Monday, February 28, 2005

Certainly not a memorable Oscar show, but hardly unwatchable. Chris Rock will no doubt catch some flack for his Bush-bashing, but I don't think he ever came close to crossing the 'decency line'. Perhaps he wanted to demonstrate to folks that he could work pretty clean. I think he's a safe bet to get this gig again. The audience seemed to like him, except for the Sean Penn who needs to develop a thicker skin and a sense of humor.

No major surprises in the awards that I could see. Maybe those folks more knowledgable of the technical awards (sound editing, design, etc.) might quible, but the big awards seemed to go to those folks generally considered favorites.

Friday, February 25, 2005

By gosh, you can't say the fine folks over at the Miss America pageant aren't keeping up with the changing tastes of the American public. After ABC finally pulled the plug on this event, the pageant organization has decided that the best way to save the thing is by making it a 'reality show'.

Apparently the idea will turn the one night special into a multi-part series, where we get to see such reality staples such as backstabbing and contestant eliminations. The series will begin with regional competitions and then end with the live telecast, just as we've seen in the past.

I don't know if this will really increase the number of folks tuning in, but it might give the show a chance to be picked up by one of the cable networks. How about SPIKE TV the "men's network!" (Whatever the hell that is supposed to mean?
The current concern over the health of the Pope reminded me of something I'd read (or heard) a few times. Apparently the Pope has written a letter of resignation (or whatever it's called in the church) which will be presented when he feels that he can no longer perform his responsibilities. I know that John Paul II doesn't actually have his hands on the day-to-day running of the Vatican, but I'm wondering if anyone knows at what point someone other than the Pontiff would make such a decision?

Perhaps he has instructions in place for such an event, but should he slip into a coma or otherwise be unable to order/request the resignation is there something in place to gather the College of Cardinals who would vote on his successor?

This lapsed Catholic is just curious. :-)

Thursday, February 24, 2005

This is the second book I’ve completed in my attempt to go back and read some classic or at least well-known books. These are books that I feel that I should have read at some point, but have never gotten around to actually picking up. Not quite a resolution, but something which was inspired by a class on ‘readers advisory’ held in January by the Queens Library system. If you’re paying attention you’ll remember that the first was Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. As with that book I’m not going to do a review as such but rather talk about what the book brought to mind, either regarding the book or other media interpretations of the story.

Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN was first published in 1818, when Shelley herself wasn’t yet twenty years of age. Conceived originally several years previously when she, her husband (the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley) and several house guests were passing the time reading German ghost stories. Mary and two others set out to create their own stories, but only she actually completed a work. She wrote that the idea came to her as she tried to fall asleep. She said she saw the image of a young man kneeling and working on an artificial being only to have that being come to life to confront his creator. It was that haunting image which formed the inspiration for the story.

Like many folks of my generation, it was the Universal version of that monster with which I first became familiar. I was probably ten or eleven years old when I first saw the movie FRANKENSTEIN on television. During the late 1950s and early ‘60s every television market had some late night television program (likely called “Chiller Theatre” or some such) which ran on a Friday or Saturday night after the late news. From talking to others and reading the articles written by my contemporaries I think we all shared those same memories of sitting up while our parents thought us asleep. No lights save that coming from the B&W set before us, totally hypnotized by what we saw.

The version of Frankenstein we knew was a gaunt and hollow eyed giant, portrayed by Boris Karloff (and later by others including Bela Lugosi and Glenn Strange). He had a flattened head, with metal bolts protruding from his neck. His stiff, slow gait would have allowed most of his victims to escape if they hadn’t been frozen in fear at his very appearance. The creature which Shelley described was indeed horrid to look upon, but it was the yellowish tint of his skin, gigantic height (he stood close to eight feet tall) and other unnamed deformities that caused folks to be startled. In the novel, Frankenstein does not use electricity to bring his creation to life, but rather some unspecified method.

