Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Passage to India

This is about the book by EM Forster. I listened to the audio book. WOW!! What a tremendous read. I don't think I've been this excited about a book in quite a long time. The book was published in 1924.

I don't know where to begin in explaining why this novel is so magnificent. Let me begin by saying that the audio book version I listed to was read by Sam Dastor. Amazing voice performance. I couldn't find too much about him on a quick google, but I did gather that he was born in India, but is either British or moved to England. At any rate, he masterfully invoked over a dozen different distinct voice personas, with consistent delivery throughout the narration. His Indian sounded true, as did his British.

The novel is set in the 20's, in India, during British rule. The novel's protagonist is Dr. Aziz, a young Indian, who, while attempting to befriend and honor some British folk, is mistakenly accused of 'almost' assaulting a British lady. If you really want to know the details of the plot, look at the wikipedia entry. However, with this novel, the plot seems to be incidental. The real driving force of the story is the magnificent representation of the social climate, the characters, and the Indian landscape. And the effect is perfect. While Heart of Darkness is flat and ineffective in looking at British Imperialism, A Passage to India is full, rich, expressive, and convincing in its portrayal of the British Raj. It highlights the appalling racial inequity and racism in the Raj with superior prose and devoid of any propaganda. It creates sympathy for most all the characters, despite their sometimes serious flaws. Truly moving.

The novel is rife with wisdom, some conventional, some profound. Because of this, I will be buying this book, to keep on my shelf at arm's reach. Yeah, it's that good. I put the 1984 movie version, directed by David Lean, in the netflix queue. The reviews seem to be really good, but as is often the case, I fear the movie will either not live up to the book, or will twist it into something entirely different. We shall see... but not anytime soon, it's #200 or something on the queue!


To begin with, I think Mark Wahlberg is a fantastic actor. Although I do have Marky Mark and Funky Bunch from back in the day in my music collection, I'm glad Wahlberg made the transition to film.

Shooter was directed by Antoine Fuqua and stars Wahlberg, Danny Glover, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, and Ned Beatty. Everyone delivered in this movie. My only issue was with Elias Koteas' character, Jack Payne. Either bad character writing, or bad interpretation.

Michael Pena looked a little familiar, but I couldn't quite place him. I'll remember him now, though, great performance. He was a bit goofy in the "making of" special feature, but that's not what counts, I suppose. I was not familiar with Kate Mara, but like Pena, a great performance, and what a cutie she is.
Rhona Mitra played a minor role, and again, I wasn't familiar with her, but a great performance.
Shooter is about a Marine Scout Sniper (which I suppose there is such a thing as, since the author of the book on which the movie is based spoke in the 'making of' featurette and mentioned he had based his book on the life of a real Marine Scout Sniper) played by Wahlberg. He gets screwed by the government while on an assignment and retreats to the mountains of Montana. He is summoned back to duty by what he thinks is a legitimate government operation, but gets mired in an evil conspiracy imbedded in the government. Again he is betrayed, but with the help of an rookie FBI agent (Pena) and his deceased partner's widow (Mara), he gets his revenge and rights the wrong.

The storyline is smooth. The plot twists are a little predictable, but fun. The action is top-notch. The technical details seem on. A must see.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Relative Strangers

This movie can't be good, I thought, looking at the DVD case. Then I saw who the actors were and I was more optimistic. I shouldn't have been.

It had Ron Livingston, who I've been a fan of since Office Space. It also had Neve Campbell, Danny DeVito, and Edward Herrmann. They tried, they really did here. I really wanted to like this movie, I really did.

It was about an up&coming psychologist with a liberal bent, Livingston, who's about to get married (to Campbell) and finds out he was adopted. He finds his birth parents (DeVito and Kathy Bates), but is quite distraught they are so... well... not in his class. They ruin his life and he treats them terribly, which sends his fiance (Campbell) packing because he's not practicing his 'love everyone' philosophy.

It all works out in the end, but it just didn't work for me. Good actors, trying hard, but I think the victim of bad writing.

Pass on this one.

Night at the Museum

Night a the Museum was a mildly entertaining movie starring Ben Stiller, Robin Williams, Carla Gugino, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, Bill Cobbs, Owen Wilson, and Steve Coogan.

In typical fashion, Ben Stiller plays a seriously goofy guy, who can't get life quite right. For fear of losing joint custody of his son, he takes the only job available to him -- security guard at the local Museum of Natural History.

But this museum comes alive at night. You are immediately thrown into the action which includes Teddy Roosevelt riding a horse, a puppy-like T-Rex skeleton, a group of Neanderthals, a group of Huns, Lewis & Clark guide Sacajewea, a mini-sized Roman army battling a a mini-sized railroad interest, and many other exhibits-come-to-life.

The rest of the plot is silly and not worth getting into, but it was entertaining, especially with the kids. They had to watch it multiple times, of course.

I did find a couple deep thoughts in the story, however. See, Stiller's character is constantly pursuing new schemes in hopes of finally finding his groove, so-to-speak. But he always seems to fail. He tells his son that he can feel his 'moment' coming real soon. His son responds something like, to paraphrase, "What if you're wrong, dad? What if you're just an ordinary guy who should get a job?" How shocking! What is that is me?!!?!?!? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!

Stiller is redeemed in the end, still a museum nightwatchman, but extraordinary in his ordinary role.

Yeah, I'd recommend this movie, I suppose, for pizza night.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Heart of Darkness

I read something in high school, or at least I think I read this... it's been many years now, you know... well anyway, I remember reading something, it might have been a short story or a novel, it could have been a poem, or even a reading out of some reader... The only thing I can be certain of is the impression this reading left.

The moral I carry with me, from this reading, is that when one seeks to enslave and control something (or someone), one instead becomes a slave to it.

I think the setting was British imperialism in either Africa or India, where some great white man thought himself quite alright enslaving a native population, but in the end he found that he was the real slave. I put the question to Yahoo answers, but got only reading suggestions I had come up with on my own. One being A Passage to India by E.M. Forster, another being Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Reading plot summaries of these, I didn't think either of these were it, but I got them on CD anyway to make sure. Why? Because it's driving me mad to know what this freakin' reading actually was!!!

