Monday, October 22, 2012

Sanctuary (Dragonlance: Elven Exiles, Vol. 1), by Paul B. Thompson and Tonya C. Cook

Sanctuary (Dragonlance Elven Exiles, Vol. 1)This book was a gift from my daughter for my birthday.  She knew I liked fantasy and from the back cover description it looked like I might like it.  She was right, except that unfortunately it was the first volume of a series.

The book is quite enjoyable and I started to really like the different storylines intersecting each other and clashing with one another.  Unfortunately, around the two-thirds mark I started to have the dreadful feeling that there wouldn’t be a conclusion to the book (that it wasn’t a stand alone book).  I started to understand that if I wanted to know what would happen next I’d have to get the next volume in the series, and then the next.

Now, you might ask, “Well, what’s wrong with that?  If you liked the book, then get the follow ups.”  Actually, there are two problems.  One is that I didn’t pick the book myself and I probably never would have.  Partly because I’d have had to commit to the trilogy and partly because it didn’t particularly inspire me from the back cover synopsis.

Two, I have 3 shelves of books at home that I’ve been collecting and wanting to read for years now.  Since I’m not a fast reader, I cannot afford the luxury of picking up 2 more volumes just to find out what happens in a book that I hadn’t pick myself.  I feel a little bad because it was a gift, but only a little, since I did enjoy it after all.

Sanctuary tells the story of an elven race exiled by war from its realms and looking for a new place to call home.  There is plenty of intrigue and action, so if fantasy is your genre, do check it out, but make sure you won’t mind having to read all 3 if you want to find out what happens.

Grade: 6

Friday, October 19, 2012

Arsenic and Old Lace

Arsenic and Old LaceRay picked this movie for family night and I was curious to see what the kids would have said with a movie that wasn’t animated and (gulp!!) colorless.  Once again, the kids confirmed that children look at everything with an open mind.  Not a comment was made for either the lack of animation or color, and the only complaint was that it was “too scary.”

The Gist: A famed columnist is about to get married when he realizes that his two sweet aunts are cold blooded murderers who believe that they’re doing a service to the poor souls who end up buried in their cellar.  More high jinks ensue.

The movie is very funny and Cary Grant brings all his notorious charm to the plate.  The aunts are a riot and the screenplay is excellent in how it weaves all the different parts of the plot together.

A side note: they clearly didn’t have people watching out for “continuity” back then since parts of outfits changed here and there and not very subtly either.

The Bottom Line: Arsenic and Old Lace is a very enjoyable movie that deserves to be called a classic.  A good find.

Grade: 7

La Fine è il Mio Inizio, by Tiziano Terzani

La Fine è il Mio InizioThe title of this book translates to “The End is my Beginning” and it’s an interesting biographical account of a journalist’s very rich life.  It is recounted in the form of the journalist, Mr. Terzani, relaying thoughts and memories to his son, who records them on tape.

The stories gripped me right away because of the similarities that there were between Mr. Terzani’s childhood and mine in many ways.  After that, the amazing stories of what this man has witnessed and has been a part of keep your interest firmly in place.

I believe one of the main goals of the book is to help the listener take stock of his life and eventually make certain adjustments and corrections geared towards improving it.  I believe it’s a worthwhile goal and it’s can help those willing to listen.

The most important thing I took away from this book was a sense of freedom and relief for one specific comment the author makes.  Mr. Terzani spent the majority of his life in some country other than Italy, his homeland, just like I seem to be destined to do.  At some point, he tells his son that he didn’t want to go back to live in Italy because he didn’t feel like he belonged there, that it wasn’t were he wanted to be and live.  That it felt like it was too tight for his skin and he felt out of place.

That’s when I realized that I felt exactly the same way.  That realization made me feel a little better about leaving my parents behind and moving to America.  It made me realize that I hadn’t made a mistake or done anything wrong.  That the reason I never felt comfortable in Italy, and still don’t, is that I just never belonged there.  And that there’s nothing wrong with that feeling or with me.  It’s just the way it is.  It was such a huge relief.

