Monday, February 25, 2008

Sentential Links #130 doesn't feel like I've been doing these for all that long, but I'm slowly closing in on a two and a half years, if I haven't hit that target already considering that there have been weeks when I didn't indulge this series. Anyway, on with the links. Click them or the puppy gets it.

:: My coworker friend Denise came in the office earlier this week and told me that she heard on the radio that 80’s music was now considered to be OLDIES CLASSIC ROCK. (You know what used to bother me when I used to listen to Buffalo's oldies station on a regular basis, back when Buffalo had a real oldies station? Hearing "Kokomo" as an oldie. Just because the Beach Boys recorded it didn't make it an oldie. But apparently now it actually is an oldie. Yipes!)

:: "Why can't Steve Carrel host the Oscars? He's actually funny." (That's actually a pretty good suggestion, although I thought Jon Stewart was terrific. I don't agree with everything SamuraiFrog says, but he's always interesting.)

:: Please clear any unused time off the microwave when you are finished. Some of us have OCD and leftover time drives us crazy. (My new favorite blog. This thing is hysterical.)

:: So I'm designating this week's condiment of the week to honey. Take time to think of all the little things you daily dose of honey does each day--be he/she a parent, kiddo, lovemuffin, or life-supporting friend.

:: Three cheers Canada!

:: O Sunday Family Circus, why do you insist on the being baffling and totally insane?

:: You know you're a US presidents geek when you accidentally buy the same biography of Chester Alan Arthur twice.

All for this week. Tune in again!

Happy Birthday My Love

Today is The Wife's birthday.

We first started dating just days before her birthday back in 1991, so each time her birthday rolls around, it's another year we've been together in one way or another. We've had some very wonderful times together when life was nearly perfect; we've had some utterly awful moments when life seemed completely worthless. But we're still here, on both counts, and I don't want it any other way.

Some things about my wife: her hand fits mine like it was custom made for me (or maybe that's the other way around). She makes perfect Spanish rice and cornbread, amazing pancakes and astounding waffles, and she roasts a mean turkey. Her skill on the sewing machine astonishes me. Her strength during Little Quinn's life was inspiring to me on so many levels. She loves to eat chocolate and drink rum with me. She'd never seen Star Wars when she and I came together. She rides horses and wants to help children with disabilities. I wish she liked whipped cream, but them's the breaks; she probably wishes I liked asparagus. I've loved every hairstyle she's ever had, and the one she has now makes me wild. She wears overalls because she knows I love the way she looks in them, and she looks great in them. She picked out two Persian kittens with me. I wish I could have pushed her in a wheelchair around Disney World for another week, as tiring as that was. (She hurt herself while there.) She loves to try new things. She loves Renaissance festivals and wants to go someday in costume. She loves a good laugh, especially when it's at my expense, and I'm (usually!) only too happy to let her have those laughs on most occasions. She loves cats and dogs equally. She thinks the Patriots are evil. She doesn't like baseball, but then, nobody's perfect and with the Pirates looking to stretch their era of badness into a third decade in a few years I don't much like baseball anymore either.

So yeah: The Wife. I'm a big fan.

Original photo locations: 1. Pumpkinville 07 029, 2. Pumpkinville 07 011, 3. Pumpkinville 07 010, 4. Pumpkinville 07 008, 5. Pumpkinville 07 003, 6. Sept Trip 07 005, 7. Sept Trip 07 003, 8. 092907_14221, 9. A very hippie Christmas!, 10. Sunny day at the Fair, 11. 005_2, 12. GAHHH!, 13. Cutest wife EVER, 14. Mother and Son, 15. Tifft Preserve May 06 (21), 16. The Wife, pensive, 17. GAHHH! part two, 18. biking, 19. Spot the non-family member!, 20. The Wife.

Mosaic created with Flickr Mosaic.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Thoughts on the Oscars

I've seen almost none of the movies nominated for anything tonight (Pirates: At World's End and Ratatouille are it, I think), but I'm enjoying Jon Stewart's hosting, and those faux-montages ("Oscar Salutes Binoculars and Periscopes") were totally hilarious. That is all.

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Here we go!

:: You know how every little town has its own little annual festival? Towns I've lived in have had things like "Farm City Days" and "Heritage Days" and the like, but I've only just now heard of Frozen Dead Guy Days.


:: Not weird in the classic sense, but weird as in the "Wow, the Internet is getting more and more to be the thing we all thought it would be way back in 1994" way: you can watch Star Trek online. Legally. For free. I cannot believe this. (And if you haven't ever seen "The Menagerie" or "The City on the Edge of Forever" -- the two greatest episodes of Star Trek ever, in my esteemed opinion -- then you now have no excuse.)


:: And I thought the writing desk I currently own, which once belonged to my grandmother, was an amazing piece of furniture. Check this out:

Yup, that's a "Han Solo frozen in carbonite" desk. I want one.


And there we have it.

Unidentified Earth 28

Keeping to my new schedule of posting installments of Unidentified Earth on Sundays, we have the next installment below. The previous installment is still Unidentified, however, and I've noticed that very few guesses have been incoming. Hmmmmm.

Anyhow, here's the new one:

Where are we? Rot-13 your guesses, folks!

Fixing the Prequels - The Phantom Menace (part six)

part one
part two
part three
part four
part five

Marching on in our re-examination of The Phantom Menace, we resume the Tatooine section of the film.

But first, a digression of sorts is called for. In comments to the last post, Jason opined that in TPM Anakin is too young, and should have been older: ten or eleven, perhaps. I've actually waffled on this quite a lot, and I've generally settled on these thoughts.

First: Well, the general thrust of this series isn't to completely reinvent the Prequel trilogy, and recasting a major role would certainly be a significant step in that direction. My overall view is that the Prequels are unjustly maligned, and part of what I'm trying to do isn't just to kvetch about the stuff I didn't like, but also to call attention to the stuff that I think works very well in these movies. Aside from a couple of awkward line readings, I've not had a problem with Jake Lloyd as Anakin. (I have long held the view that given his long history of directing children with great results, if ever Steven Spielberg was going to direct a Star Wars movie, this would have been the one.)

Second: An underlying theme of the PT is that bad things can happen when people are forced into certain roles before they are ready to play them. Anakin's not ready to be a Jedi, he's not ready to be the greatest of all Jedi, he's not ready to be a magnificent war leader, he's not ready to be a personal confidant of the Chancellor of the Galactic Senate, and so on. He gets overwhelmed easily, and that's a big part of why he falls to the Dark Side of the Force. And why does he get overwhelmed? Because he's never really given a chance to mature. On that basis, I think it makes sense that we first meet him as a child. His love of Padme is never more than childish, and since that's the main catalyst of his embrace of the Dark Side, that's where it has to begin.

So yeah, I'd leave Anakin as he is in the movie. I can see the case for making him older, but I don't think that enough is really gained in doing that to make it worthwhile.

OK. When we left off, we'd just finished "Dinner at the Skywalker House", where it was decided that Anakin would race his new pod racer in an attempt to win the parts for the stranded ship. I actually like a lot of what follows, and I really wouldn't change much of any of it at all. Qui Gon arranges the race with some cavalier betting with Watto in a very nicely done scene. There's a good exchange between Padme and Qui Gon, where Padme attempts to use her royal rank to question Qui Gon without actually revealing her royal rank, and I've always assumed that Qui Gon had a good idea that Padme was really the Queen when he tells her "The Queen trusts me judgment, and you should too." Then the bit between Qui Gon and Watto, which is another well-done scene. I particularly like this exchange:

QUI-GON: I have acquired a Pod in a game of chance. The fastest ever built.

WATTO: I hope you didn't kill anyone I know for it.

Qui Gon's knowing smile in reply to this is terrific.

Next we're back at Casa Skywalker. Anakin's building of the pod racer, Qui Gon's discussion of Anakin's nature with Shmi, Anakin's growing fascination with Padme: I think that all of this stuff works pretty well, and about the only change I'd make would be to eliminate the bit with Jar Jar getting his hand stuck in the engine of the racer. (I'd keep the bit with his tongue getting zapped by the energy binders, because I actually think that's kind of funny, as is C-3PO's observation that "This Jar Jar creature is rather odd".) I particularly like how open Qui Gon is with Shmi as to his suspicions about Anakin and the Force, as well as Anakin's excitement when he gets his racer's engines going. It's scenes like this one, actually, that make me wonder just why so many people are so visceral in their loathing of TPM. There's really lots of good stuff in the movie, if you're willing to see it.

I would, however, make a small alteration to the dialog between Qui Gon and Shmi:

QUI GON: Where is his father?

Shmi hesitates.

SHMI: There...was no father.

Qui Gon cocks an eyebrow.

SHMI: I can't explain it. I was not with a man when – I conceived him, carried him, and he was born.

QUI GON: No one said anything?

SHMI: I am a slave. No one ever says anything.

QUI GON: Does he know?

SHMI: No. He thinks that his father was a navigator on a spice freighter. He is smart...perhaps I would tell him, but I do not know what to say.

QUI GON: Nor do I.

I always liked the way Anakin's birth was made mysterious like this. I remember some critics pooh-poohing the notion back when the movie came out, under the notion that it made Anakin's story too Christ-like, but virgin births are not unheard of in folklore and myth beyond the tale of the birth of Jesus, and George Lucas surely knew that. All I wanted to add here, really, was to explain a bit of Anakin's sense of who he really is. (And the lie as to his father's identity mirrors the lie later told to Luke by Owen Lars. Yeah, that's a little geek-moment.)

Then there's the little night-time scene when Qui Gon takes a scan of Anakin's blood and beams it to Obi Wan for a midichlorian count. What to do here? Well, we'll get to the meat-and-potatoes of the whole midichlorian thing later on in another post, but for now, I'd have Obi Wan react with some surprise here:

QUI GON: Analyze this blood sample I'm sending you.