Shelley’s monster is also not mute, as Karloff was in his initial appearance. Through months of observing others, Frankenstein’s creation teaches itself to both speak and to read. Those sections of the novel narrated by the creature demonstrate that he is probably more literate and intellectually curious than most of those around him. It is because of this that we feel sympathy for his plight despite some of his more horrendous deeds.

I’ve seen enough versions on film and television, plus I read the Classic Illustrated version as a kid. Still I don’t remember actually reading the novel even back in high school, where I read just about everything I could get my hands on. I must admit though that as I read the book there were some scenes which seemed to register, as if I had read it before. Very possible that I discovered one of those ‘bowdlerized’ editions that some schools liked to have on hand for we sensitive young minds.

I was reminded as I read that the book was originally published at a time when there were still folks about with memories of the American Revolution. The War of 1812 was only a few years in the past and Napoleon was in exile on the island of St. Helena. The events which make up the story are supposedly taking place at some point in the later part of the 18th century. The movies adapted from the novel for the most part tend to place it in the Victorian era or in the early 20th century, if you look at the styles and equipment used in the Universal films. The language and viewpoints of the novel bring to mind a much different mindset than our own. An age still violent, but when men and women of intellect seemed to believe that we might move beyond the superstition and ignorance of the past. Sadly, while modern technology has advanced to a point that our forebears could not have imagined, society itself has not progressed nearly as fast or as far as they would have hoped.

The book is brilliantly written, but almost unbearably tragic. The character of Victor Frankenstein, who we generally see portrayed as slightly mad to begin with, is here driven not by madness but by curiosity and a desire to understand. Like Prometheus (note the novel’s subtitle: The modern Prometheus) Frankenstein is cursed by fate for what he has brought forth. He suffers not physical pain, but a mental anguish as he sees all he loves destroyed by the creature he brought to life.

It is perhaps the ultimate cautionary tale of man attempting to duplicate that which only nature can or should do. Almost two hundred years after it was first published Victor and his ‘monster’ have become two of the most well known creations in literature. It’s not hard to understand why the story continues to resonate after all this time.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

It's pretty frightening to see the video coming out of California and know that Kristina is out there. I also find myself thinking of the other friends and acquantances who might find themselves in actual danger from flooding and landslides. Some of the same roads in the Laguna Hills area we drove during our Christmas holiday seem to be closed or destroyed by the rain and mud.

Donna and I have our fingers crossed that our friends are able to stay safe until the rains cease. Our thoughts and best wishes also go out to anybody reading these words who find themselves in a similar situation.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Many years ago, in what now seems to have been another life, I subscribed to ROLLING STONE magazine. When it began publishing the serialized ramblings of a Dr. Raoul Duke about a trip to Las Vegas I was totally blown away. To discover that it was actually Hunter S. Thompson led me to seek out whatever I could get my hands on. A true American original whose genius and madness will be missed.

Light one up and raise a glass!
It was a pretty hectic weekend, but everything seems to have gone off fairly well.

Folks who know me will tell you that I really cannot keep a secret. I do not have what you would call a 'poker face' and you can read my emotions pretty easily. Anyway, with all that I was still able to pull off very successful 'surprise birthday party' for my wife on Saturday. Naturally the biggest surprise for her was the appearance of her daughter, Kristina, who flew in from California to celebrate with us.

Ordering food and getting various stuff together for over twenty people would not have been possible without the aid of Donna's youngest sister, Marilyn and her brother George. My in-laws are some really great folks and we all did our best to make sure that Donna would not forget her fiftieth b-day.

I was able to get Donna out of the house on Saturday (so the place could be fixed up and food brought it) by taking her to the movies. We saw the new Will Smith comedy, HITCH, which was okay, but certainly nothing to rush out to see. Personally, I thought it was a bit too long in parts, with a scene between Smith and Eva Mendes (apparently showing just how vulnerable and selfless they both are) stopping everything in its tracks. You know, one of those scenes where you catch yourself glancing at your watch. Kevin James, who we like in his sitcom KING OF QUEENS was the best thing about the movie, in my opinion. The guy demonstrates that he can really act given the write script. Like to see him in more films, possibly even in a dramatic role.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Looks like it may not be the smooth sailing for King George that everyone had assumed. He might have some problems even within his own party for some of his Social Security plans. Even Greenspan doesn't seem overly enthusiastic about some details.