Overall, this is a very good book, but I do have a technical gripe.  Whoever cut the tracks should be fired immediately and lose his retirement account.  I’m pretty sure that a large section of the audio book audience is composed by drivers.  Listening to audio books makes long commutes (or trips) more bearable, but driving still has to take precedence, so I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds himself rewinding often or going back to the beginning of the last track.

Well, in this audio book tracks number only 3 or 4 per disc on average and some are under 5 minutes long.  That means that the other tracks are 40-50 minutes long!!  Has the genius who thought that this was a good idea ever listened to an audio book in his life?  Does he realize how easy it is, especially in a car, which can go over a bump or something, to let go of the rewind function and instead skip to the beginning of the track?  What if you were 33 minutes into a 48 minute track?  Now you have to hold down the fast forward or the rewind button for several minutes.  Pick your poison.

I ended up ripping the discs to my computer, breaking the tracks up in smaller sections, and burning them to new discs, but that’s not something everyone can do, and for those people all that’s left is the frustration of having to be super careful when touching the rewind button.  That alone can greatly diminish the desire to listen to any audio book.

Grade: 7

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Barbra and Jason

A beautiful duet of mother and son:

I have to admit that Jason Gould has an incredible voice and has definitely inherited the right genes from his mom!

A Single Man

A Single ManAfter hearing so many good things about A Single Man, I couldn’t wait to see it.  All the praises are well deserved.

The Gist: After the sudden death of his lover, a closeted English professor is faced with the unending sadness of having to face his daily life on his own.

Fashion designer Tom Ford’s first venture into filmmaking is a verified hit.  His day job brings a very sophisticated attention to technical details to the fore: costumes, camera work, photography, makeup, set decoration, everything is highly stylized and perfectly in synch with the movie’s period.  But he also shows an incredible skill in directing his actors into giving memorable performances and in bringing the entire production together.

Julianne Moore is very good as the protagonist’s best friend and only line of support, but it’s Colin Firth who gives the performance of a lifetime.  It’s hard to state that Jeff Bridges (who won that year for Crazy Heart) robbed him of his Oscar since Mr. Bridges had never won himself, was awesome in Crazy Heart, and is an institution in the industry, but Mr. Firth’s win the following year for The King’s Speech was clearly to make up for his loss here (unarguably due in no small part to the gay theme).

The Bottom Line: A Single Man has an elegiac feel to it that pervades it with infinite sadness, but it’s also funny and sweet and will certainly keep you glued from beginning to end.  I can safely say that it’s a must-see movie for anyone interested in good films and one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.

Grade: 9

True Blood

True BloodThe fifth season of True Blood started out very weakly but fortunately improved a lot as time went on and finished with the usual bang.  And what a bang it was!!

Also, all the talk about adding the super-sexy Christopher Meloni to the cast turned out to be much ado about nothing, given that he was only in 3-4 episodes (boo!).

Season 5’s overarching theme was the power and goals of the often mentioned Vampire Authority.  Its secrecy and reach were explored in depth and over time they became more interesting then they were at the very beginning.

As usual, be prepared for characters making an entrance or an exit, twists and shockers, and an overall good time.

This was the last season supervised by creator Alan Ball, so we’ll have to see how much things will change next year.  I sure can’t wait, I totally crave this show.

Grade – Season 5: 6

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Star Trek Nemesis

Star Trek NemesisI had first watched this movie in theaters and felt like watching it again.  I remember being excited when it came out, because I really like Star Trek, but not loving it too much.  As often is the case, I also wanted the advantage of the subtitles to make sure all the plot points were very clear.

Unfortunately, my first reaction might have been even too kind.  The movie really is subpar and feels like nothing more than an overlong TV episode.  Even the cast seems to have phoned this one in.