OBI WAN: Yes, master.

QUI GON: And I need a midichlorian count.

Obi Wan hesitates.

OBI WAN: Master – did you say that you need a midichlorian count?


OBI WAN: But in the past you've said--

QUI GON: I know what I've said, but something is out of place here. Please analyze the sample.

OBI WAN: Yes, Master...scanning now...and the result is....

QUI GON: Obi Wan?

OBI WAN: This reading is off the chart. Over twenty thousand per million. That's a higher concentration than in any other Jedi on record.

QUI GON: Even Master Yoda and Master Windu.

OBI WAN: What does this mean?

QUI GON: I'm not sure yet. Keep the ship safe. I will check in tomorrow.

OBI WAN: Yes, master.

What happens here is that I hint a bit that the midichlorians are a bit of an issue with Qui Gon, for one reason or another. I always liked how in this little scene Lucas left the midichlorians unexplained for later on, and I'd do the same thing. My issue is the way he ends up explaining them, later on, and we'll get to that in good time. Note how I also give the reading result ("twenty thousand") a bit more context by providing a secondary figure to establish the concentration.

(Meanwhile, Darth Maul lands on Tatooine and sends out his probe droids. I wouldn't change this at all.)

OK, so now it's the next day, and Anakin and friends bring the pod racer to the hangar bay before the race. Again, I like this scene as well, particularly the bit where Padme discovers that not only have they put their hopes on this boy in this dangerous race, it's a race that he's never even finished. Qui Gon's cheating at the die roll is nice, too.

A bit of a digression here about the nature of the Jedi. I remember when the movie first came out, some people were disturbed that Qui Gon would lie to Anakin about the blood sample ("I'm just scanning for infections") and that he would use the Force to rig the throw of a die. Basically, Qui Gon isn't totally honest in situations that call for less than total honesty. There seems to be an idea among many that the Jedi aren't just noble warriors, but that they're basically, to borrow a bit of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons terminology, paladins. The Jedi are supposed to be pure as the driven snow, morally, and Qui Gon's actions look bad in that light. Personally, I think the "Space Paladins" view of the Jedi is incredibly faulty: they're not perfect individuals, by any means, and a recurring theme in the prequel trilogy is that the fall of the Jedi comes as much from their own failures at introspection as from the activities of the Sith. (This is actually a theme I wish Lucas would have pushed farther and harder, and it's a theme I'll be discussing in depth when this series finally reaches Revenge of the Sith.)

Well, anyway, we finally get to the central part of the whole Tatooine sequence: the pod race. Believe me when I say that there is exactly one major change I'd make to this entire chunk of the film. Yes, I'd remove the bit with Jar Jar and the flatulent eopie. I can't imagine what made George Lucas think that was a good idea. But as for the rest, I've loved the pod race in its entirety ever since I first saw the movie on opening day in 1999. Those racers are impressive vehicles, and I love the entire idea, as an action sequence, and as a logical bit of Star Wars lore. Tatooine is depicted as a world fascinated with going at great speeds over its wide vistas, which makes perfect sense since there's not much else to do there at all. Anakin's love of pod racing is later passed onto his son; not pod racing specifically, but Luke's own fascination with speed and accuracy. Pod racing is the clear antecedent for Luke's bulls-eyeing of womprats in his T-16.

Anyhow, yeah: I love the pod race. I love how the sequence starts with the usual brassy music one expects from a John Williams score, but once the race itself begins, the music vanishes, only to return at the very end when Anakin and Sebulba are neck and neck and Anakin's racer is succumbing to Sebulba's sabotage. And the whole sequence is very nicely edited, as well; everything that happens is perfectly clear, and when Anakin has to make a repair while racing, it's easy to see what he's doing as he's doing it. (First he snuffs out the fire, then he re-routes power so that he can fire up both engines again. It's all handled with nothing but visual cues and no dialog; Anakin doesn't start narrating his own actions for us.)

As the pod race ends, I'd make one small change: it's not exactly clear why Sebulba's racer fails spectacularly, especially on the DVD when the image is reduced to TV-size. His energy binders (those tendrils of electricity that keep the two engines aimed in the same direction) fail, but we don't really see why. I'd add something here, maybe something like Anakin chucking a loose tool into Sebulba's engine or something like that. In fact, I'd definitely make it something like that, or even have Anakin, in a moment of rage at Sebulba, inadvertently use the Force to snap off a key part of his opponent's racer. Something to suggest a little bit of the Dark Side waiting in this boy's heart.

So Anakin crosses the finish line, and the crowd goes wild. There's a terrific little moment here that always makes me smile, even though I think the effect may not have been intentional on Lucas's part. In Anakin's pit area, his two buddies (Kitster, the human, and Wald, the Rodian) are celebrating, but if you watch, it's terribly awkward. The two kids try to high-five, but they hilariously miss the coordination of it, and thus they end up slapping their hands into empty air while the other is standing there doing nothing. It's pretty obvious that the actors here weren't on the same page as to how they were doing their celebrating, and yet, there's the shot, in the final cut of the movie. I can't believe that this was Lucas being inept or bumbling; I suspect that he knew full well that he was putting a bad take into his movie when he made the final edit. Here's the thing: if you go to actual sporting events and pay attention to the behavior of the fans in the stands, this sort of thing actually happens. I've seen lots of guys awkwardly try to figure out in the heat of the moment if they're bumping fists or high-fiving or hugging or whatever when something really good befalls the side they're rooting for. Maybe this is actually just a mistake in the movie that nobody caught, but to me, it's totally true to life, and since Lucas made the pod race into an entire sporting event complete with announcer, I prefer to believe that this little shot is here intentionally.

As for the rest of the aftermath of the race, I think it, too, works pretty well. (I'd ditch the fact that Jabba fell asleep during the race, though.) Qui Gon's brief talk with Watto, in which he collects his winnings, is very well done. (Very nice is that one of Darth Maul's probe droids flies by in the background, and thus picks up the scent.) Also nicely done is the brief bit where Qui Gon meets with Obi Wan as the Queen's ship begins preparations for liftoff and repairs. Obi Wan's line, "Why do I suspect that we've picked up another "pathetic life form"?" would already be set up by the line I gave him earlier in the movie (during the submarine-through-Naboo sequence), and then Qui Gon goes to fetch Anakin.

This scene, however, is a bit problematic. Anakin's decision to leave is handled way too quickly, and he should really be a lot more conflicted about it. We should see him agonizing for a few minutes about whether he should leave his mother or not:

ANAKIN: But Mom, I can't just leave you here.

SHMI: Yes you can, my darling! My place is here. I will be fine. You know that aside from his gambling, Watto is a good master. And you know that this is the chance you have, right now, to leave this world and see the stars. There is a bright center to this Universe, Anakin, and this is the planet that it's farthest from. Who knows if a chance like this will ever come again?

ANAKIN: But --

SHMI: No, Ani. You must go.

QUI GON: We must be underway now, Anakin. Our task is still urgent. Go and get what you need.

ANAKIN: I don't have much.

He runs off.

QUI GON: I will look after him.

SHMI: I always knew that he would leave one day. I just didn't think it would be when he was so young.

QUI GON: This is when it is best. When the world still has wonder for him.

SHMI: He will be a very powerful Jedi, won't he?

QUI GON: He may be the most powerful of us all.

Something like that. (Shmi echoes a line that will later be uttered by Luke Skywalker.) Cut to Anakin's farewell to C-3PO (another bit I like a lot), and his departure from his home. I'd limit the final goodbyes to just Shmi's line, "Go now, and don't look back. Don't ever look back."

(The original script has a small scene where, as Qui Gon returns to collect Anakin, he comes across Anakin fighting in the street with a Rodian who turns out to be a young Greedo. This scene seems to have some geek love behind it, but I don't think it adds anything, so I'd leave it out. I'd also leave out some of the extended farewells Anakin has, such as the one with his buddy Kitster. I also recall vaguely – I might be completely wrong, actually – some fan speculation that Kitster would later grow up to become Boba Fett. Obviously that didn't happen, and I wouldn't make it happen here, either.)

OK. Qui Gon and Anakin are making for the ship when Darth Maul attacks them from behind. This scene thrilled my geek heart when I saw it, because a sequence very much like it was evident in a number of Lucas's first drafts of Star Wars, way back in the early 1970s. This all works pretty well, although I'd draw out the fight between Qui Gon and Darth Maul a bit, and I'd retain something from the script, where after Qui Gon jumps onto his ship's entry ramp, Maul would try to follow but only get knocked back to the ground as the ship lifts up and out into space.

In the final moment of the film's Tatooine sequence, we have the introduction of Obi Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker. This is yet another of those small moments in TPM that I love, and I wouldn't change it at all, not a single bit. I always appreciated how Lucas didn't take this portentous meeting and underline it with a huge magic marker for the audience; isn't it true in life that the people we meet who later become so important to us are people we meet casually, so much so that in some cases we don't even recall those first meetings at all? That's great stuff. "By the way, Obi Wan Kenobi, meet Anakin Skywalker." That's great (especially Ewan McGregor's expression of "Sure, hey, how you doin'").

And with that we're done with Tatooine. Next time we'll check back in with the doings on Naboo and look at the Coruscant section of the film.


Some replies to Ask Me Anything! 2008 queries. Here we go:

Roger, who asked a ton of questions this time out, kicked things off thusly: How has the events of the past year figured into your faith journey, however you define that?