So I listened to Heart of Darkness on CD. Before having listened to the novella, I read a bit about it on the web. All kinds of deep, metaphorical meanings are attributed to it and the title, about how it relates to the darkness of man. I know my high school AP English teacher would have a conniption, but I honestly thought it was nothing more than an eloquent yarn, a tale. And it seemed very Euro-centric: unapologetic about the imperial marginalization of natives and lauding the virtuosity of even idiotic white men. I was unimpressed. And I thought this was perhaps because I am only a quasi-intellectual.. but then I read the wikipedia entry and learned I was not alone in my opinion. A Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe criticized Heart of Darkness in a 1975 lecture, An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's "Heart of Darkness." I'm too tired to look into this lecture more, but from the wiki snippet, I think Achebe was right on.

Heart of Darkness was probably autobiographical, and so I think it was just a tale of a trip up a river in Africa under European imperialism, with white men being all super-duper wonderous and the natives being seldom more than 'niggers' unless they served the white man in some capacity. Were I teaching a literature class, I would offer this book as nothing more than an example of the times. I could find nothing deep here. Darkness in man's heart? Oh wow, what a revolutionary concept.

I don't think this was 'the story,' though. The character Kurtz does end up controlling a tribe, and goes mad in the process... on second thought it may have been it. I could very well imagine my AP English teacher, Mrs. V. (name withheld to protect the innocent) coming up with some dictation that in enslaving this tribe to pursue his own greedy wants, Kurtz became a slave to the ivory he feverishly (literally) sought and to the tribesmen he used to get it, and in the end losing his life because of it.

Perhaps I'll never know.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Olive, the Other Reindeer

A few years ago, a cute little book made it's way into our home. It was Olive, the Other Reindeer by Vivian Walsh and J. Otto Seibold. My daughter absolutely loved the story, and I found it cute and amusing, especially the illustration. In brief, the book is about a little dog named Olive that hears "Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer" on the radio and thinks it's saying "Olive the other reindeer," rather than "all of the other reindeer." So Olive sets out to the North Pole to help Santa.

The movie is not new, made in 1999 for TV, but I just ran across it at the library. A few share production credit (including Drew Barrymore - who is also the voice of Olive), but the standout is Matt Groening. I didn't know this when first watching the movie with the kids (guess I missed the credit on the jacket), and so I was beside myself at how fantastic the movie was. The story, although quite different from the book, was hilarious, and the animation was top-notch, especially because it closely followed the book's illustrations.

In the movie, you had The Postman (Dan Castellaneta) as the spectacular antagonist out to ruin Christmas. Olive (Drew Barrymore), goaded on by her pet flea, sets out for the North Pole in response to Santa's radio broadcast plea for help from "Olive, the other reindeer." On her journey, she encounters and is aided by a hilarious cast of characters including Martini the penguin (Joe Pantoliano), Richard Stans the bus driver, and Round John Virgin, the lumberjack-type guy. Along with Olive, these last two are mondegreens (here's your vocabulary word for the day). Richard Stans from the Pledge of Allegiance, and Round John Virgin from Silent Night. Ha ha!

Another witty reference in the movie that had me rolling on the floor was when Olive was trapped in the mail truck with no apparent way out. She suddenly notices a package addressed to her from a company called "Deus ex Machina" In it is a file which allows Olive to escape. You'd have to see the movie and understand Deus ex Machina to get it, but it is quite funny.

This movie goes right alongside Christmas Story and Elf as must-see holiday flicks.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fire Sale

Another VI Warshaski novel, another good read. This time VI is thrust back into South Chicago (her childhood haunt) where a charitable stint as a high school basketball coach lands her in a web of corporate malfeasance, neighborhood activism, arson, and murder.

Religion takes a negative hit in this story, and I haven't really noticed if a negative view of religion is a common theme in Paretsky books. It was in both Ghost Country and Fire Sale, with religion and faith viewed antiquated, useless, hypocritical, or even harmful. Paretsky tries to be coy about it, presenting religion and faith in a matter-of-fact fashion with little narrative judgment, but we know that framing and lighting can be everything.

Regardless, the story is riveting. Another thing I'd like to point out is the fact the story is set in Chicago, as that is where VI hails from. But Chicago seems to be a commonly used back-drop. Chicago seems to be popping up everywhere for me. It's in all the Paretsky books I've read lately. Time Traveler's Wife was set in Chicago. And while watching the first episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century on Netflix instant view, it was revealed that Buck Rogers hailed from Chicago as well. What is it about this town? I was there twice while I lived in Madison, WI. My wife and I spent a weekend in the middle of winter there, walking around in the cold, eating at great restaurants, and riding around in the horse-drawn carriages. Then we spent some more time one summer with my eldest daughter (an infant then) visiting sites and museums. I do have a visceral infatuation with Chicago, and I'm not sure why. I think... I know that I will be spending some time there in the future, but I can't know why...

Anyway, thumbs up on this one.

Fire Sale - VI Warshawski
Sara Paretsky
Putnam 2005

Sunday, September 16, 2007

John Pinette

With the XM Radio, you get XM Comedy, which has accompanied me on many, many a long drive home. On those nights when you just don't feel like music, you're in no mood for the lunacy of AM talk-radio, and you just finished that book-on-CD, some comedy can hit the spot. I've discovered some comics I really like, and some I really don't.

John Pinette is one I really like. Discovered him on XM Comedy, and netflixed a couple of his videos, the last one being I'm Starvin', filmed in Montreal in 2006. He looked good, lost a lot of weight as is really noticeable when compared to this YouTube clip from who-knows-when, which is great. Would hate to lose such a talented guy due to health issues. Although the act isn't all-new -- there's plenty of classic bits in there like the tremendously funny Chinese buffet bit (also in this YouTube clip) -- it was great. Aside from a mild curse word benignly thrown in every now and then, his act is pretty clean. I'd give it a PG-13 rating, maybe even a PG 'cause I'm sure kids hear worse stuff on network television or the playground.