Time has not been kind to the last of the “Generations” Star Trek movies, and I cannot say Nemesis doesn’t deserve the criticism.  It is an inferior product and feels very tired.

Grade: 3

Green Lantern

Green LanternRunning out of super heroes from the top tier of world famous comic books, Hollywood is now reaching down among the “lesser known” characters to milk the comic book craze for all it’s worth.

The Gist: Hal Jordan, a fighter jet test pilot, is chosen by an intergalactic army to replace the Green Lantern assigned to Earth’s quadrant now that he has been killed.  The learning curve, after acceptance and discovery of his new powers, is steep, dangerous, and hampered by the biggest threat the planet has ever faced.

Ryan Reynolds, whose stunning physique perfectly fills the Green Lantern uniform, brings a lot of effervescence to the role of a hero whose only weapon is a big ring and his own imagination.  Unfortunately, that weapon isn’t as striking as Spiderman’s web slinging or Batman’s gadgets, and the result is a less arresting final product.

The Bottom Line: While the visuals might be stunning (both Reynolds’ and the visual effects…) the end result is uneven and looks more like a patchwork than a well flowing movie.  Up to you, but Reynolds doesn’t disappoint.

Grade: 4

Puss in Boots

Puss in BootsThis Shrek spin off looks like a good first effort, even though it never rises to the heights of its bigger brother.

The Gist: Puss in Boots, a cat quite skilled with a blade and a big lothario, falls for Kitty Softpaws after she messes up his latest heist.  Through Kitty, Puss will reunite with Humpty Alexander Dumpty, an old friend and now sworn enemy.

The movie is certainly enjoyable and I was very impressed by the breadth of the action scenes and sets.  This was definitely a big undertaking in the attempt to expand the Shrek brand, and it likely paid off.

I’m not really interested in who does what voice in an animated movie, but the script is quite funny and well written, the storylines sprawling, the animation top-notch, and the direction strong.

The Bottom Line: I’d definitely recommend this for families and kids, but I have my reservations regarding how far the Puss franchise can go.  Considering that Shrek got worse with every iteration and started quite high in terms of artistic achievement, Puss has an uphill battle ahead of him.

Grade: 7

The Haunting

The HauntingThis modern remake of a classic horror movie doesn’t win many accolades and falls mostly flat.

The Gist: A psychology professor lures unknowing test subjects to an uninhabited mansion, mostly segregated from the outside world, to test the sensation of fear in the human mind.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the mansion is really uninhabited.

Liam Neeson looks very stiff and Catherine Zeta-Jones feels too theatrical (I still find her quite sub-par as an actress, Oscar or not).  Owen Wilson and Lily Taylor on the contrary, look more at ease and better fill their characters’ shoes.

I was surprised to see that the movie was directed by famed action director Jan de Bont, whose body of work I mostly like.  Clearly, there was weakness in every department here, from the screenplay, to the direction, to the acting.  The only effective elements seemed to be the visual effects.

The Bottom Line: I’d stay away from it.  The scares are few and the the fun even less.

Grade: 3

Monday, October 15, 2012

Losing the primates

Worrying news for our closest relatives on this planet:

Twenty-five species of monkeys, langurs, lemurs and gorillas are on the brink of extinction and need global action to protect them from increasing deforestation and illegal trafficking, researchers said Monday.

[…] Conservation efforts have helped several species of primates, which are no longer listed as endangered, said the report, prepared every two years by some of the world's leading primate experts.

[…] Among the most severely hit was the northern sportive lemur with only 19 known individuals left in the wild in Madagascar.

"Lemurs are now one of the world's most endangered groups of mammals, after more than three years of political crisis and a lack of effective enforcement in their home country, Madagascar," said Christoph Schwitzer of the Bristol Conservation and Science Foundation, one of the groups involved in the study.

"A similar crisis is happening in Southeast Asia, where trade in wildlife is bringing many primates very close to extinction," Schwitzer said.