Tough question, this; very tough question. My "faith journey", if it can be termed as such, is pretty much directionless. I'm not sure this is a bad thing, really, unless we take the concept of a "faith journey" to have a predetermined destination, and I'm not sure that I do, in the usual sense. Put it this way: if we define the destination of a faith journey as a specific physical location – say, Niagara Square in Downtown Buffalo – and we further define my personal journey as starting out from some other physical location – say, John O'Groats in Scotland, then what I'm doing isn't so much trying to get from John O'Groats to Niagara Square as roaming the world starting with John O'Groats and seeing where I end up. If I get to Niagara Square, fine, but if I don't but I see lots of the world and I make lots of friends and I learn a whole lot about the world, is it such a bad thing if I don't make it to Niagara Square? Especially if, and here's the rub, I either am not sure or simply don't know if Niagara Square is where I should be heading at all?

This is why I have such a hard time, as I noted last week, with the sentiment expressed in John 4:6. Who am I to say that the faith journey undertaken by a person in Tibet, a person who lives his whole life in that country and lives his whole life under the precepts of Buddhism, is any less valid than that undertaken by me? And given my strong belief that religions are at least in part, if not in their entireties, formalized expressions based on the experiences of a certain group of people in a certain time or place, how can it be wise for me to assume that they are wrong, that in their time on this world they have learned nothing and that they therefore have nothing at all to offer a searching soul like me? So I can't assume that.

This, I well know, renders my own spirituality something of a smorgasbord, and for now I'm fine with that approach. There are so many things in Christianity that draw me, and there is so much power in its narrative. Believer or no, I think it's impossible to look at the life of Jesus, with his message and his act of self-sacrifice, and not stand a little bit in awe of it all. But I also see so many things in every other faith to draw me, and so much power in their narratives as well.

So, back to the original question: the events of the last year. The honest answer, even though it won't satisfy, is that I don't know. For one thing, the things that have happened in my life (and in those of my family) are still so recent that I can't imagine to have any answers worked out right now, and even though out own personal circumstances are what they are, the question that rises at all times is not a new one at all. In fact, from my perspective, it may be this very question that gives rise to religious and spiritual thought in the first place. In our case, it's "Hey, God, you let people who are complete jerks, boobs, ne'er-do-wells, and incompetents have beautiful healthy babies, and you visit beautiful, healthy babies upon people who don't deserve them and who in some cases may actually contribute to the lives of these babies being nasty, brutish and short. So how come we, who play by the rules and do everything as well as we can, have a single living child who is outnumbered by her deceased younger siblings?"

This type of question, though, can be asked by anyone at all, can't it? And with varying degrees of what we might call "seriousness", but in the end, it's the same type of question. "God, all we needed to do was get this space shuttle back onto the ground, so why did you let the heat-shielding tiles rip away and destroy us?" "God, couldn't you have just nudged that stupid football over three feet, instead of letting it go wide-right?" "God, why did you make it so that the one day my husband doesn't stop for coffee on the way to work so he could be in his office twenty minutes earlier was the day you let those guys highjack those planes so one of them could crash into my husband's office!"

The questions come in reverse form, too, and we'd do well to never forget it. I was watching an interview the other day with David Crosby, and he pointed out, "I lived the same way that Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix did, and yet I'm still here and I don't know why." A coin gets tossed, and it's Richie Valens on the plane instead of Hank Williams Jr. This house gets destroyed by the tornado; the one next door just gets all its windows broken. That editor's looking to buy one manuscript today, and he reads this writer's submission early in the morning when he's still on his first cup of coffee, but he reads that writer's work in the late afternoon, after he's supposed to have gone home, sat through a bunch of useless meetings, and had a bad call from his ex. Does that matter? Maybe, maybe not.

So where am I going with this? Ultimately I don't know if I'll ever be able to say with a strong feeling of conviction, "I am a [insert religion here]". It seems that any time one says I am this, there is an implied galaxy of I am not thats. I don't know where my journey is leading me. All that I know (apologies to Messrs. Lerner and Loewe) is that I'm on my way.

:: Roger also asks: Have you forgiven me for rooting for the Giants against the Bills? If the Giants don't beat Buffalo, they don't get into the playoffs to knock off New England.

Heh. Nice logic, that: by losing that game, the Bills actually set in motion the series of events that later resulted in the Patriots falling short of Their Glorious Season of Conquest. OK, fine, you're off the hook. I suppose I should also forgive Eli Manning for that tantrum he and his family threw back at the time of the 2004 Draft; if he doesn't scream bloody murder and get himself traded to New York, Philip Rivers would have been the starter in that game. Not that would necessarily have been a bad thing, as the 2004 Class may go down as the best quarterbacking class in draft history. Four years into the careers of those guys, and the three quarterbacks taken in Round One of that year have sixteen playoff games, four Conference Championship Game appearances, and two Super Bowl championships among them. Wow.

(What's that? You say there was a fourth quarterback taken in the first round in 2004? Nah, you surely must be mistaken.)

Interestingly, of the three teams that beat the Bills in the Super Bowl, the Giants are the one that I didn't dislike at the time or decide to dislike after their win. Maybe I should have, since that Giants team gave the world Bill Belichick, but at the time, I didn't hate the Giants for winning against the Bills. Also of questionable historical interest is to look at the coaching careers of the three head coaches who beat the Bills after those games. It turns out that beating the Bills in the Super Bowl would be, in each case, the last great thing those guys would ever do as head coaches. What does that mean? Nothing, really. It's just mildly intriguing to me that within a year of beating the Bills in the Super Bowl, Bill Parcells, Joe Gibbs, and Jimmy Johnson were all out of coaching, at least temporarily, and when each one returned, none of them could win the Super Bowl with their new teams. (OK, it's not that interesting. I just like to demonstrate my command of useless NFL trivia.)

Belladonna asks: My question should come as no did the pie thing start for you?

Heh! What she's referring to is a mutual interest of ours – well, one of several mutual interests, but definitely the oddest: we both take delight in that staple of slapstick comedy, the pie in the face. (She's even made a birthday tradition out of it, and our mutual appreciation thereof has led her to put me on her own "bucket list". I'm well and truly honored!)

Anyway, I remember seeing this funniest of fates befall people on many teevee shows I used to watch as a kid: Sesame Street and The Electric Company (example -- yes, that's Morgan Freeman on the receiving end), You Can't Do That on Television (example), game shows like an incredibly goofy one called The New Treasure Hunt (example -- hey, I was five when I was watching this stuff, and it was the 1970s anyway), and variety shows like The Mike Douglas Show (example featuring, appropriately enough, Moe Howard). I don't know why, but a face full of whipped cream (or not -- ouch!) really hits my funnybone on the sweet spot. Go figure. (Which is why I hated that "Ginger versus Mary Ann" ad from a few years back -- not because it was gross or sexist, but because it wasn't funny.)

Well, that was quite the range in topics in a single post, huh? From matters of faith and God to pie throwing. Wow.

(And yes, I've been pied in the face myself.)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Measuring Progress

Straps I, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

I've made few bones here about the fact that I'm generally overweight, and have been for years. I'm not so overweight as to be unhealthy, but I am at an age where that does start to be a concern, so in recent months I've started to slowly move myself into a healthier kind of living. This starts with eating more fruits and vegetables, obviously, and it also involves more exercise on a regular basis. At first, exercising more meant going for brisk walks on a regular basis (four or five times a week).

Of course, the onrush of cold weather ruled out daily walking once the snow started flying, which is why my regular exercise plan fell by the wayside for a short while -- until the first week of January, when we were able to activate our membership at the local Y (given to us by my parents, in one of the greatest Christmas presents they've ever given us).

So now we go to the Y three or four times a week, and I'm doing a combination of weight training and cardio work. I've been doing this for about six weeks now, and I'm feeling great: stronger, calmer, and less likely to take out my frustrations on my own fictional characters or on helpless pieces of scrap wood. I haven't been so unfit as to be out of breath on a normal basis, but I'm noticing that it takes more work already to get my heart really racing. I'm also drinking gigantic amounts of water as many health professionals say to do. (Personally, I think that drinking lots of water is beneficial mainly because it forces you to walk more. As in, to the bathroom.)

So what's with the picture? Well, I have no real way to quantify any weight loss I enjoy as I embark on my new "Sculpting A Better Me" focus. We don't own a scale, and frankly, I don't want one. Scales can be discouraging when you hit a plateau, their constant presence can lead to obsessive weight-checking, and on a sheer practical note, our bathroom is roughly the size of that video phone booth Heywood Floyd uses to call his daughter from the space station in 2001: A Space Odyssey, so there really isn't room for a scale in the first place.

So how to know if I'm definitely losing weight? By the more-satisfying measure of how my clothes fit. Watching a number on a scale decrease over time is nice, but really, finding the shirts one wears getting bigger and finding other shirts that may have been uncomfortably tight a year ago now perfectly wearable is much nicer. Orders of magnitude nicer, actually. So is the fact that a week ago I had to buy a new (smaller) belt, because the old one simply had too much extra belt hanging off the end after I buckled it. And -- ideally for me -- is the fact that I'm having to shorten the straps on my overalls for the first time in several years. Huzzah!

So I'll occasionally post another variant of this photo as I make progress reports, for comparison's sake. I'll have to use this one pair of overalls for this series exclusively, since I long ago discovered that the length of shoulder straps can vary between even virtually identical pairs of overalls from the exact same manufacturer. Here we go!

(By the way, I don't know about other Y branches in Erie County, but the Southtowns branch is just a stunning facility. I just love the place, and the very best thing is that it's all of 1.5 miles from Casa Jaquandor. Come spring and summer, I'll be able to walk there and back again for my workouts. Life is good.)

If adventure has a name....

It's amazing how time slips away from you, isn't it? I file things away in the back of my mind to blog about one of these days, and then I realize it's been a couple of weeks. But hey, it's also nice how since it's my blog I can blather about what I want, when I want!