I wish I had seen video of the protester tossing the shoe at Richard Perle. Morning Sedition played some of the audio, which was delightful. It's good to see that Howard Dean is still pushing his anti-war position and not trying to play it safe. Fingers crossed that he will continue to move for a more progressive, less centrist Democratic Party which will better represent what many in this country feel is the correct agenda.

Speaking of Morning Sedition, Marc Maron will probably catch some flack for the bit on "Freedom Fighter vs Insurgent", especially his use of the non-PC 'retarded'. Still, those guys are back on my list of morning commute listening. (At least until after basketball season is over and the ESPN can get back to talking baseball.)

Thursday, February 17, 2005

As Donna said earlier today, "That just looks silly!" She was, of course, referring to a news report dealing with a new revamping of the classic Warner Bros. characters. I have to admit that I was initially startled, but on second thought I agree with Mark Evanier (link over on the Left) who reminds us that this has all been done before.

Hey, even I liked TINY TOONS!
Once again my cynical side had to laugh when I watched the news last night. The video shows someone waving from behind some vertical blinds, claiming that this is Michael Jackson acknowledging his fans. Couldn't it just as easily be somebody joking around? Now if a baby had been dangled I'd believe it was the King of Poop. Um, Pop, sorry!

I'm sure we all feel safer with a new head of Homeland Insecurity in place. Especially since he vows to 'balance' national security with civil liberties. I know I feel better.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Seems the STAR TREK fans are fighting to keep ENTERPRISE on the air. Always get a sense of deja vu when things like this happen. Of course, with networks like SCI-FI around this sort of campaign may have a happy ending. Back when the original show was cancelled there really was no place to turn. Personally, I haven't been a regular ST viewer since the days of DEEP SPACE NINE, but I know folks who love the show in just about any incarnation, so fingers crossed.

Oh, I see where poor Michael Jackson has the flu (at least that's the last report I read). Cynical folks like me see it as bogus, but I suppose that surgical mask he usually wears might not have worked this time. Maybe one of those nasty potential jurors sneezed in his direction or something.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Thanks to Mark Evanier I've learned that John Ostrander now has a blog of his own. I've placed a link to it over on the Left.

For those of you who don't know it already, John is one of the best comic book writers currently working in the industry. Sadly, he is not considered 'hot' so, like many of the other writers of his generation, he is not given nearly the number of opportunities to prove it as he should. Back when I was active in comics fandom I had to chance several times to chat with him at various conventions.

I recommend that you take a look at his blog to see what he is up to and what he might have to say about the current state of the comics industry.

Oh, and if you ever get a chance to meet John, ask him about A. Robins (The Banana Man). It will make his day!
"-- Howard Dean went from being the hot new face of 2003 to the laughingstock of 2004. Now he is poised for a Democratic Party takeover in 2005." Lead paragraph in CNN article on Dean's new position heading the Democratic Party.

I find this especially insulting, since CNN was among those media outlets (print & broadcast) which first pushed helped push Dean into the spotlight and then turned on him. I'm not saying that the Dean campaign was without fault and that Howard's sometimes over emotional speeches didn't help perpetuate the impression of 'out of control', but the sad thing is that his message was lost (and generally ignored) once the media elite decided that they wanted a more centrist candidate.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Dean can actually bring some needed changes to the party and push aside those in the Dem leadership who basically want to keep the party GOP-Lite.

Friday, February 11, 2005

I was saddened to hear of the death of Arthur Miller last night. He was without question one of America's premier playwrights and possibly the best of his generation. His numerous works including DEATH OF A SALESMAN, THE CRUCIBLE and VIEW FROM A BRIDGE will continue to be performed for generations. It seems that just about every American actor of a certain age wants a chance to portray Willy Loman on stage. It is probably a safe to say that you could probably find one of Miller's plays being presented at some college or regional theatre just about any month of the year here in the states or around the world.