In I'm Starvin', he reveals he spent a couple years on the Broadway musical, Hairspray, as Edna Turnblad. And IMDB shows he's got an impressive filmography. Indeed a talented guy. Never miss an opportunity to watch or listen to John Pinette.

Other stand-up comics I like include Dane Cook, Bob Marley, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Ellen DeGeneres, Lewis Black, and Stephen Lynch, to name just a few. Some people I think are quite funny, but I haven't heard them in stand-up venues, include Craig Ferguson, Jon Stewart, David Letterman, and Dennis Miller.

Some top comedians I simply don't like include Robin Williams, Bill Cosby, Larry the Cable Guy, Bill Maher, George Carlin, and Carlos Mencia. I'd rather listen to silence than the last four.


I like libraries. I like libraries a lot. If perhaps I wasn't so interested in money, I might be content as a librarian. I like the way libraries feel. I like the way they smell. I prefer university libraries because they are much more comprehensive, but even small public libraries can be quaint and exciting. I found a quaint little library on the outskirts of a metropolitan county library system. It was small, but modern and new. They have a little collection of movies. My wife is hogging the Netflix queue with Grey's Anatomy, which is alright, but I was longing to watch something different. I looked for a movie the whole family could watch, and thus, in typical fashion, I chose a really bad movie, Quigley, starring Gary Busey.

The story is about a ruthless, self-absorbed businessman who has an accident and apparently dies and goes to heaven. But they won't let him in. He comes back to earth as a Pomeranian dog, to right the wrong, which he does.

The script was terrible, the acting was terrible, the film making was terrible. I mean really bad. But I watched it because the kids were enjoying it. There were a couple of interesting things of note, however.

First is that the movie had an Evangelical overtone. I faintly recalled that Gary Busey, in recent years, had a bad accident of some sort, after which he become a born-again Christian. This was the case, and this movie was made afterward. Which makes sense, that he involved himself in this project.

Second, neither my wife nor I could keep our eyes off the mom in the movie, played by Jessica Ferarrone. Aside from doing about the only good acting, my wife was transfixed by her ample bosom. I must admit it was distracting, but I also thought her very attractive overall. Amazingly, google images returned almost nothing on her. In fact, this is only one of two pics I could find. What I could find out about her is that she was Lydia Karenin on General Hospital in 2003 and that she's been on NYPD Blue and CSI: Miami. Being such an attractive woman, and from what I saw in this terrible movie, a good actress, I'm surprised she hasn't done more movie work. And being so sexy, I'm surprised there aren't more pictures on the internet.

Third, was the odd ensemble of actors including Oz Perkins, Christopher Atkins (of Blue Lagoon fame), Curtis Armstrong, Bill Faggerbakke, and Dorien Wilson. They seemed missplaced here. Their filmographies don't seem to put them in this kind of movie. Perhaps they were just hungry. It was also interesting to note that Christopher Atkins is straight-edge, which can sometimes be aligned with fundamental Christianity. Perhaps that's what drove all these actors to be in this really bad movie, although I didn't look enough to find out all their religious affiliations. Direction and screenplay for this movie was by a William Byron Hillman, who according to IMDB, has only worked on like seven movies (as either writer, director, or actor) in the past 35 years. I can see why. I just have to share a snippet from a netflix member review,
This movie ranks supreme on the unintentional comedy/bizarro scale... Also, when you watch it, just remember that Quigley's budget was around -5 dollars (hard to forget), and that the pomeranian actually wrote the script. It will provide the most enjoyable experience of your life.

Pass on this, unless your kids want to watch it alone.

The Time Traveler's Wife

Now this is a book that would rank on my friend Lisa's "how I know you're gay" list. My wife was reading it and got engrossed in some other book. I was between books and it was by the bed, so I started reading it, although the title and the cover art made it a book I would never read in public!

But I must say it was good. The story is about a man named Henry, who has a genetic disorder that makes him prone to being chronologically displaced, i.e. he time travels. It's also about his wife (thus the title), Clare. If you are science-phobic, fear not, for the book makes no attempt to explain the science behind theoretical time travel. I think we would need Michael Crichton for that job. But this truly does not distract from the story, because how the time travel occurs is utterly inconsequential. What's important is that it does. Rather than time travel being an event arising in the story, it is what allows the story to unfold. And the story is entirely about the relationship between these two people, as it transcends linear time.

Despite it being a somewhat idyllic love story, I found the story riveting because of my recent piqued interest in determinism. As I noted in my 27 Aug 2007 entry about the movie Premonition, it seems the consensus that any attempt to change fate, fulfills it. It holds true in this book, and in the end, it makes perfect sense to me, and sits quite well.

Most of the story is told from two points-of-view, Henry's and Clare's. A superb approach for a couple reason. First, it allowed a much more intensive interpretation of the various scenarios. Something that a single first person perspective, or a third person narrative could not have done. The third person narrative may add an omniscient view, but it essentially becomes a single point-of-view. This multiple person narrative gives us two, and it's much richer. Second, it allowed me to keep on reading. I'm not sure I could have continued through the story had it been strictly Clare's narrative. I could relate and better understand Henry's narrative, so it kept the story progressing for me, even when Clare's narrative became too ethereal.

Kudos to Niffenegger on her debut novel. Change the cover art and I think this book might find a male audience, beyond the Oprah crowd.

The Time Traveler's Wife
Audrey Niffenegger
2003, Knopf Canada

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Ghost Country

So Wifey saw how much I enjoyed the last Paretsky book I read, and so dug up Ghost Country at the library. Total Recall was 2001, and Ghost Country goes back even further to 1998. Certainly not a new release, but a great read.