So, with all that said, it's time for me to geek out a bit about the trailer for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

First of all, I know that they've apparently decided that every one of these tales needs to be titled along the lines of Indiana Jones and the [insert hazy reference to the story's Maguffin here], but really, that's an unwieldy title. Just as the very first ever Indiana Jones story for me will forever be Raiders of the Lost Ark, so too should this one simply be either Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull or Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

(Of course, this is all pretty much a useless point anyway; stand to one side of the theater box office when this opens, and what you'll hear is "Two for Indiana Jones" all night. In fact, have you ever heard anyone approach the box office and refer to a movie with a long title by the entire title? Wouldn't it sound weird to hear some one actually say "Can we get three tickets to the 9:15 showing of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King? We use shorthand when referring to movies with long titles anyway.)

Where was I? Oh yeah, the Crystal Skull trailer. It's a good trailer. Of course, most trailers are, but this one really seems to be an "Old School" trailer in that it just has little hints of what's in the movie, as opposed to most trailers these days, where the approach seems to be "Tell the entire movie in two minutes and make sure to give away all the best stuff". (The worst example of this I've ever seen is the trailer to The Perfect Storm. They just had to put the movie's money shot, the Andrea Gail trying to surmount the unsurmountable wave, into the trailer. Oy.)

So what does the trailer say about the movie itself? Luckily, not much. It doesn't have much dialogue at all, except for a couple of lines in the typical "Indy's amazed at what he just did" vein, and the nice exchange where the kid (who may or may not be Indy's son, according to fan speculation) says "You're a teacher?" and Indy replies, "Part time". (There's a beat in the kid's line, which makes me think the actual line in the movie is a bit longer and may contain an expletive.) And there are no references to the Crystal Skull at all! The trailer's constructed of pure visuals. That being the case, what can we tell about the story?

The big revelations seem to be a quick appearance of the word "Roswell" (possibly referring to the Roswell Incident), and some derring-do that appears to take place in a Mayan pyramid. So maybe the movie's archaeological Maguffin is the long-mysterious fall of the Mayan empire in Central America, and maybe the movie's explanation involves aliens of some sort. I know that the previous Indiana Jones adventures have all dealt with mystical and religious themes, so a possible aliens-from-Space angle of the Erich van Daaniken variety may seem at first out of place. I'm willing to withhold judgment on this point; as Roger Ebert has said many times, "It's not what a movie is about, but how it is about it". There's no reason why an aliens-and-UFOs story can't involve religious mysticism; in fact, if you delve into UFO subcultures, you can't really avoid religious mysticism. Indy has dealt with Old Testament relics, New Testament relics (well, kinda-sorta), and Hindu relics, each of which has very real powers. So maybe the mystical element will be present here.

Anyhow, I'm looking forward to this movie eagerly, and I actually think it's got lots of potential to be good. What I'm really hoping for is a good adventure without too much of the "Indy's getting old" subtext. Indiana Jones isn't about depth; he's about adventure and excitement. We're supposed to trust him, even as we know that he's making it up as he goes. My other big hope is that this film doesn't reduce its recurring character from Raiders, Marion Ravenwood, to comic relief as Last Crusade did with Sallah and Marcus Brody. In fact, the treatment of those two characters in that movie is a big reason why it's my least favorite Indy flick to date.

So bring on Dr. Jones!


Check out the cool photo Jason posted the other day: it's the Thunderbirds (the USAF's precision flying squad) doing a flyover of the launch pad of the Kennedy Space Center, with the shuttle on the pad. It's a great shot.

(I did have to ask Jason for clarification as to why the boosters and fuel tank are visible but the orbiter itself is not, and as he explains in comments:

It's there, it's just hidden by the big gantry to the left of the main fuel tank and solid rocket booster. It encloses the shuttle as it sits on the pad, protecting it and giving the ground crews easy access to everything, then it swings out of the way as launchtime approaches. If you look on the ground around the pad, you can see a circular track - the moving gantry pivots on that.

You learn something every day! I figured it had to be something like that; obviously it would be kind of hard to get the orbiter mated to the booster rocket system when the rockets are already on the pad. But hey, you never know until you ask!)

Out Damned Spot!

Out Damned Spot!, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

Out I say!

OK, so I didn't actually murder the King of Scotland last night on the questionable advice of three old hags who hang out in this creepy hovel out in the rocks and heather. Actually, I did a batch of tie-dying last night, a batch which was way overdue (we've had this pile of white clothes next to our bed for several months now), and I forgot to bring home the one essential item: gloves. Oops. So now my hands make me look like I have this weird blend of jaundice, anemia, and Columbo-itis (that's the look of your hands after you've committed the bloody crime but before the good Inspector comes along and just-one-more-thing's you into admitting your guilt).

Anyway, the clothes are now individually sealed in Ziploc bags. Later on tonight I'll open them up, rinse them out, cut off the rubber bands, wash each one twice, and then hang them on the dryer rack. So in a day or two we'll have new tie-dyed clothes! Wheeeee!!!

I'm most nervous about how two large swatches of fabric that The Wife asked me to tie-dye turned out. I'm hoping that even with all the folds in that fabric, the dyes still managed to get into the interior. If you're not aggressive with squirting the dye into the folds, your resulting garments can turn out with large white areas that don't have any dye on them at all. That happened with my first batch of home-grown tie-dye.

I'll have pics of the new stuff in a few days.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ask Me Anything! (2008 version)

Time for a couple of easily answered questions!

An anonymous reader asks: Whom do you prefer: Francis Crawford of Lymond or Nicholas DeFleury? Sadly, I have no preference, because I have not yet read any of the works of Dorothy Dunnett. This is a gaping hole in my reading life, I am ashamed to admit. I desperately need to get into her. (She is one of Guy Gavriel Kay's influences, for one thing.)

Michelle (no link, so I'm not sure which Michelle) asks: What is your favorite time of day and why?

In terms of preferred times of day, I'm really pretty schizophrenic. I can pick reasons for liking every time of day. I used to loathe mornings, but years of getting up early have made me attuned to morning's charms. There's a crispness in the air on a fall morning, and on a humid summer morning, if you get up early enough, the mist hangs around the ground and dampens the sound of the world. I love watching the sky shift from night to morning light, and I love the stars early in the morning. A sunrise is as beautiful as a sunset, and sometimes, on certain mornings, I'll be driving to work when I see a jet plane rising into the air from the Buffalo Niagara airport (about seven or eight miles more distant) in such a way that it catches the glow of the rising sun and shines like a sliver of new sunlight, arcing into the sky.

Besides, coffee smells the best in the morning, and that's when waffles and maple syrup and eggs and bacon and sausage smell best.

Evenings and nights? I love them, too. These are times for delving into different worlds via books, when the moon rises and the stars shine again. Here in Buffalo we get wonderful sunsets. At night, steaks and pastas taste their best, and night time is when ales and lagers and rums refresh their best.

My problem is that I'm both a morning and a night person, which means that I end up burning that particular candle from both ends. So what does that mean as far as afternoons go? They're for sandwiches and naps.

Oh, and every time of day is the perfect time of day for a good book and beautiful music.

Aaron asked, So, is Unidentified Earth coming back or what? Well, yes! And so far it appears to be a stumper. Apparently this particular hawk's eye view is a difficult one. Hmmmmm!

More answers forthcoming!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

One Hundred Movies!!! (11-20)

Wow! Eighty movies down, and only twenty remain in my roster of One Hundred Movies That Only A Patriots Fan Could Hate. Which films shall be listed next! The tension! The anticipation! The blogger trying to fill up space at the top of his post!

20. Apollo 13

I've probably made this point before, but it's my blog and I can make the point again if I want to. I think of my corporate life and every lame meeting I ever attended in which some HR guru or consultant or motivational-speaker-for-hire waxed poetic about teamwork and then made us all play unimaginably stupid games designed to "force" us to act as teams so we'd have some kind of epiphany about teamwork ourselves and all that rot, and I realize that Apollo 13 is a more effective illustration of teamwork than any management "Yay Team!" meeting ever held. Seriously; instead of a meeting, managers should just have everybody watch this movie. It's a virtual primer on teamwork, with people working together without ever whining or questioning it or worrying about goofy turf battles because the job still has to get done or the three astronauts are going to die.

And yeah, it's as exciting and riveting a movie as I've ever seen. I also consider Ed Harris's loss of the Best Supprting Actor Oscar for this movie (to Kevin Spacey for The Usual Suspects, if I recall correctly) the single greatest miscarriage of Oscar justice in Academy Award history.

Signature moment: Any time that Ed Harris is on the screen.

19. Castle in the Sky

Hayao Miyazaki's blend of steampunk and SF and fantasy adventure is loaded with sense of wonder. Here's a movie with giant robots, a hidden city in the clouds, sky pirates, giant airships, a poor boy who dreams of following his father's footsteps, a girl with a mysterious heritage and destiny, and dastardly villains. It's also full of stunning visuals, as Miyazaki films always are. And that amazing score by Joe Hisaishi. Many rankings of Miyazaki's films hold his later works to be greater, and perhaps they are, but this one is particularly near and dear to my heart.

Signature moment: The landing on Laputa.

18. As Good As It Gets

The romantic pairing in this movie seems odder and odder, the more I consider it: Jack Nicholson's uber-curmudgeon Melvin falls for Helen Hunt's down-on-her-luck Manhattan waitress Carol. When I first saw the movie, after the ending I wondered how long they could have possibly made it as a couple; but seeing it again a year or two later, I realized that a good deal of Melvin's crusty act is just that: an act he puts on to keep himself from forming attachments he's afraid to form. And besides, the movie is hilarious and full of terrific dialog.

Signature moment: I like how the movie flouts a lot of romantic comedy tropes. At one point, having had a fight with Carol, Melvin puts a mix-CD of love songs he's made into the CD player in hopes of thawing her out a bit. A lesser romantic comedy would have this gambit work; in this movie, however, Carol lets the music get to about to seventh or eighth bar before ordering Melvin to shut it off. I love that.

17. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Again, I've written a lot about this movie (look to the sidebar for details), and I'll be virtually retooling it in the "Fixing the Prequels" series, so I won't say a whole lot here. Suffice it to say that I continue to be flummoxed by the sheer amount of loathing directed at the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy. I watch this movie and enjoy the hell out of it every time I do. What does everybody else see that I don't? (or more to the point, why doesn't everybody else see what I see?)

Signature moment: Obi Wan Kenobi, Jedi Detective on Kamino. I love every one of those scenes.

16. The American President

Ahhhh, the days when Aaron Sorkin could do no wrong! How well I remember them. (Although I have heard good things about Charlie Wilson's War, so it could be that Studio 60 was an aberration.) Michael Douglas as Andrew Shepard, the widower President of the United States who falls in love with lobbyist Sidney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening). It sets the tone that would later serve Sorkin so well on The West Wing. It's just a great, great movie.

Signature moment: When President Shepard finally manages to give Sidney a bouquet of roses, she asks him how he got them for her (an earlier scene had him trying to order flowers himself and screwing it up), and he replies, "It turns out I've got a Rose Garden." Ahhh, the days when Aaron Sorkin could give his characters good lines as opposed to having them recite speeches at one another!

15. Love, Actually

According to my list as compiled, this turns out to be my favorite romantic comedy of all time. Fancy that. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but I do unabashedly love it. I love its structure, in which it tells a bunch of separate love stories that are intertwined amongst a circle of characters who are interconnected in a very "six degrees of separation" kind of way. I admire that it doesn't hold to a single definition of "love" for each character, instead having insight to recognize that what constitutes love may not be the same thing from person to person. I also think it's a masterstroke that it doesn't give each one of its mini-love tales a happy ending; one of them is actually pretty downright sad, and another seems to have no ending as such and is clearly a work-in-progress. I probably should flesh these points out in a longer post someday, but for now, Love, Actually always makes me smile and feel happy.

Signature moment: Geez, how to pick one! The movie's one great moment after another. I'll just choose the opening sequence, a montage of people greeting loved ones at the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport as Hugh Grant (who later on turns out to play the British Prime Minister) delivers a wonderful little monologue that manages to include the words of the film's title. It's as good an opening to a movie as I can recall.

14. Titanic

I swear, as long as I live I will never understand the ferocity of the backlash against this movie. One is more likely to get someone to admit to liking the flavor of braised puppy in dolphin sauce than to liking Titanic. Sure, some of the dialog is clunky, but it's not that clunky; sure, the love story is fairly corny, but it's no more corny than any other romance flick; in fact, I think it's probably less corny than most these days. And of course, there's that magnificent ship, steaming full-ahead toward its grim fate. I think the movie holds up just fine. So there.

Signature moment: The sketching of the portrait. It's a great scene because of that wonderful solo piano rendition of the love theme that underscores the sequence. Oh, and because Kate Winslet's nude.

13. Peter Pan

This is my all-time favorite Disney movie. Maybe it's the pirate angle; maybe it's the magic of the flying sequence. Yes, the telling of J.M. Barrie's Pan story is sanitized a bit, but it's still full of magic and excitement. The story's notion that being an adult with no real memory of childhood is in no way preferable to remaining a child forever is a pretty sophisticated moral.

Signature moment: "You Can Fly".

12. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

The best of the Prequel Trilogy (and a pox on the house of the first commenter to mutter, "That's not saying much"). For more on why I think so, see the review of the movie linked in the sidebar. I found the movie powerful, emotional, exciting, and a worthy conclusion to the cinematic Star Wars experience.

Signature moment: The Battle of the Heroes.

11. The Sea Hawk

Errol Flynn at the height of his powers as Captain Geoffrey Thorpe, one of the "Sea Hawks", a group of privateer ship captains who pirated Spanish vessels as the threat of the Armada became more and more clear. I know that The Adventures of Robin Hood is the duly-admitted classic in the canon, but this film us actually closer to my heart. I still remember the first time I saw it: I was ten years old, in fifth grade, when Channel 7 in Buffalo ran it one Saturday afternoon, back in the days when one could catch up on one's old-movie-watching via regular old teevee stations. I even remember the movie snack that day: a can of Planter's Cheese Balls. (Hey, whatever happened to Planters Cheese Balls?) Anyway, all this movie needs, frankly, is a more charismatic villain.

Signature moment: "Strike for the shores of Dover!"

And there we are. Next time, we'll wrap it all up with the Top Ten. Won't that be exciting! It's not every day that you get to see a series of blog posts limp to a conclusion, is it?

Monday, February 18, 2008

And the Lord did grin....

SamuraiFrog did this quiz a day or two ago, and though it doesn't feature tagging, I'm grabbing it anyway, because it's actually interesting and it's a quiz. It's about the Bible.

1. What translation of the Bible do you like best?

I'm always a bit amazed at the sheer number of Bible translations that exist, and the many ways in which the translations selected greatly impact people's personal versions of Christianity. I can't honestly claim to have a "preferred" translation, since I am only familiar with two – the two I own copies of, as luck would have it. Everyone agrees that for sheer poetry and beauty of language, the King James Version can't be beat. My study Bible is the "Today's New International Version". I don't really have an opinion on how it stands up as a translation or as a doctrinal document, and it seems pretty readable to me, so I'm fine with it. I bought this particular version more because of the additional materials it came with (maps, illustrations, commentary, and a nice concordance) than out of any allegiance to the translation.

But come to that, when I was shopping for a study Bible, I was struck by the sheer number of Bibles that are out there, the price that some of them command, and the fact that Bible publishers seem to want Bible-shopping to be difficult because more often than not the bloody book is shrink wrapped. There were several study Bibles that I wanted to thumb through to compare with the one I bought, but as those were shrink-wrapped and this one wasn't, I made my choice accordingly.

Also come to think of it, here's an interesting rant I found the other day on the topic of that incredibly thin paper Bibles are often printed upon. While I can see the point, I've never personally been bothered by bleed-through like this; in fact, I wish someone would print a Complete Works of Shakespeare on paper like this, so I could carry one around with me. None of my current three Complete Shakespeares are the kinds of books one wants to keep in one's bookbag at all times.

2. Old or New Testament?

As far as what? The OT is always fascinating, of course, and it contains a great deal of stunning poetic language, especially in the Psalms and Ecclesiastes. But it's also got all the blood-soaked material, which is fascinating in itself but not terribly inspiring in terms of morality, and it's got all that incredibly creepy Law stuff in Leviticus. Frankly, the God of the OT is a very hard to swallow deity. The NT has the four Gospels, which of course contain the story of Jesus, which is surely one of the most compelling of all stories, whether you believe or not. Revelation is, of course, a pretty wildly trippy book. I haven't made up my mind on Paul's letters. Paul seems to vacillate wildly between sage wisdom and assertions that sometimes actually irritate me.

3. Favorite Book of the Bible?

The Song of Songs, which doesn't seem to come up all that often in church. I wonder why.

4. Favorite Chapter?

Luke, chapter 2. It's the most poetic of the Bible's versions of the Nativity tale. This chapter is where the KJV stands above every other translation, in my opinion.

5. Favorite Verse?

There are a lot of verses I've come to love a lot since I've become exposed to the Bible, but for reasons of writerly admiration I have to cite the final sentence of the Gospel According to John (John 21:25):

And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain all the books that should be written. Amen. (KJV)


Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. (TNIV)

That's a really good ending sentence, I think.

6. Bible character you think you’re most like?

Wow, I have no idea. I guess I'll take the easy way and name Thomas, since I doubt stuff. A lot.

7. One thing from the Bible that confuses you?

Just one thing? I don't believe a more confusing book than the Bible exists. When I read the Exodus story a few years ago, this passage from Ex. 4:21 hit me between the eyes:

And the Lord said to Moses, "When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. (TNIV)

Emphasis added. That little bit, right there, seems to imply that Pharaoh's not the villain of the Exodus tale he's always made out to be, doesn't it? It almost implies that if the Lord doesn't "harden his heart", the conversation between Moses and Pharaoh would run something thusly:

And Moses said, "Let my people go." And Pharaoh, thinking at length, replied "Go, please. Here's a map, and make sure you pack enough sandwiches for everyone."

OK, that's a bit flip, but the ensuing chapters, in which Moses is able through the Lord's power to visit upon Egypt all those plagues, repeat the stuff about the Lord hardening Pharaoh's heart, so Pharaoh is reduced to being a mere pawn in some game of God's, as opposed to being what he's usually depicted as: a guy who clings to his old Gods to his detriment. Given that this hardening of hearts leads right to God slaying all the firstborn, what does that say about God's nature? And come to that, if God is a loving God when Jesus comes along, why did God change?

While I'm at it, the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah bothers me. Two angels come to live with Lot, and when a bunch of men come to his house and demand that he send the angels outside so they can have carnal relations with them, Lot's response is, in my eyes, pretty staggering. He basically says: "I'm not sending these men outside to have sex with you! Here, rape my two virgin daughters instead!" (This is in Genesis 19.)

8. Moses or Paul?

Moses, I guess. His story is a pretty amazing epic, all things considered.

(And here's my excuse to use this pic, snagged from John Scalzi from a while back:

That totally cracked me up, first time I saw it.)

9. A teaching from the Bible that you struggle with or don’t get?

John 14:6.

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

I'd honestly hate to think that good people who aren't Christians in life will be turned away by God for this reason. I have a very hard time with this notion.

10. Coolest name in the Bible?

Is there any doubt? Nebuchadnezzar, of course!