More than half of the world's 633 types of primates are in danger of becoming extinct because of human activity such as the burning and clearing of tropical forests, the hunting of primates for food and the illegal wildlife trade.

At least there are also some good news:

While the situation appears dire for some species, wildlife researchers say conservation efforts are beginning to pay off, with several primates being removed from the list, now in its seventh edition.

[…] Also, conservation efforts have ensured that the world did not lose a single primate species to extinction in the 20th century, and no primate has been declared extinct so far this century, said Russell A. Mittermeier, president of Conservation International and the chairman of the IUCN Species Survival Commission's primate specialist group.

Link here.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Will the universe put on a good show for us in 2013?

Scientists discovered a new comet whose trajectory should bring it exceptionally close to Earth next year:

As it flares out of the distant Oort Cloud, the newly discovered comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) appears to be heading on a trajectory that could make for one of the most spectacular night-sky events in living memory.

[…] Astronomers predict that the comet will pass just 1.16 million miles from the Sun as it swings around its perihelion, or closest approach. The close approach will melt enormous amounts of the comet’s ice, releasing dust and gas and forming what should be a magnificent tail.

After it loops around the Sun and forms this tail, the comet should then pass relatively close to Earth—not near enough to cause any worry, but close enough to put on a great show. Viewers in the Northern Hemisphere will get the best view as the comet blooms in the weeks approaching Christmas 2013. The comet could grow as bright as the full moon.

Naturally, I’m totally looking forward to this event and hope it’ll match or surpass expectations, but I also know that a lot of people will think that since it’s coming near Christmas it’s probably a sign of the Second Coming or something.

Well, like Meryl Streep said, Whatever!

Link here.

A new monkey

Scientists have discovered a new species of African monkey whose facial features look, to me, strikingly human:


Scientists have identified a new species of African monkey whose coloring “is unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” as one of them put it.

[…] The researchers found that the monkeys live in the central part of the Democratic Republic of Congo and have a range of about 6,500 square miles.

[… ] The lesula lives in remote regions that are largely unthreatened by human settlement. But John Hart warned, “Under the current trends of uncontrolled bush-meat hunting, it could become very endangered.”

I don’t see how anyone looking at this new monkey species can doubt that humans and apes are closely related.  Let’s hope we don’t lose it too soon…

More here.

Adele does 007

Long rumored to have been tapped to record the theme for the latest installment of the 007 franchise, here’s Adele’s Skyfall:

I like it and I find it a good throwback to the golden age of 007 themes, which was around the 70s, a perfect comparison for Adele.

Elton John

Formerly not interested in the fight for same-sex marriage, here’s what he says now:

“I know a lot of people, and perhaps especially religious people, will say that David and I should count ourselves lucky for living in a country that allows civil partnerships, and call it quits there. In most countries around the world, gay people aren't just disallowed from coming together in a legal sense; they are actually persecuted by governments because of their sexuality. Maybe we should just be happy that we at least have a civil partnership, and not push our luck.

Well, I don't accept this. I don't accept it because there is a world of difference between calling someone your "partner" and calling them your "husband". "Partner" is a word that should be preserved for people you play tennis with, or work alongside in business. It doesn't come close to describing the love that I have for David, and he for me. In contrast, "husband" does. A "husband" is somebody that you cherish forever, that you would give up everything for, that you love in sickness and in health. Until the law recognises David Furnish is my husband, and not merely my partner, the law won't describe the man I know and adore.”


P!nk’s latest music video is one of the sexiest and most well made I’ve ever seen:

Oh, and the song is nice too!

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

I Think it’s Going To Rain Today

Via Towleroad comes a beautiful video for a very old Barbra Streisand song that was never released:

The Romans

Read this tweet a few days ago from @OMGFactsSex:

The early Roman empire recognized marriage between same sex partners

How come 2,000 years later, give or take, we still haven’t caught up??