A side-note on Total Recall. The Paretsky book has nothing to do with the Arnie move, but in one of the recent issues of The New Yorker, I learned that the movie was based on a book by Philip K. Dick. Looking at Wikipedia, it says it right there (what doesn't Wikipedia know??), but the Total Recall movie was so unremarkable, other than being a great (albeit bizarre) action flick, that I never would have bothered looking it up. I'm not enough of a science fiction fan to go down this road, but if you are, you should definitely look into Philip Dick novels from waaaay back in the day. I'll admit I haven't actually read any of his novels, but the long (as all New Yorker articles must be) article made clear that his works are 'interesting' in the vein of H.G. Well's Time Machine or Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, though never considered on the same literary level. Dick, it seems was a prolific pulp writer. Time Machine and Martian Chronicles were required reading in high school lit, but at the time, they seemed confusing mumbo-jumbo. Thinking back, I guess my 15 year old psyche was not ready for the social undertones of such works. But it seems Dick also brilliantly addressed our human condition through nutty fiction novels. And please don't tell me Time Machine and Martian Chronicles were not nutty.

Whoa, that was quite an aside. Back to Ghost Country. Not as fast paced as VI Warshawski books, but engaging none-the-less. Here, Paretsky takes to the homeless underworld of Chicago. I can't help but wonder if she based it on some even happening in Chicago at the time, but I'm too tired to go googling for this right now.

The story takes a couple prominent families in Chicago, with family members of dubious character. These family members fall into the homeless underworld and all hell breaks loose. It wasn't as preachy as I thought it would be about homelessness. Which I'm glad. In my rec reading, I don't need social lectures, but it spoke strongly about human relationships, which I always enjoy. Let's just say it made me look at my sleeping daughters and strengthened my resolve to love, cherish, and support.

I am also a Stephen King fan. Needful Things was a superb work, though rife with tragic ends. In Ghost Country, there is a culminating scene at a church that took me back to the culminating scene of Needful Things. The savage results of mob mentality, in the name of religion. It was pretty powerful in both stories, though Ghost Country spent but a couple chapters, while Needful Things was devoted entirely to the topic. Religion was just the vehicle, though, in both stories. I also don't think mob mentality was really the focus, either. I think the real statement is about the ugliness inside us all. The horrible, ugly truths that lie just beneath our polished veneers. No-one is immune really, and our only salvation is in how we deal with it. So, let the knight say of you, that you have chosen wisely.... if you really do have free will at all.

Monday, August 27, 2007


Listening to NPR on the way home today (well, monday) the All Things Considered program had a bit on the new Bionic Woman series on NBC. Here's the link to the NPR program. Well, this made me think of the old Bionic Woman starring Lindsay Wagnar.

This made me think of the Six Million Dollar Man, starring Lee Majors.

Which made me think of Lee Majors in The Fall Guy.

Which made me think of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, because its star (Gil Gerard) sorta resembles Lee Majors.

And then a torrential flood of nostalgia overtakes me. These were the shows that I grew up watching. Some (like Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman) were in reruns, but they filled up my many hours in front of the TV when I grew up. Other shows that I recall at the moment include Knight Rider, Blue Thunder (albeit shortlived), Airwolf, Spiderman, Wonderwoman, Incredible Hulk, I Dream of Genie, Adams Family, The Munsters, and oh so many more. Nick at Night fed me shows way past network rerun status, including Mr. Ed, Leave it to Beaver, and Patty Duke. Oh, those were the days... *sigh* I think I should write a book about the 80's according to me.

So, it makes me feel like what Bowling for Soup was singing about in 1985. Their video for 1985 is rather bland, but here's the best home-made cover video I've found. It's quite funny.


Think a cross between Butterfly Effect, Groundhog Day, and Pulp Fiction.

Premonition stars Sandra Bullock and a few others I don't know. The movie takes you through a week in the life of Linda Quinn Hanson (Bullock) and Jim Hanson (Julian McMahon), Tarantino style, in which he dies, but then hasn't died yet... or will he die at all? Can Linda stop it?

Well, as in Butterfly Effect, or long before, in the Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex (by Sophocles), it seems that any attempt to change fate, in actuality, fulfills it. Which is unfortunate. As a teen, when I read Oedipus Rex, while the other kids were giggling over the incest, I was shocked by the unyielding force of Fate, and frightened by determinism, either scientific or theological (e.g. Calvinism.) Wikipedia has a great entry on free will. But now, after living a while and being seemingly beholden to deterministic Fate, I want to see Fate turned on its ear!! It's why I loved Quantum Leap, Scott Bakula righted the wrong, dammit! But more often, Fate has it's way, as in Oedipus Rex, as in Terminator, as in Butterfly Effect, as in The Final Countdown, and as in Premonition. Oh well :(

The premise of this movie is interesting, and so in exploring the theories about fate and free will, I stumbled upon a quote by 19th c. German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, "A man can do what he wants, but not want what he wants." Another translation I like better (perhaps it is a paraphrase) is, "A human can very well do what he wants, but cannot will what he wants." Stew on that a little. How terrible! If that's the case, what hope is there for me?!

Is the movie worth watching? Sure, it's alright. Holes in the plot, but not a waste of your time.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Employee of the Month

I almost didn't think it worthy writing a post about this movie, because, well, it was pretty dumb.

However, it had two redeeming qualities. One, it was filmed in New Mexico, with funding aid from the State's film office. Two, it starred Dane Cook. Unfortunately, neither quality made the movie any better. Oh, it also starred Jessica Simpson, though that neither detracted nor added to the movie, she did a decent job.

Being filmed in NM is a redeeming quality because, well, I'm from New Mexico and it's a fantastic thing for the state that we're really promoting film making here. As an aside, my mom got cast as an extra for a couple movies coming out this fall. Bordertown got dropped from theater release, I think, but it will be released on video at least at the end of August. No Country for Old Men will be released in November. She got cast in Bordertown first as a nun in a hospital scene with Antonio Banderas. It seemed like a scene too important to cut, so unless they re-shot it, I'm pretty sure she'll make the final cut. She was cast as a nun again in Old Men, but I think her's was a background extra thing there.