11. What are you wearing right now?

OK, that's not really on the original version of the quiz. It just seems like that question has to come up on every quiz, no matter what the topic.

Sentential Links #129


:: How does a coffee scoop just...disappear? (The same way ours did: without fanfare of any kind. One day we're scooping coffee, the next day, we're digging around for a tablespoon to do it with. Then we buy a new coffee scoop, a better coffee scoop. And wouldn't you know it, a few months later what reappears but...our first coffee scoop. So now we have two coffee scoops.)

(Oh by the way, we're still using the same coffee maker we've been using since I got it by joining the Gevalia club back in 1994. Fourteen years, one coffee maker -- and it's still going strong. I'm a firm believer in "Get a gizmo, and then use it until it breaks forever and ever.)

:: We're going to our favorite Indian place and I AM GOING TO HAVE A WHOLE GLASS OF WINE! (This blog belongs to the wife of a guy who had an impressive run on Jeopardy! a couple of months ago. I coulda taken him, of course, but lots of other contestants had trouble.)

:: Does this mean that, in order to discover a crucial piece of information, Gandalf, Tolkien's supreme representative of beneficent wisdom tortured a helpless captive? And if so, does it follow that Tolkien thought that it is sometimes OK for a good and wise person to resort to torture? (A fascinating post from a blog I'd forgotten about after a previous crash scotched my bookmarks.)

:: To the guy who gave his girl a dozen helium-filled mylar balloons: (You'll have to read the rest. I've seen this kind of thing happen.)

:: Who the hell reads two books at the same time? WTF? That's utterly ludicrous. Very nearly heretical, I'd say. One thing at a time, people!! (Wow! I have two or three always going at any one time, although obviously not at the very same time, which is what I suppose Simon's complaining about. When people ask how I keep them straight, I reveal that the secret is to have the books be in wildly divergent genres, and not all fiction, either. Thus, a novel, a graphic novel, and a nonfic book can all maintain a place in my reading queue. Simple!)

:: Yeah, love really did make all the difference. Go figure.

:: I'm not shy about admitting that I had a pretty hard crush on Molly back in her Sixteen Candles/Breakfast Club days. (You know, I never had a crush on Molly Ringwald. But Ally Sheedy, on the other hand....

Wow. This year, Ally Sheedy will turn 46. How did I get so old?)

:: I get really annoyed when people get overly nostalgic and talk about how dreadfully brutal and violent my generation is in comparison to "simpler times."

:: It’s a different kind of freedom, one I have never really understood.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Blogiversary! (and Ask Me Anything!)

Actually, I missed it; the official Blogiversary for Byzantium's Shores was on Friday, February 15, but I was too busy that night to post in honor of it, so I'll do it now.

And this gives me a good time to start with the answers to the current round of Ask Me Anything!. Becky poses this query:

How did you come up with the name of your blog? (I was reading Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine last night and he likes to compare the town of his youth to Byzantium.)

I've actually given this answer before, but not in a while -- four years, in fact, on the occasion of my second Blogiversary. Here's the relevant portion of that post:

About two years and a month ago, I was lazily doing some Net surfing and engaged in one of my common Net timekillers: doing Google searches for former high school and college classmates. On this particular occasion, I decided to check what was up with a former fellow Philosophy major from the college days, whom I knew had gone into ministry. Thus I found Sean Meade's blog, the discovery of which made me think, "What on Earth is a 'blog'?" I quickly surmised that it was some kind of online diary or journal or something. Seemed like a nifty idea.

And then a week or two later, an article appeared in TIME Magazine, the gist of which was "Hey, there's these really cool things now called 'blogs'! And you can get one for free! Here's how you do it!"

I mulled this over for another week or two, thinking that this would be pretty cool indeed. At the time I was still quite active on Usenet, although I was getting really tired of basically staying "on topic" and thus repeating the same things I'd said over-and-over again. The idea of a "blog" was really appealing, since I'd occasionally considered setting up a personal site where I'd put up essays and such on a sporadic basis, but never come 'round to actually doing so. But the confluence of finding Sean's blog and that article about blogging in TIME basically clinched it.

So I signed up with Blogger and BlogSpot, created my first blog, decided I didn't like the title, scrapped it, and launched a different one. I needed a title, though, and I was having trouble coming up with one. I didn't want to have something like "Jaquandor's Rants", since I don't rant all that often; I wanted something mildly poetic that would basically convey the fact that I would write about anything that interests me (and a lot of stuff interests me). But I had trouble with the title: When writing fiction, I rarely start with a title. Instead, I write for a while until the story's title "comes" to me, but obviously this approach wouldn't work for a new blog that would go unread by, well, millions. I wanted something with at least a little cachet, and This Blog To Be Titled Later had about as much cachet as a shopping mall food court Chinese eatery. (Now, there is Chinese food that leaves me hungry an hour later, if only because it's so bland I can never finish it.)

About that moment, my eye fell upon my copy of Stephen Lawhead's novel Byzantium (which I really need to go back and re-read, since I never finished it the first time, and not because I didn't like it). And this was just after I'd finished reading Guy Gavriel Kay's The Sarantine Mosaic, with its depiction of a fictional Byzantium: a cosmopolitan place wherein all of the world's traditions and cultures met, sometimes for good and sometimes for ill. So I had half the title (Byzantium by itself seemed incomplete), and then I thought of sea shores -- again, places where differing worlds come together, and places where some journeys begin and others end. "Eureka!" shouted I, disturbing the cat. "Byzantium's Shores! The very pinnacle of human coolness on Earth!" [Some details in this account have been embellished.]

And that's how the blog came to be. So, now we're onto Year Seven. How much longer can it go on? Who knows? I'm still enjoying things, so we'll see. This is definitely one of the oldest entrants in the Buffalo Prefecture of Blogistan, and it may actually be the longest active-at-one-URL blog in the Buffalo Prefecture. (I can't really say why that matters to me, but for some reason it does. I guess I've become the guy who keeps plugging away at what interests him, not paying a whole ton of regard to other trends that come along and pass into memory.)

What's funny to me now about reading those first entries from back in February of 2002 (I don't recommend that you do so, but hey, I can't very well stop you) is that in some cases I think, "Wow, what a pretentious ass that guy was", while in others, I think, "Wow, that's certainly me writing that stuff -- a younger, dumber me, but certainly me." It took quite a bit of time before I settled in on my "blog voice", and in some ways I'm still looking for it. But when I do find it, I'll let you all know.

For now, though, thanks as always to everyone who reads this blog. Your overalls-clad hippie narrator appreciates your patronage!

(Yeah, that's basically what it looks like. It's a guy in overalls sittin' at a computer. Wheeeee!)

Sunday Burst of Weirdness

Not a whole lot of weirdness on display this week, and I may even have linked this before, but here are the opening crawls to all six Star Wars movies, superimposed on top of one another. Why? I have no idea.

And here's the opening crawl to A New Hope, read "dramatically":

Funny thing is, I could swear that years ago I saw a brief animation online that pondered what becomes of the opening crawl, and shows these big yellow letters crashing down onto the surface of some planet. I've not been able to find that anywhere, though, so I'm wondering if I imagined it.

Babies in Holland

Holland, NY, that is. Amanda Punaro is pregnant, and when Derek catches the bastard who did it!

Unidentified Earth 27

All hail the triumphant return (!) of Unidentified Earth. I am now relocating the feature to Sundays as opposed to its former regular day, Thursdays. And since the last installment has already been identified, let's move on to the new one, shall we?

Where are we?

Please remember to rot-13 your guesses, folks!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Last Call for Questions!

Just one final shout-out for Ask Me Anything! 2008. Any stragglers, leave your questions in comments on that post! All questions welcome.

Saturday Quizzinating

Yup, like a fly to a bugzapper light, I am drawn to this dull quiz which I found at Antick Musings. What can I say? I like the quizzes. (Some of these questions are time-specific, so for reference, I'm writing this at about 9:30 am on Saturday morning.)

1. What is in the back seat of your car right now?

Ummmm...oh good, we brought The Daughter in from the car last night, so that's good. For now, there's an old computer monitor there, as well as some other assorted detritus because I tend to be very lax in cleaning out the car.

2. When was the last time you threw up?

I don't remember, really. It was probably sometime in the last couple of years when I ate something that disagreed with me. (I've only twice in my life booted from too much alcohol consumption, and the most recent of these was almost ten years ago.)

3. What's your favorite curse word?

I hate to admit this, but I get an awful lot of mileage out of the F-bomb. This may be my worst habit.

4. Name 3 people who made you smile today?

Well, it's a new day, so I only have two: The Wife and The Daughter. Lots of folks at work made me smile yesterday, though. I like my coworkers. My coworkers rule.

5. What were you doing at 8 am this morning?

Basking in the warmth of a cozy bed on a cold winter morning. And then I was getting up to make coffee.

6. What were you doing 30 minutes ago?

Getting dressed, most likely.

7. What will you be doing 3 hours from now?

Eating lunch and doing a final check of the cupboards and fridge for our grocery needs. (Saturday is grocery shopping day at Casa Jaquandor.)

8. Have you ever been to a strip club?

Wow, now there's a sudden shift in topics! No, I have not, and I honestly have no desire at all to go to one. I don't have a problem with their existence, but I'm just not curious at all about that whole scene.

9. What is the last thing you said aloud?

"That's not mine! I'm just holding it for a friend!"

Yup, that's what I actually said out loud, about four minutes ago. The Wife is tidying up the kitchen area and she found a paper bag I'd brought home that has inside two ziploc baggies filled with...loose tea. A friend at work gave me some loose tea she had at home when I told her that I'd bought a nifty single-serve loose tea brewing contraption.

10. What is the best ice cream flavor?

Coffee Haagen-Dasz.

11. What was the last thing you had to drink?

Wow. Just before I answered this question I drained my coffee cup.

