead of Governor? Can Georgie Weeks not spell "governor"?) in today's Detroit News. She calls the conduct of a member of the Michigan House of Representatives, Rick Baxter, treasonous for the unpardonable offense of...writing an op-ed that appeared on Calling an op-ed "treason" is a little excessive, I would say, but I guess that is the easiest route to go if you can argue with the content of the op-ed. My favorite line is where Governor Granholm says that the op-ed was about two people writing "Don't come to Michigan."

No, Governor, the op-ed was about how to get more businesses to come to Michigan so that more people don't leave Michigan looking for work. Just because it's inconvenient to have the fact pointed out that on your watch Michigan has fallen into a tie for the highest unemployment rate in the nation doesn't mean that Representative Baxter is a traitor. Your reaction says a lot about you, though.

Further, the idea that a Republican might push for tax cuts shouldn't be shocking by now. Of course, most Democrats, at least today's Democrats, are opposed to tax cuts, but that's not treasonous either. And what if the op-ed had sad: "Don't come to Michigan. It stinks"? Would that have qualified as "treasonous"? I'm thinking not, and it's ridiculous that she has reduced us to even considering the idea.

I would say that this frustrated lashing out by the governor (I'm assuming it was just frustration because her comments are too ridiculous to be serious) is further evidence that she continues to be, as she has been since she took the position, in over her head. She is an ineffectual leader in a time when Michigan needs a kick in the pants.

This post will be a good test of the governor's limits of "treasonous" speech. I have criticized her. Does that mean I should fear the jackboots in the night?

Monday, July 11, 2005

Hide and Seek

Saw it this weekend. Interesting movie. Dakota Fanning was excellent, as she was in War of the Worlds. Her performance was what really sold the movie. On the other hand, it's amazing how much a bad performance by a child actor can foul up a movie. Here's a good example. Darkness Falls was a movie with some potential, but the horror that was Lee Cormie's performance took care of that. One more thing about Dakota Fanning: apparently she's in every movie, including Hide and Seek, War of the Worlds, Man on Fire, Sweet Home Alabama, I Am Sam, and Cat in the Hat. And those are only the major movies; there were a couple of others that I hadn't heard of. That's a lot of movies for an eleven-year-old-girl.

Enough about Dakota. Hide and Seek's other "D," Robert DeNiro, was also good in the movie. In fact, if there was one thing I was really surprised with this movie was how well it was made. All the main characters were recognizable actors, including Elisabeth Shue and Famke Janssen in supporting roles, and the direction was nice and crisp and took painstaking care from the very beginning to set an uneasy mood.

I'm not going to provide any spoilers, because this is a "twist" movie. I will say this, though. The first half to three-quarters of the movie was great, so much so that I was amazed this wasn't one of the biggest hits of the year. Then came the twist. My first reaction was disappointment, I think because the build-up had been so fresh feeling that I thought the surprise would be something really unique. It wasn't. Still, it wasn't bad, and now that I have reconciled myself to it, I have to admit that there is a certain intriguing nastiness to the twist if you go back and imagine the situations earlier in the movie now that you know how they must have been.

I strongly recommend this movie. It seems to me that viewers should value movies like this, where the makers of the movie really rolled up their sleeves and tried to make something excellent. In the end, they did not quite succeed in achieving excellence, but in falling short they still created a fine picture.

There's No Place Like Detroit

On the eve of tomorrow's All-Star game, here's a cool article from Page 2 about Detroit's status as a premier sports town. My favorite quote:

"Detroit has style, a swagger, a confidence that belies its condition. Detroit is the big, sweaty woman squeezed into a size-10 dress, daring anybody to suggest her body ain't booming."

Thanks, I think.

Friday, July 08, 2005

The Historian, Part II

I just read the New York Times review of Ms. Kostova's book. It begins:

"Garlic and crucifixes are traditionally part of the arsenal for vanquishing vampires. But in 'The Historian,' the Dracula-da Vinci Code hybrid that has emerged as the most heavily hyped novel of the summer, the first-time author Elizabeth Kostova tries a different tactic. Perhaps even the undead can be talked to death."

You can imagine where it goes from there. Of course, the Times' review page is well-versed in hack jobs (see Lemony Snicket's worthless review of the new Lovecraft Anthology). This one ranks right up there. I don't know why this particular book was selected for special reviling, but I would guess that it had something to do with a "$2 million advance, a movie sale and the prospect of publication in at least 28 languages," facts featured very prominently in the review, that made the reviewer become like the Hulk: green and angry.

Whatever the reason, this book is entirely undeserving of the droll criticism heaped on it by the eminent reviewer (The reviewer's flip attitude is pretty much summed up by the Da Vinci Code reference. Everything I've read about this book has made it clear that Ms. Kostova worked on it for some ten years. I missed The Da Vinci Code in 1995.). As I said in my review, The Historian is certainly not a classic, but it is still a good book, and Ms. Kostova should be applauded for her ambition. Frankly, I think it is a testament to her hard work and determination that she pulled off what she did, given the size of what she undertook. Let's face it: the vampire legend is pretty played out, especially after that Anne Rice nonsense. And not only did Ms. Kostova try to bring the Dracula legend back to its more respectable roots, but she brought a fresh approach and interesting new twist, all the while making it feel like this was the authoritative telling. I think that's worth something.