Dane Cook, if you don't know, is a fantastic comic. Therefore, I was especially disappointed and surprised the movie wasn't funny. Don't know if it was his fault or the script.

Pass on this one.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Call on Me

It's another insomninite (my own term!). While youtubing, I came across Steve Winwood's "Valerie." I had no idea who Steve Winwood was until I watched a couple videos, and of course I know his work. If you're not sure, here's links to three youtube videos. I won't embed them because visually they're nothing to write home about, but the songs are classics:

Back in the High Life Again
Don't You Know What the Night Can Do

But tonight's youtube surfing netted something else, something amazing. Nowadays, marketers have paraded sex in so many aspects of of our daily lives that there is so little that titillates (no pun intended) us.

A video listed in the 'related' bar to Winwood's "Valerie" was "Call on Me," a sampling track by Swedish producer and DJ, Eric Prydz. Never heard of him before, but low and behold, he cut this track. The track alone is mesmerizing, despite the fact it's 3 minutes of practically only three words. But then there's the video... wow... despite the fact it's probably no more explicit than a Suzanne Sommers workout tape. But it's breathtaking, erotically entrancing. You just need to see for yourself:

And I guess I'm not alone in being mesmerized. Someone went to the trouble of creating a website for this single: http://www.ilovecallonme.com/main.html

Total Recall

No, not the movie, but the book by Sara Paretsky. I mentioned in the AG Chronicles blog when i started reading this book, and I am horrified that it took a month to finish it. It should have taken me a few days at most. I am not doing very well at keeping up with my reading list.

Anyway, I've read two or three VI Warshawski books, and enjoyed them thoroughly. Total Recall is no exception. I stayed up till 3am or so to finish the last quarter of the book, it was so engaging. Paretsky is masterful at setting up the scenery. I remember that in the other books of the series I've read, it was Chicago. In this book, Chicago is the main backdrop, but World War II Europe also makes an appearance.

I like these Paretsky books because they are quite sophisticated, meticulous, yet a whole lot of fun. Victoria, as the protagonist, is easy to relate to. Yet many of the characters in the stories are, by their nature, of a world beyond mine... but Paretsky brings them to my level, for me to see and study. Journalists, doctors, executives, politicians.

This installment had the typical gum-shoe detective work that makes VI so engaging. But an added element really took me aback. The story dug back into the WWII history of Victoria's friends, Dr. Herschel and Max Loewenthal. It masterfully tied the Chicago insurance industry to the Holocaust, using the vehicle of a seemingly mundane fraud investigation. Modern day murder and the horrors of war and the Holocaust are seamlessly weaved into the storyline so that it never becomes too burdensome for recreational reading. These books are the best. They serve primarily as entertainment, but educate along the way.

I am always amazed at either the great depth of knowledge good authors like Paretsky have, or the thorough research they do for their books. I typically am impressed by the well researched scientific basis of science drama authors like Michael Crichton (last book I read being Prey, most excellent). In Total Recall, it was history rather than science, but equally impressive. Unfortunately, I can't say I'm an aficionado of history (unless it involves biographies of the titans of industry) as I am of science, so I can't really say whether the history is accurate, but it sounds accurate. And I trust Paretsky enough to believe she would be painfully accurate in her portrayal of the Holocaust and its survivors. For her to not be accurate, would be a discredit and a destruction to her and to her characters, whose history defines them.

So, a thumbs up. Wikipedia says that the VI Warshaski series goes back to 1982, with 12 novels in all, two since Total Recall (2001). With so much on my reading list, I won't add them to my queue, despite the fact I enjoy them so much. I'll leave it to my wife to find me recreational reading books. She does a great job and thanks to her, I've discovered some marvelous authors and reads I wouldn't have found had I focused on a few authors.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Astronaut Farmer

I won't write anymore about how I can't remember why a movie got put on the netflix queue. I never remember, and it doesn't matter.

This movie was fun, and it was family-friendly enough, though we had to look past some light cursing. Decent acting by Billy Bob Thornton and Virginia Madsen. Perhaps I had fun watching it because it was filmed in New Mexico. The scene where Charlie Farmer is soliciting advertising from a cowboy-businessman... that takes place in front of a local feed store!

So, Charlie Farmer is, well, a farmer in Texas and is a good father and husband. He has a dream to build a rocket that will fly into space and orbit the earth. He's not totally loony, as he has a degree in aerospace engineering or something and was in the US Air Force training to be an actual astronaut. But family tragedy brought him back home to the farm, where he continued his simplistic dream of going to space...

In spite of the FAA and other government agency's objections to him flying his rocket, and in spite of the financial ruin he's certain to bring his family, he proceeds, aided only by his teenage son as mission control and the moral support of his wife and young daughters.

I felt inspired while watching the movie, and I even felt like crying a little (shut-up) when the rocket actually launched, but now I can't remember what was so inspiring about it... perhaps it was the moral that dogged determination will get you your dreams, and it takes the support of those around you and sacrifice. Thinking back, the premise is all a little silly, even if it was just a movie, but it was a feel-good type of movie. Sorta like Little Miss Sunshine.

So, yeah, grab the popcorn and the kids, and have a nice time.

The Prestige

I didn't remember how this movie ended up on the netflix queue, but it did and I'm very glad. Starring Hugh Jackman (of Wolverine fame), Michael Caine, Christian Bale (don't know him), Scarlett Johansson, and delightful appearances by a medly of other actors, including David Bowie (who, after looking at IMDB, I find has been an on-again, off-again actor for decades) doing a fantastic rendition of Nikola Tesla.

The movie was just plain good. Plot twists and suspense galore. The ending was not clear until the end, as it should be. A must see.

But what really stayed with me was a quote by the character Tesla. It goes something like,
Perhaps you've heard the saying that man's reach exceeds his grasp. It's a lie. Man's grasp exceeds his nerve.
How remarkable! I couldn't find anything to corroborate the real Tesla saying anything of the sort, and some googling revealed that the root quote actually comes from British poet and playwright Robert Browning, "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp -- or what's a heaven for?" I better like the Tesla character's twist on this quote.