12. What are you wearing right now?

A blue long-sleeve t-shirt under a blue short-sleeve henley shirt, with both of those under my usual blue overalls. Blue is the order of the day, I guess.

13. What was the last thing you ate?

A brownie, for dessert last night. I haven't eaten anything yet today. I tend to make lunch my first meal on Saturdays, for some reason.

14. Have you bought any new clothing items this week?

No, but I will later today. I need new shoes for work, and maybe a new belt. (A shorter belt! I'm getting smaller! Yay me!)

15. When was the last time you ran?

No idea. I don't like running. At the Y, my favorite cardio machines are the recumbent bikes. (I love me some walking, though, and its more strenuous cousin, hiking. Maybe this summer I'll do some more hiking.)

16. What's the last sporting event you watched?

Super Bowl XLII. I'm still basking in its afterglow.

This is generally the least interesting time of the year for me as a sports fan, and since I'm becoming less of a sports fan with each passing year, it only gets more so, although hockey's interesting me again the last couple of years, owing to the Sabres. Try as I might, I just don't like watching basketball, which means that the NBA is lost on me and the NCAA Tournament also doesn't appeal to me, despite the fact that it probably offers its fans more great stories than just about any of our major periodic sports events, with the possible exception of the Olympics.

I don't get excited for baseball anymore, since the Pirates are showing no signs of ever being any kind of competitive franchise any time in the near future. The best thing about this time of year, sports-wise? Figure skating's championships.

What happened to 17?

It's being held for ransom in Tel Aviv.

18. Who is the last person you emailed?

Probably The Wife.

19. Ever go camping?

Not in many moons. It's something we always say we need to do, and then somehow we never actually do it. Weird.

20. Do you have a tan?

It's February in Buffalo. So no. (It's a bright sunny morning, though.)

Ok, now what happened to 21, 22 & 23????

They were probably embarrassing questions that a former quiz-taker didn't feel like answering. I'll bet they had to do with The Dirty.

24. Do you drink your soda from a straw?

At restaurants, no. But I do use a straw with my Big Gulp from 7-11.

25. What did your last IM say?

I don't remember; it's been a long while since I did any IM'ing. Usually my online time doesn't seem to coincide with friends of mine being online at the same time.

26. Are you someone's best friend?

I hope I'm The Wife's best friend.

27. What are you doing tomorrow?

Church, a bit of laundry (maybe, if I don't get it done tonight), the weekly Running of the Vacuum, maybe a jaunt to the Y (although I suspect I won't be able to fit that in), some writing and reading. Oh, and yeah, I'm watching that Knight Rider remake.

28. Where is your mom right now?

So I take it this quiz was created by a teenybopper? I have no idea where my mother is right now. She lives seventy miles away.

29. Look to your left, what do you see?

Books, several teetering stacks of CDs, my original personal CD player (purchased in 1994) that actually died a few weeks ago (snif snif), a wall sconce with a candle, a wall calendar featuring Arthurian-themed paintings, and various Star Wars toys.

30. What color is your watch?

Mostly brown with a digital readout.

31. What do you think of when you think of Australia?

Huh?! Anyway, I think if Steve Irwin. Crikey!

32. Would you consider plastic surgery?

If I was in some kind of bad accident that made it necessary for having a normal life, yes. But as a "Geez, I'd surely achieve internal piece and harmony if only I had a more lantern-like jawline", then no.

33. What is your birthstone?

Sapphire. My wife has my birthstone on her wedding ring, and I have hers (amethyst) on mine.

34. Do you go in at a fast food place or just hit the drive thru?

Usually I go in.

35.How many kids do you want?

Three: the one I have, plus the two I lost.

36. Do you have a dog?


37. Last person you talked to on the phone?

The Wife, probably; or a co-worker, since The Store has an extensive phone system.

38. Have you met anyone famous?

I've exchanged e-mails with Guy Gavriel Kay. That's about the most famous person with whom I've had any personal contact. (Well, I've also met the people whose name is actually on the front of The Store. They're famed in the business.)

39. Any plans today?

The Daughter has a party at church, and then grocery shopping and a trip to Target for non-grocery stuff that we need.

40. How many states have you lived in?

Pennsylvania, Oregon (three times), Wisconsin, West Virginia, New York, Iowa (counted for my college attendance).

41. Ever go to college?

Yes. Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa. Class of 1993. BA in Philosophy with a minor in music.

42. Where are you right now?

My desk at Casa Jaquandor.

43. Biggest annoyance in your life right now?

Too much apartment clutter, but we've been slowly attacking this problem, a little at a time. Not getting enough writing done.

44. Last song listened to?

"Drink Up Me Hearties", from the score to Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. This is one of Hans Zimmer's best scores. (Zimmer is an extremely controversial figure in film music fandom, but while I have some problems with his approach, I tend to like his music, undemanding though it tends to be.)

46. Are you allergic to anything?

Arsenic. That stuff can kill me.

47. Favorite pair of shoes you wear all the time?

I don't have favorite shoes, although I use my hiking boots for most events that require shoes. I have a separate pair of boots for work (which I'm replacing today), and a pair of tennis shoes for walking and workouts at The Y (I'll probably replace these sometime this spring). Also, I really need a new pair of Birkenstocks. That I don't currently own Birks bothers me. What kind of pseudo-hippie can I be, if I don't own Birkenstocks?

48. Are you jealous of anyone?

Yes. I'm not naming names, though, because that would be rude. So I'll just link his blog. Yeah, I'm green with envy for that guy. Harumph!!!

50. Is anyone jealous of you?

I can't for the life of me imagine why anyone would be.

51. What time is it?

Ten eighteen in the morning.

52. Do any of your friends have children?

Many of them do.

53. Do you eat healthy?

Not all the time, but much more than I used to. I have fallen in love with crusty bread dipped in extra virgin olive oil, so much so that I may never consume buttered bread again unless it happens to come with dinner at a restaurant.

54. What do you usually do during the day?

On weekdays, I work. On weekends, I don't.

55. Do you hate anyone right now?

I swear, this question must be required for every Internet quiz-thing, along with "What are you wearing". Weird. My stock answer applies: I don't like to hate. Loathe? Sure. Find contemptuous? Yup. Hold in minimal high regard? Absolutely. But hate? Nope.

56. Do you use the word 'hello' daily?

Maybe not the exact word, but variants thereof, such as "Yo!" or "Howdy!" or "Hey!" or "Hi there!" I also like the "man in Jerry's girlfriend's belly button" voice from that one episode of Seinfeld:

58. How old will you be turning on your next birthday?

Thirty seven.

59. Have you ever been to Six Flags?

In a way: I went to Darien Lake (Western New York's main amusement park) before it became a Six Flags park. But it was only a Six Flags park for a few years, and now it's no longer associated with their brand. (I wasn't terribly impressed with Darien Lake, by the way. For me the Gold Standard amusement park is Cedar Point. I don't expect rides at parks to all rise to the Disney level of atmosphere, where every ride is almost completely self-contained in its own "universe", but Darien Lake was, for me, pretty devoid of atmosphere or theme. It just felt like a bunch of rides. Fun rides, sure, but just a bunch of rides.)

60. How did you get one of your scars?

I have a scar on my chin from where I fell off my bike when I was in second grade, and my chin met the concrete of the sidewalk. Much blood, and to this day it's the only time I've had to have stitches.

And there it is. Why do I do these quizzes? Why can I not resist their siren call? Why oh Why!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Reminder!

FINAL UPDATE 2-14-08: OK, folks, since I'm probably going to not be doing any more posting until Saturday (nothing bad, just a couple of abnormally busy days on the home front), I'm extending my "deadline" for query submissions for Ask Me Anything! until then. So go ahead! I'm starting to get some good ones racked up. Seriously, any question will be answered! (Which isn't to say that any question will be answered seriously, but you know what I mean.)

UPDATE: I'm taking questions for two more days, so go ahead and hit me with some queries, folks! Oddball questions, serious questions, questions that make me want to run screaming from my apartment: it's all good, folks!

Just a reminder that I'm taking questions for the 2008 iteration of Ask Me Anything!; just leave 'em in the comments to the post I just linked. (Not on this post, it'll be easier for me to keep 'em straight if they're in one place.) Questions can be serious or whimsical. All comers!

(I've moved this post so it stays fairly visible, and I will do so throughout the week. I'll close the Questions Submissions Comments Thread on Thursday, I think. Get your questions in! Anything goes!)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Unidentified Earth, apparently blasphemous!

Well, Unidentified Earth 26 was identified a few times within a couple of hours as the Christ the Redeemer statue that looms high over Rio de Janeiro. Normally I'd wait to unveil the answer until Thursday (the normal day for Unidentified Earth), but, well look:

Yes, the statue was struck by lightning. I feel like I should make some kind of joke here, but given the precedent God's establishing here, I think I'll just leave well enough alone. Wow.

Movies: I like 'em

Here are some reactions to movies I've seen lately, either in theaters or in the friendly confines of Casa Jaquandor via the miracle of DeeVeeDee. I don't shy away from spoilers, so if I discuss a title you want to remain unspoiled, scroll past it, please.

:: As part of The Daughter's Christmas present, we took her to see Enchanted. I'm not sure if this movie was the result of a re-commitment to quality at Disney, or the unexpected resurfacing of the kind of quirky humor that marked the occasional Disney effort like The Emperor's New Groove, but we all found this film totally, utterly delightful. It's sort of like Shrek in that it riffs on the various tropes of all the classic animated films of yesteryear, but it differs from the Shreks of the world in that it treats its tropes with some reverence, choosing to play with those tropes, as opposed to making fun of them.