I'm also going to do what every other obit I've seen has done and that's to mention that he is probably better known to many Americans as one of Marilyn Monroe's husbands than he is as a writer. In fact, it's probably real safe to say that the "entertainment" shows tonight will spend almost as much time talking about his short marriage to the tragic star as they do mentioning his decades long work in the theatre. It will be interesting to see which 'stars' the shows spotlight to talk about Miller. (It would be more interesting to see if they could get some of those same stars to name more than one Miller play off the top of their pointed little heads.)

Farewell to one of the great playwrights of the English language. I doubt that we will see many others who can produce half the masterpieces in their careers that he did during his.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Ah, so apparently what we need here is 'spending discipline' in Congress and making the previous tax cuts permanent, then all will be well economically. Damn! It was so simple, no wonder none of us realized it until G.W. told us.

Stupid, stupid, stupid progressive voters! When will we learn what's good for us?

I blame myself for not sticking to my pledge to ignore anything political. Now my oblivion is shattered and I'm ticked off again. *sigh*

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

I guess the saddest thing about the budget G.W. wants to push is how predictable it is. More money for defense and 'national security (read profits for the military/industrial complex) and cuts in domestic spending. Oh, and lets not forget some more tax cuts (read profits for the already too-wealthy).

Don't expect much from the Democrats in the way of fighting these things. I expect more of them to drop ranks and vote with the GOP, or simply switch parties. It probably seems to them the best way to remain in office and protect their own 'constituents' (read anybody who has donated money to their campaigns).

New York seems to be in for some bad times, at least according to some folks who have looked at the budget figures. Anybody surprised that a blue state, with two Democratic senators (one a possible candidate in '08), a Republican governor (likely to go up against Jeb Bush next time around) and whose population didn't appear to appreciate all the White House had done for them since 9/11 would get the budgetary shaft?

Petty? Not our President!

Monday, February 07, 2005

I don't know that I'd be yelling our "DYNASTY" as some folks are, but I certainly have to hand it to the New England Patriots for hanging on and repeating as Super Bowl champs. It really looked a little hairy there in the fourth quarter, but the Eagles seemed to falter (and why they decided to go back into a huddle was a blunder from which they could not recover) allowing the Pats to maintain their lead.

I didn't get to see the entire game, since we were having a b-day party for one of my sister-in-laws. Saw a few commercials which I enjoyed, the trailer for BATMAN BEGINS and the half-time show (which all of us questioned, even though we all like Paul McCartney). An enjoyable day, which capped off a pretty quiet (thankfully!) weekend.

Friday, February 04, 2005

"I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such: because I think a General Government necessary for us, and there is no Form of Government but what may be a Blessing to the People if well- administered; and I believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a Course of Years and can only end in Despotism as other Forms have done before it, when the People shall become so corrupted as to need Despotic Government, being incapable of any other." Benjamin Franklin discussing his uncertainty with the Constitution.

I came across this rather pessimistic quote today and have a feeling that ol' Ben had it pegged pretty accurately. If we haven't already hit that point I don't think it's far off.

Was listening to a radio show the other day and the host was discussing the State of the Union and the Democratic response. He felt that while we were constitutionally entitled to have the address he didn't believe that there was a need for a response, since that wasn't in the Constitution.

This whole democracy thing really is a pain in the ass, isn't it?

Have a nice weekend!


Well, I'm gearing up for another fine Super Bowl Sunday this weekend. Looks like we'll be spending the evening watching the game at my in-laws, so I'll probably be the only New England Patriot fan in the room. Not that anybody is a real fan of the Philadelphia Eagles mine you, but they are still P.O.d about the Red Sox win so this seems to them a good way to razz me. All to macho, I know!