Man's grasp exceeds his nerve. Yummy. For those of you who don't want to think too much, 'reach exceeding grasp' means people often worry that their dreams, those things people can conceive, are sadly often beyond their grasp. Character Tesla says this is hogwash, for the irony is that the true limiting factor is not humanity's grasp, but rather humanity's nerve. Basically that man is capable of some remarkable things, but we don't have the nerve to seize it. The wikipedia entry of Nikola Tesla is a good read, btw.

So I walk away from this movie with two things: First, a desire to read a Nikola Tesla biography. Second, and most importantly, a kick in the pants -- I often feel that I'm simply incapable of achieving what I desire... perhaps character Tesla is right, though... perhaps I fail to achieve not for lack of ability, but for lack of nerve...

As an aside, I put the 1998 biography of Tesla, "Wizard, the Life and Times of Nikola Tesla" by Marc J. Seifer in the lit queue because Seifer supposedly looked at the Tesla archives in Yugoslavia and used freedom of information requests to get documents regarding Tesla from the U.S. Government. Important because the government apparently took a keen interest in confiscating many of his papers and devices after his death.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


Not sure how this movie ended up on the Netflix queue, but it did. I was delighted when I saw it had William H. Macy, whom I first 'discovered' in Fargo (along with Steve Buscemi).

So here the titular character (played by Macy) is living the drab life of a businessman, without love, passion, or purpose. He has some sort of epiphany at a fortune teller's, and in a single night, he is thrust from his gilded-white life to darkness. A netflix customer review compared it to Falling Down, but I disagree. The theme might be similar, but Falling Down was thoroughly entertaining, and one could easily relate to and sympathize with Michael Douglas' character. Edmond was neither entertaining nor sympathetic. Falling Down was about a man who breaks. Edmond is about a nut-job.

The first third of the film seemed to hold great promise. The dialogue was drawn out, but seemed to be headed somewhere. I could easily relate to the protagonist's initial condition. Throw in Rebecca Pidgeon and Julia Stiles and I was quite optimistic. But then Edmond's slide into violence and darkness begins and it all gave way to utter nonsense.

Edmond rants non-stop about prejudice, race supremacy, truth-to-oneself, and living. I don't know what the David Mamet play was about, but the movie felt like a voyeuristic look at a lunatic, rather than an every-man falling into his own darkness and depravity. Whatever introspect Edmond was exploring was on the level of coherence and sophistication I would expect of my six year old.

I won't even bother to put the DVD back in to paraphrase this accurately, but while imprisoned, Edmond is ranting on about how no-one can know the truth about what we are, that no one could take it. Edmond's cell-mate (a black man, to throw in irony, who quickly made him his punk) joins in about how maybe animals can know because maybe they are left-behind aliens. Edmond agrees it's a possibility. With absurdity like that to obscure any depth, how can one take this movie seriously. I get what the screenplay was trying to say, but the movie utterly failed.

Monday, July 23, 2007


I heard of this movie first (keep in mind we don't watch TV... by choice) when searching for Keep Holding On by Avril Lavigne on Youtube. The song is on the soundtrack... sorta... i don't recall hearing the song until the credits rolled.

Anyway, the Eragon-Keep Holding On video was pretty cool, and to the top of the Netflix queue the movie went.

The movie starred an apparant newbie, Edward Speleers along with some delightful veteran actors including Jeremy Irons, Sienna Guillory, Robert Carlyle, John Malkovich, and the lovely Rachel Weisz (as the voice of the dragon).

I have no complaints about the movie, though I wish it had been more. The acting was good, the special effects were good, but the storyline was formulaic: Kingdom suffering under the cruel rule of a knight-type turned evil, the hope of the people falls upon an unsuspecting farm boy who, with the aid of a magical dragon, brings freedom to the kingdom.

Oh well. The kids liked it, and it was fun.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Ah, Pink.

I heard the name maybe a year ago, maybe more. Being the shallow fellow I am, I instantly despised her. I didn't even know what she sang. Anyone who called themselves 'Pink' must be moronic.

Whoa, was I wrong.

I like Pink (born Alecia Moore) because she can sing. Man, can she sing. Deep and powerful are her vocals. And her songwriting, though sometimes awkward (e.g. Dear Mr. President), is powerful as well. Her videos are technical, edgy, moving, and entertaining. One of my favorites is Don't let me get me. Her in pigtails reminds me of my 2 year old daughter, who is a bit of a tough, independent rebel... and looks like Pink a bit.

Let me say something about Dear Mr President. I think the lyrics are awkward because they're more than just a little naive. I feel a little bit embarrassed just listening to it, though the singing is great. Though my bent is toward conservative, my dislike of the lyrics is not because of that. I, myself, have more than a few issues with Bush. The message is simply not very sophisticated. I do admire her gall to make such a song, and I understand her desire to make it. Good for her.

I also like Pink because of her look. Sometimes she's cute:

Somtimes, she's not.

Sometimes she's feminine:

Sometimes she's not:

Sometimes she's glamorous:

Sometimes she's not:

Sometimes she's girl-next-door:

Sometimes she's not:

She's sometimes a bit naughty:

She's always a little crazy:

A woman, she is. (and this is not porn - it's Bryan Adams photography!)

The B-Flow and the G-Groove

When I was in college, I roomed, or housed, with two lovely sisters named Bridget and Gina. Wonderful women I admire greatly for a variety of reasons. I was their irritating guy house-mate. Anyway, to me they were B and G, or B-Flow and G-Groove. I think these are actually groups of some kind, but I'm not familiar with them. However, when I think of these monikers of theirs, I think music.

As I mentioned briefly in a previous post, or somewhere on this post, I've been paying a lot more attention to the music I listen to. Music appreciation, you could call it.