The story is pretty straightforward: through the machinations of your standard Evil Witch Queen, our beautiful Princess (who communicates through peppy song with the animal denizens of her woodland home) is transported to the Real World, where she continues to interact with the world in the only way she knows how, by bursting into song and by being so peppy and happy that most people around her start to think she's crazy. She meets a single father and his only-child daughter and quickly becomes an integral part of their lives. Meanwhile her Handsome Prince comes to our world as well, trying to find her, and eventually the Evil Witch Queen shows up too, for one of those final confrontations that involves the threat of plummeting from a great height.

Nothing at all happens in this movie that will come as any kind of surprise to anyone who's seen a classic Disney flick or two, but that's not the point, is it? The pleasure comes not from surprises, but in watching a man of our cynical world enter the typical plotline of an animated movie, such as his reaction to the Princess's ability to summon the animals of the real world to help her clean his apartment, or his constant mortification when she reacts to every emotional moment with a song ("You're not gonna sing again, are you?") The movie sets the tone right from the very beginning, when in classic Disney fashion, the first shot is of a large storybook opening to the first page of our tale.

Of course, a movie like this can also only succeed on the strength of its songs, and the team of Alan Menken and Steven Schwarz makes it all happen nicely, especially with the wonderful Central Park showstopper, "That's How You Know".

A funny thing happened when we saw Enchanted, by the way: as you might expect, the theater was full of families with children, merrily watching the show. Well, a minute or two into the live action portion of the movie, a woman comes into the theater and sits down at the end of our row, five or six seats down from me. There she sits through this happy, peppy Disney flick for about fifteen minutes before she leans over to me and says, "Is this Enchanted?" When I said yes, she got up, saying, "I thought I was in the wrong theater." I don't know what movie she'd meant to see. Maybe the current Saw sequel? Who knows? I just found it funny that it took her that long to figure out that she wasn't seeing the movie she'd meant to see.

:: Way back in 1982, my mother took me to my first-ever R-rated movie, Blade Runner. This was on the basis of my youthful fascination with all things Harrison Ford. I didn't get the movie, at all; I sort of understood the plot ("OK, Ford's a cop of some sort, and he has to round up these evil androids called "replicants" who are on the loose. Gotcha."), but for the life of me I didn't get the whole setting or mood of the film. My experiences with science fiction to that point had involved Star Wars, Star Trek, and a few books by Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. I was not prepared for the murky dystopia of Blade Runner, and I really didn't get the notion that Los Angeles in 2019 would look like how I'd always envisioned Tokyo. But for the most part, I didn't really get into the story all that much.

I didn't watch Blade Runner again until college, when again I had gained a bit of appreciation for the film's production design, but again, the story left me a bit cold. The characters just weren't that interesting to me, and I still couldn't get all that emotionally involved in the story. I saw the movie a couple of times during the 1990s, with mostly the same results, but I hadn't seen it in probably ten years before a couple of weeks ago, when I watched Blade Runner: The Final Cut.

I'm warming up to the movie a bit more, but it's still something of a tough nut for me to crack. I've watched and read more noir since the last time I watched it, so I understand the film's tropes more than ever before, but still, I'm damned if I don't find it hard to really like Blade Runner still, rather than merely admiring it. I think it comes down to Rick Deckard, about whom we learn almost nothing in the course of the film. Everybody else has something of an explanatory backstory, motivations that are clear and easily understood, but I have almost no idea what drives Deckard. Maybe this is what drives the continual debate in fan circles as to whether Deckard is a replicant or not, but for me, it just makes it hard to care about him, one way or the other.

Anyway, Blade Runner is still an amazing movie to watch and to listen to (Vangelis's best film score). I just wish it had a more involving story.

:: Saturday Night Fever tends to get made fun of more often than not these days; it's always seen less as the coming-of-age story of a troubled young man than as "that disco movie", which is a shame. I'd only seen it once before, ten years or so ago, when it aired on TBS in a heavily sanitized version. Watching it in its original R-rated version for the first time, I was impressed at what a dark, grim, and cynical film it is. Disco is seen these days as a vaguely ridiculous detour that pop culture took for a few years there, a funny little thing that is seen as amusing for its camp value than anything else. It doesn't help that many movies that featured disco sequences treated disco the same way; Saturday Night Fever is probably the only movie made during the brief heyday of disco that actually took disco seriously.

(OK, I know you're all wondering: No, I'm not a fan of disco. But I find it hard to blow off disco completely, at the same time. It wasn't all crap. Most of it, probably, and as a music genre, disco had virtually nowhere to go other than right back out the door it came in, but there's still some vibrancy to be found in those throbbing beats and aggressive synths and sex-filled lyrics.)

John Travolta's Tony Manero is quite the creation, and it's a worthy reminder of what a potent force Travolta finds it in himself to be, every once in a while. Tony is at once insecure and utterly confident. The famous opening sequence of the film, with Tony strutting along the sidewalks of Brooklyn, displays the contrasts within Tony in just a few short minutes. He makes eyes at the ladies and struts as though he owns this town, and yet he's carrying a gallon of paint. He stops to put a down payment on a new shirt, as opposed to buying it outright, and also stops for a couple of slices of pizza, which he then folds together and eats with one hand. And then he comes back into his workplace, the hardware store, via the back door so his waiting customer won't see that he had to go to a place down the street to buy her the paint she wants.

Tony alternates between being likable and being loathsome. He and his friends are sexist, racist, and homophobic. They treat women as disposable objects, and yet Tony finds himself drawn for reasons he can't even begin to explain to a woman he sees dancing one night. His friends are absolute jerks, and they draw Tony into some gang-type activity; they basically gang-rape the poor Donna Pescow character, whose biggest error is to be in love with Tony, and afterwards, Tony bluntly informs her that it's her fault. One of his friends spends much of the movie agonizing over the fact that he has impregnated a girl in one of his back-seat-of-the-car escapades, but he's not agonizing so much for what he's done as for the fact that, as a "good" Catholic, he now has to marry her. In the end, he may or may not commit suicide. I like that the film leaves this point unclarified; as Tony tells the cop afterwards, "There are ways of killing yourself without killing yourself."

What I liked most about Saturday Night Fever, ultimately, is its general lack of story. I've rarely seen a film that does what this one does: it enters a life, follows that life for a while, and then exits that life, without ever establishing some kind of lesson to be learned or even much indicating whether a lesson has been learned at all. Tony Manero has clearly grown a bit in the course of the film, but as the credits roll, it's unclear as to where he goes from here or if he will continue to grow.

As for all the disco stuff, frankly, I found that once I was involved in the world of the movie, the disco stuff became just what's it's ever been: movie dancing.

(I'm told that Staying Alive, the sequel to Saturday Night Fever, is a ghastly movie, well and truly bad. I think I'll be taking the word of those who say so.)

:: Finally, we have A Prairie Home Companion. I've been a casual, even occasional, fan of Garrison Keillor's radio show for years, and I've been listening to it more often over the last year, ever since a shift in the scheduling of radio programs on Buffalo's public radio stations has relieved the former situation that had Fiona Ritchie's Thistle and Shamrock Celtic music show airing at the same time as Keillor's PHC. I've long enjoyed Keillor's brand of humor on that show, and I looked forward to the film on that basis. The conceit of the movie is that a major corporate entity of some sort has bought all the radio stations and the theater in which the show is performed, and the film presents the final airing of A Prairie Home Companion. Nevertheless, the show must go on, much as it always has, without maudlin retrospectives and the like.

That's about all I knew of the movie before I watched it, although I quickly discovered some differences between the show in the movie and the show as it actually is. For one thing, one of the radio program's recurring characters, private eye Guy Noir, is a flesh-and-blood character in the movie, who does security for the Prairie Home Companion tapings. As the performance begins, the show as depicted in the movie is pretty much what we all expect, although the camera slides in and out of the performance as it's transpiring onstage and into and out of the lives of the people who work hard to put the show on in the first place. The main attraction here are the singing sisters, Rhonda and Yolanda, one of whom (I don't recall which) is played by Meryl Streep and the other by Lily Tomlin. These two actresses have pretty wonderful chemistry together, and I hope they can get together onscreen again at some point. (I confess to not being the biggest Meryl Streep fan in the world, but here she's just brilliant, and it turns out the she has a very good singing voice.)

Backstage films like this are a favorite genre of mine, and it occurs to me that this is kind of what I'd hoped Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip would be. The film is full of sly details about the production of a radio show: the way that performers hold off-the-air conversations right up until the very second they're on the air, at which point they effortlessly slide into character, the way performers interact with one another despite the fact that their facial expressions cannot be seen by the vast majority of people hearing the show. At one point, as Rhonda and Yolanda begin a song together, the one played by Lily Tomlin covers her mike with her hand, turns to the band, and says, "Not so slow this time, you sons-on-bitches, or I'll break your necks." And best of all? None of the bandmates so much as twitches in response. The Prairie Home Companion radio program has been on for years, done each week by the same group of devoted performers, and the Prairie Home Companion movie, while using some of those performers, adds others with star casting – the afore-mentioned Streep and Tomlin, as well as Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly. And the actors who are merely playing longtime PHC performers actually pull off the illusion. Lindsay Lohan is along for the ride as well,

If that was all there was to PHC, it would be a decently entertaining movie. But that's not all there is to it: there's a strong supernatural element as well, which seems a staggeringly odd thing to find in a film of a radio show, but there it is. Into the middle of the theater walks a blond woman in a white trenchcoat, and she turns out to be the former soul, now an angel, of a woman who died in a car crash when she failed to negotiate a curve because she'd been laughing at a joke she'd heard on the radio...on Prairie Home Companion. Her presence turns the film from a bittersweet tale of the end of a radio institution into a deeply touching meditation on the nature of death.

This film will, I think, linger for a while in my thoughts. I'll consider it as I enjoy a slice of Beeboparebop Rhubarb Pie.