I think the Times review is worth something else.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Historian

So, I finished Ms. Kostova's novel. This is a difficult work to evaluate, at least in part because I wanted to like it more than I actually did. As I said in the earlier post, the author was clearly trying to create a literary novel that focused on vampires, specifically the Dracula legend. Did it work? I would say yes and no.

I found the history of the legend fascinating, and she had some really good suspenseful moments scattered throughout. I have to admit though, as a horror/suspense writer myself, there were times when the way she purposely slowed the book down just when it was getting intense was like nails on a chalkboard for me.

Thus, while I understand what she was trying to accomplish - after all, the grandaddy itself is a literary-type novel, if a little melodramatic - I think she erred a little on the side of the literary, especially in the first half of the book. There were just too many pages spent discussing such things as the smells of the food in each little town to which the narrator traveled or the exact textures of the weather at each particular location. Of course it is important to create a good atmosphere and setting for the story, but Ms. Kostova spent too much time developing settings that were ultimately irrelevant to the action of the book. This is what prevents the book from being the masterpiece its press kit claims that it is.

Overall, I would rate this book as a must-read, but only for horror or vampire buffs. The book is too weighed-down with excess prose to capture someone just looking for a fun read. But if you are interested in some very serious vampire lore and don't mind a little bit of wading, this book might be right for you, even if you're not a fanatic. It does have some alarming parts; I was just hoping for a little bit more.

Summer of the Vampire

I currently have on my plate, mainly as the result of happenstance (or, Serendipity Baby!) four vampire books for consumption this summer. I have completed the first - The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, which I mentioned here. The others are: Vampire Junction by S.P. Somtow (I've actually started this one, and it is really bizarre. In a good way. The cover blurb from Robert Bloch reads: "The closest thing to a nightmare ever put on paper." It's pretty much living up to that right now.); Children of the Night by Dan Simmons; and Dark Dance by Tannith Lee. I will of course report on each as I finish, and decide if any measures up as a classic in the bloated vampire genre.

It should be a dark summer.

Lil' Kim Update

She gets 1 year on the perjury conviction. I hope she's been watching women in prison movies to get the proper behavior down. I'm looking forward to the reports.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Another Recommendation

Below, I recommended The War of the Worlds as a good movie to see. I have another recommendation. It is that if you ever have an urge to see The Pacifier that cannot be controlled to the point that you absolutely must see the movie or die, choose death. It will be a better use of your time. Seriously, how did Vin Diesel get a lead role in a comedy? XXX was okay, I guess, and I enjoyed him in Pitch Black, where all he had to do was grunt and look scary, but ye gods! I swear Arnold Schwarznegger had a better grasp of the English language in Conan the Barbarian, and it wasn't even his native tongue! Just awful.

The War of the Worlds

Well, it certainly wasn't E.T. (Which is a good thing). What I mean by this is that War was a profoundly intense movie. It was about as realistic as it is possible for an alien movie to be, in that you get the uneasy feeling in your stomach while watching the movie that if there was an alien invasion of Earth, this is basically what it would look like. Assuming the aliens were able to get themselves and their weapons all the way here across space, and were hostile, we would be slaughtered like cattle at a charnel house. As one of the characters says, "This is no more a war than we would have a war with maggots." I think that's about right.

The downside of this feeling is that it makes the movie not an entirely pleasant experience. In fact, I know of some people who actually walked out on the movie because of how disturbing it is. I sympathize with this feeling, especially given the similarities between the action in the movie and the terrorist attacks on this country and the recent ones on London. Still, I didn't find similar enough to make sitting through it an unpleasant experience.

One of my favorite parts of the movie was Morgan Freeman's narration at the beginning and end of the movie. It kind of set the story up as a grim fairy tale, or like The Grinch gone horribly wrong. The acting in the movie was top notch as well, with the possible exception of Tim Robbins. Dakota Fanning is a phenomenal young actress, and I thought Tom Cruise, nee Thomas Cruise Mapother IV, despite his recent insanity, did a solid job not being too much himself.

One last aspect I wanted to address, partially inspired by this post from Ann Althouse, is the political. I don't see this movie as particularly right- or left-wing. Some have commented that Tom Cruise's son in the movie is right-wing because of his desire to charge in and fight. I see what they're saying, but I don't entirely agree. On a personal level, I was the type who wanted to go fight the terrorists wherever they were after September 11. For various reasons, I did not, but I can see where the kid would want to fight. On the other hand, he should also have known that he had a duty to help his sister, especially when he did not entirely trust his father to take care of her. A loyalty to family is something also valued by those on the right, leading to a conflict between priorities.

Ultimately, I think his choosing duty over emotion would have been something more in line with the way the right sees the world, but because of the complications in his motivations I really think that you can't pin a political label on what's going on in the movie. To me, it's more about people's differing reactions to an attack like this, about how they would react and grow (or in the case of Tim Robbins' character, who is more of a right-wing caricature than the son, go nuts). The point is that if you don't try to map your political sensibilities onto the movie, nothing overly political will jump out at you.

This post has dragged on, so I will conclude by saying that I definitely recommend this movie. I'm not confident that I would watch it again, but it is definitely worth watching for the spectacle.