In the "On my desk" section of the sidebar, I"ll be listing either individual songs or albums that I'm digging at the moment. After they've moved off my 'now playing' list, they'll go to the shelf. Keep in mind, not everything 'on the shelf' I liked.

So I was making an hour trip from Albuquerque, and listening to the radio, and got a string of songs I'm really digging right now. One of them is Give it to me by Timbaland. I must comment that I have historically disliked Justin Timberlike, for no other reason than he was in the boy band 'N Sync. But two things have happened recently that make me respect the guy. #1, he's with Jessica Biel in some way.

#2, He grooved with Nelly Furtado on "Give it to Me"

These are both women I, um, admire greatly. Go, JT.

Next, a remake of 'Time after time' came on by, I believe, Quietdrive. I don't know who Quietdrive is, but their remake was a decent version of Cyndi Lauper's. Yes, I like Cyndi Lauper. My friend, Lisa, teases me greatly about this, but hey, if a pop punk band thought she was cool enough to faithfully recreate her song, then I guess I'm not so lame. And Sarah McLachlan saw it fit to do a 'feat' version of time after time with Cyndi. I am very fond of Lauper's studio version, which everyone knows, but the feat McLachlan version is stunning. Vocals are amazing (though Lauper breaks a little once), and the acoustics, wow. Below is a youtube clip of a live version. The studio version is much better, so try to find a good mp3 somewhere. I thought Sarah was playing a twelve string guitar, but from this video it's clear Sarah's only singing, and the mesmerizing acoustics must be coming from that guitarist or Lauper's gizmo gadget she's strumming.

This second video is a fun cover video for Quietdrive's 2006 remake.

Also playing over the airwaves was Irreplaceable by Beyonce. I despised this song when I first heard it months ago. When I finally listened to the lyrics, however, I was moved. Though I'm not sure this song will stay on my playlist long, I have respect for it.

Then came 4 in the morning by Gwen Stefani. Great song. My first exposure to Gwen Stefani was Hollaback Girl which my then 5 year old daughter unfortunately learned the lyrics to and belted out in school. Again, I found Stefani irritating at first, then quickly grew to like her very much. Now I'm a big fan.

Finally came Pink. I'll devote an entire post to her.

So anyway, that was my music appreciation for today.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Man in the Hut

I like David Sedaris. I've read a couple of his books, some of his short stories, and I even listened to a radio broadcast reading by him. I'm thoroughly enchanted by him. The wit of Dave Barry, sans the cerebral bent, which is refreshing.

David Sedaris is simply a joy. What a treat to find a piece by him in the New Yorker.

I can't say I took anything profound away from this essay. As seems to usually be the case, Sedaris seems to simply chronicle life, comically highlighting irony and ridiculous outtakes. Here, he talks about, well, a man living in a hut in the village in Normandy where Sedaris lives with his partner, Hugh. The man in the hut is Jackie, who is living a caricature life of a modern day French peasant on the downslope of life.

Sedaris exposes, as usual, his deep insecurities, submissive nature, and generally dysfunctional personality. All framing his looking glass observation of Jackie, sliding from a sadly mundane life to disgrace to illness to death.

Clearly not a happy story, but funny, and weighs as another citation of the human condition.

Sedaris, David. "The Man in the Hut." The New Yorker 4 June 2007: 48, 53-55.

Fashion bug

No one can accuse me of being a fashionable guy, save special occasions. And just because I often look like I put on whatever I tripped over on the way to the bathroom, it doesn't mean I don't admire fashion.

I have four obstacles that impede my claim to fashion: First, I have little idea what is fashionable. Second, I don't have much money to spend on fashionable clothes. Third, I don't always find the time to put together a daily ensemble. Finally, I don't always think I look good enough to be in fashionable clothing.

However, I still desire to be fashionable. In fact, a big part of the Body department of the AG Project is outward appearance, which includes dress. So why desire something that comes seemingly unnaturally to me?

In the June 4 New Yorker, a piece by a Lizzie Widdicombe in the Talk of the Town anecdotally captured why. The piece is about a high school boy, Robert Asch, nearing his prom, who emails Duckie Brown (an "eccentric menswear label" out of New York, presumably) about fitting him out with one of their ensembles for the event. The two partners, who make up the small-time home-run label, agreed. Asch, from New Jersey, comes to their studio and gets fitted. Widdicombe writes that when done, "Asch moved his arms around: 'I feel fantastic.'"


Widdicombe, Lizzie. "Prama." The New Yorker. 4 June 2007: 33-36.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Summer Reading List

Finally organizing my reading list. Quite a challenge. In the sidebar you'll notice three sections below the picture: On My Desk, In the Q, and On the Shelf. On My Desk is what I'm currently reading/watching/listening to. In the Q is what I plan on reading/watching/listening to next. On the Shelf is what I've read/watched/listened to and am done with.

I wish there was a Blogger widget that allowed me to comment on the list items on the list itself. Like a review of each book or a listing of the articles-of-interest in periodicals. I know I can do it using the HTML widget, but I don't want to get into that. I guess I'll just create blog entries to comment.

Note that the Lit section will list books and magazine periodicals. I will list periodical issues, but not not individual articles. The list isn't totally comprehensive as I'll read articles here and there from other magazines, newspapers, and online sources.

I also realize that I'm sporadic about periodical readings. I have a dozen periodicals on my desk. Reason is that I go back and forth, never seeming to finish any one periodical till weeks later, when I've exhausted all the meaty articles and finally get down to the fluff. I need to change that habit and digest each issue immediately so I can shelve it and move on.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Business Ethics & Multiple Intelligence

I once, while in college, received a subscription to a publication called Strategy + Business published by Booz Allen Hamilton. I never knew who gifted me this subscription, but I found the magazine profound. It had no b.s., just many solid articles on business. It didn't have the glossy, dumbed down glam of Time, but rather the serious intellectual quality of the New Yorker. No 'Ten Ways to Make Your Business Succeed' type articles or 'Ask Don' columns. Anyway, as part of this project, I subscribed to this publication as reading material for career and mind.