Now I'm a fan of Paul McCartney, but even I have to admit that he is not the artist I would have thought of to front the half-time show. Perhaps ten years ago! I guess he's considered a safe bet after what went down (pardon the expression) last year. Still I generally use the half-time show to visit the bathroom and refill the munchies. On the other hand, I might actually check out the pre-game telecast (which I generally skip except when the commercials are on) to see how John Fogerty is looking. I can't see myself tuning in for the "Super Bowl Gospel Celebration", either!

We all know that about half the SB audience never watches another football game all season, tuning in the spectacular to see what the sponsors are pushing and how clever the ad agencies are this year.

Apparently one car spot was already pulled because of pre-broadcast criticism from a group working with Catholic priest abuse victims. The ad had a priest take a set of keys found in the 'collection plate' only to be confronted by a father and his little girl. When the reverend is shown putting up a sign for his next sermon the word 'L**T' appears and this was reportedly too much for some folks. (My guess being that that word and the little girl appearing in the same commercial implied a bit too much) Perhaps simple white screens with the corporate logo showing for thirty seconds would be acceptable to one & all, huh? I mean, really!!

It will be interesting to see what folks will be blogging about come Monday morning. I'm sure I'll have my own thoughts to share.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Next to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, probably one of the best known writers of mysteries was Agatha Christie. Although her characters Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot may be a tad less well known than Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, still there is no denying that the lady had a lasting impact on the genre. While almost every Holmes story has been adapted to film, Christie is probably close in the number of movies which have used her characters or the plots of her stories (sometimes with only the title remaining unchanged by screenwriters and directors, feeling they knew better). My late mother was an avid reader of Christie and for a number of years I would try to buy her a new collection of Christie's short-stories or novels for Christmas.

I'm sure that somewhere along the line I've read a tale or two by Dame Agatha, but I can't really swear to it. As part of my new plan to read some classics, I felt that I would finally pick up one of her most famous novels (and probably the story most ripped off and adapted), namely AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (also known as TEN LITTLE INDIANS). A quick search of the Internet Movie Database (IMDB.com) shows at least ten movies with those titles, and probably there a few others which have stolen the plot but changed the title, for obvious reasons. I do know that I've seen at least a few adaptations of this novel and the concept has been stol...er, borrowed by dozens of writers especially those writing for television detective shows. Face it, how many episodes of MURDER, SHE WROTE, or the later Perry Mason TV-movies used the idea of folks being invited to a place only to be killed off, one by one?

I don't want to write a review of the novel since I'm sure many of you have already read the book or know the plot even though you haven't. It is, after all, close to being a mystery clicheƩ. The only things I did want to mention were how fascinating I found the book and what a quick read it was. Once I started it I couldn't put it down, reading it over this past weekend. Also, I can see why some of the screen adaptations probably had to change the story, especially the ending, to make it more palatable to audiences. Not exactly your typical movie happy ending.

If you are not already familiar with the plot, here's a basic summary:

Eight people, who have never met, are invited for a weekend to an island seemingly by an acquaintance of each. When they arrive they are greeted by the two servants (man and wife) and are they informed that their host, a Mr. U. N. Own (think about the name) isn't on the island but is expected. After dinner a recording is played, that accuses every one of them (including the two servants) of murder. The "guests" soon learn that they have all been tricked into coming, by someone very familiar with each of them. Before long the first of them is dead and each suspects the others of secretly being responsible. One by one the list of suspects shrinks as the body count mounts.

If you haven't already read the book, I really do want to encourage you to pick it up. Be warned that certain expressions and racial terms used in the book may be offensive. In fact the book was initially published as "Ten Little N*****s", which was later changed to the better known "Ten Little Indians" until some folks objected to that, hence the title which you'll find on most new editions of the book. However, as my ex used to say, you can't blame somebody for not being ahead of their time.

A check of IMDB.com will show that some film adaptations were known by two or more of the book's titles, depending on where and when they were released. I was surprised to find that the original title was actually used for a made-for-TV film released in 1949. An interesting note about this film is that one of the actors was Arthur Wontner, well known in England for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in five films, but later overshadowed by Basil Rathbone who assumed the role in the American made movies.