I'm in the middle of an article (Howard Gardner Does Good Work by Lawrence M. Fisher). Howard Gardner is a Harvard professor in the School of Education. His relevance to business comes from his scholarly linking of cognitive development and leadership ability.

First, I admire Howard Gardner for his lifestyle. A brilliant, but frugal man who lives a professionally ethical life. Second, I like what he has to say about business ethics. When presented with the question of why should businesses concern themselves with anything more than making money (i.e. ethics), Gardner states that the survival of business may depend on it.

How bold! How profound! How true... Fisher paraphrases Gardner,
...so too could corporate enterprises be rejected by the body politic -- consumers, employees, and even shareholders -- if they fail to generate wealth for more than a privileged few. If given a choice, he [Gardner] believes, knowledge workers will flock to companies that embrace high standards of excellence and that allow them to feel engaged with society, leaving other firms with the less talented, less motivated members of the workforce.
I have always felt this, but haven't put it so eloquently. In my business aspirations, I have always believed that I needed to not just make money (let there be no doubt that I want to make money), but to fulfill a social need and create economic and social wealth for the community my businesses operate in. I want my employees to be better compensated than anyone else around and that the communities they live in provide them a higher quality of life. Sort of like the utopia Milton Hershey envisioned for Hershey, PA, but rather than providing everything, I want to endow the employees and community businesses with the ability to do it themselves.

Another quick mention in the article is about Gardner's other studies. There are two that caught my eye. The first put forth in his book, Five Minds for the Future. The second in Creating Minds. Both of these I'll put on my reading list.

Five Minds "posits five sets of congnitive capabilities that will be needed...by any successful citizen, professional, or businessperson. These include the 'disciplined mind,' the 'synthesizing mind,' the 'creative mind,' the 'respectful mind,' and the 'ethical mind'" (Fisher). The article sprung forth from this last 'mind,' but I find a great interest in reading more about the others.

Creating Minds
interests me because of my daughters. Fisher writes of the book's posit, "Children do indeed know how to play, but achieving sustained creativity requires first mastering a particular domain, whether classical piano or particle physics, which in turn requires at least 10 years of intense study, generally amid a community of supportive individuals." I've suspected this after watching my 6 year old daughter jump from activity to activity, never spending more than a couple weeks learning anything. Karate, gymnastics, dance, theater, t-ball, ballet, horseback riding, authorship, singing... they never lasted and I can't say she actually achieved any true understanding, much less mastery, of these disciplines. I know that I've found in my own life a great difficulty focusing on anything or achieving true mastery over anything. I think it's because I was allowed to "do whatever I wanted" and my childhood and adolescent genius was spent on who-knows-what, rather than focused on any one discipline.

In summary, a great article on a great subject. And an interesting author for me to explore more.

Fisher, Lawrence M. "Howard Gardner Does Good Work." Strategy + Business Summer 2007: 82-91.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Work Ethic

My wife brings me books from the library she thinks I might find interesting. She brought home Total Recall by Sara Paretsky. What a treat! It's a VI Warshawski novel (yes, the one they made a movie about). I've read one or two in the past I enjoy them thoroughly.

In just the prologue, I've already been stirred. I haven't gotten any further, but apparently there is a character named Lotty Herschel who lived in England during WWII. The prologue is titled "Work Ethic." Lotty observes, "...work was my only salvation... it's a narcotic, the oblivion overwork can bring you." She notes that the Nazis had a slogan over their camps, arbeit macht frei, or work will make you free. Lotty goes on to note, "... work can numb you. If you stop working even for a moment, everything inside you starts evaporating..."

I have mixed feelings about work. I, too, find work a narcotic. For the past seven years, since leaving collegiate studies, I have immersed myself in work. Robotic work. It made the past seven years pass quickly... yet I'm not sure what I gained, other than saying I worked hard for seven years. After I left work my full time job in February, I felt a little lost. I had lost my routine of monotonous work.

Now I'm self-employed and I'll admit it's a bit difficult to adjust. Rather than rote work, I need to perform creative development work. There is no boss setting expectations, there is no SOP for me to follow. I've been conditioned for so long to simply put your head down and work that it's hard to transition to entrepreneurial work.

Like Lotty, I found work a salve. It was my escape. It wore me down over time, however. It drained all my creative power. But I do miss it. I miss being 'productive' in the traditional sense. I miss it to the point that I'm often tempted to pull out the classifieds and start submitting resumes. Just so I can get the high of working. George Foreman was on David Letterman (or perhaps it was Conan O'Obrien) recently, and George spoke about how there was no better feeling than waking up in the morning and having a job to go to.

I agree with George. George is an entrepreneur, however. He doesn't have a typical 8-5 job. He has business ventures, in addition to his sports profession. But it seemed that to him, these were jobs to him. That he gets up every day to attend to his job. I need to do that. I need to structure my life so that my entrepreneurial ventures fulfill that narcotic lust for work.

Paretsky, Sara. Total Recall. New York: Delacorte Press, 2001.

About this blog

This is a companion blog to the AG Chronicles project and AG Chronicles blog. This may be curious reading on its own, but it's actually an exercise in advancing the AG Chronicles personal improvement project. Please visit the site to learn more about it.

An anthology is a collections of works of some type. The works typically have commonality of some sort -- same author, same genre, etc. Here, the commonality is that I have read/watched/listened to these works.

These 'works' will consist of novels, short stories, articles, music, and movies. Basically, anything that I read, watch, and listen to. It's meant to chronicle the things that I actively put into my head, how they make me feel, and what I think about them.

I'd also like to give some credit here to a friend of mine, Bill. While I have described myself as an intellectual of sorts, Bill is the real deal. He has a website called the Anthologist's Cabinet, and it is because of him that I remember the term "anthology" and it is why this blog has its name. Also because I couldn't think of a better name. I'll probably mention Bill quite a bit in my blogs because he is a person that I admire greatly for his reflective nature and natural intellectual abilities.