Netflix report, part 2

Another round of stuff to watch–or not watch–albeit probably too late for the holiday break.

Shuttle Discovery’s Last Mission
While there’s a sense of propaganda–not for the country, but for Smithsonian, which received Discovery, and this was made for their TV channel–there are still moments that make you genuinely choke up. Had some stories I hadn’t heard, and it’s always a pleasure to hear from the techies and ground crew as well as the astronauts; even the conservation crew gets in the act here. To my shock, I was a little amused at myself for feeling slighted toward my hometown Endeavour. 4/5

MythBusters
Those who know it of course love it. Those who don’t and like science and/or special effects at all, or even comedy, you’d do well to watch this often wacky series that does exactly what it purports to do: takes famous myths and examines them for truth, usually to hilarious proportions. Tempered by the fact the Three Amigos were just kicked off the show, leaving only the two mains. 4.5/5

TED Talks
These are arranged by categories, from humor to space to psychology and everything in between, which makes it easier than randomly searching on the TED website. As you would expect the offerings are uneven; the worst problem is when the speaker thinks they’re lecturing in class and sound like it, but happily that’s not often. It’s worth looking through for the few gems, like “How to Use a Paper Towel.” It works! 4/5

The Fall
They really love to juxtapose ordinary actions–washing a kid’s hair, even having sex–with murders and the kinds of creepy things serial killers do with their victims after death. The first epi featured a long sequence shot from above, flying over an apartment–bedrooms, bathroom, etc.–which I found sinister but brilliant. Gillian Anderson is the lead, and forget everything about Scully; her character is so cold here, even during sex. 4/5

The Big Wedding
Not as bad as most people say, but not great either. There are two hilarious moments for us Katherine Heigl fans: one where she’s sitting on a diving board and just jumps into the pool fully dressed (don’t ruin it for me by saying it’s a stunt double), and most importantly when she’s walking out of the hospital with her brother and turns with her hands spread far apart to inform the astounded nurses about his size. . . 2.5/5

Ancient X-Files: The Holy Grail & The Labyrinth
Ugh. . . had they been the least bit humorous about this, it might have worked, but the deadly earnestness, the full-in conspiracy mode. . . ugh. 1/5

Discovery Atlas: Uncovering Earth
There are two separate parts to this small series, the best being the scenery porn; Hawaii and the Great Rift Valley of Africa are particularly at their stunning best. That part would get a 5/5 for being exactly what it says.
Unfortunately the last two episodes involved an obnoxious guy–he’s actually worse than Steve Irwin–claiming to “solve history,” though the offerings are incredibly different. One is a search for Atlantis, and his hysterical peppy manner does not help in making me take him seriously, even though I’ve done a lot of research on this very subject. The other is on Devil’s Island, which is a small land mass off Cayenne, French Guiana, in the northeast region of South America (learned that by reading Hardy Boys!). I couldn’t finish either one. This part was 1/5, so using what little math I remember from college I’m pretty sure this averages out to 3/5.

Wish Upon a Star
Probably the best work Katherine Heigl did as a teen. Even though it’s typical Disney nonsense about sisters changing bodies, there’s a lot of genuinely sweet moments, and the chemistry between Katie and Danielle Harris–whom I’m pretty sure was much older than her costar, despite being a foot shorter–is fantastic. There’s a scene where Katie’s making faces while being photographed for the school paper that’s nothing short of hilarious, but for me the best part is when she’s playing volleyball and hurts her hand; her reaction when asked if she’s okay reminds me that the best compliment you can give an actor is to say they don’t look like they’re acting at all. 3.5/5

The Tick: The Complete Series
Watched for Liz Vassey, never got that far. Hated it too much in the first 5 minutes. Warburton has always annoyed me but this time he aimed for the moon and hit it. I’ll be generous and give it an incomplete.

Hinterland
This show doesn’t know if it wants to be serious or Twin Peaks; the murders and motives are very dark, but there are some eerie/funny moments in every episode. And even though the detective is nothing like Coop or Truman, the scenery and especially the waterfall in the first epi can’t help but remind one of that epic show. The intro is much like Sherlock‘s, and I don’t ever need to see that collection of teeth–or any other–again. As I said, not quirky like Twin Peaks, but seriously, the people here are even more fucked up, and that’s saying a lot. And the sad-faced detective is as taciturn as Cooper was cheery. 4/5

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: Every Long and Wide Expanse of Sea

By Maurice Sceve, French, 1510-1562

Every long and wide expanse of sea,
Every whirling verge of solid land,
Every mountain ridge both low & high,
Every distant site of day & night,
Every space between, O you who unsettle me,
Will be filled by your inexorability.
Thus traversing the spans of time,
You will surmount the height of stars,
Your sacred name, under my lazy spell,
Setting full sail, beyond all heaven & all hell.

;o)

Book Reviews: Another Trio

This is the result of being on a reading tear over the holidays. Not having a family means I might not get many presents, but at least no one bothers me. . .

Death of the Courier
A serviceable British/Spanish drug-smuggling mystery by Raymond Bailey, though there really isn’t that much mystery to it, with the reader being told almost everything. There also wasn’t much new as far as the drug smuggling went; it would most likely be quite familiar to Americans who read or watch crime stories, at least till the introduction of sniffer dogs. For me it was most interesting finding out about the way the current police departments in Britain work; reading about Sherlock Holmes over 100 years ago, or even watching the series today, doesn’t quite do it justice. And who knew anything about the Spanish secret police. . .
3.5/5

The Chihuahua Always Sniffs Twice, by Waverly Curtis
I thought the conceit of talking animals would get old quickly, but it provided plenty of laughs, especially Pepe the Chihuahua, whose snark is definitely worse than his bite. As you might imagine with talking animals, this falls squarely in the genre of lighthearted mystery, so I didn’t take it too seriously–i.e. I didn’t try to figure out who the killer was beforehand. . . although that might be due to too many characters to keep straight.
3.5/5

City on the Edge of Forever
This is a series of comic books, like the Battlestar Galactica I reviewed earlier.
I’m not quite sure what to think of this. Having read the original Harlan Ellison script that was subsequently hacked by Star Trek writers, the idea of seeing it come to visual life, even in 2-D, was exciting. And it was well worth the read, but I have to admit some of the visuals left me disappointed. Not being an artist, I have no idea how hard it is to draw faces realistically, but Kirk and Spock–as well as Joan Collins–are incredibly well done. It was the imaginary stuff that didn’t have the oomph I was hoping for, particularly the Guardians of Forever and the City itself; even Beckwith wasn’t very impressive. Still, it’s well worth the look, especially if you come in without knowing anything about the episode, or about Star Trek, for that matter.
3.5/5

;o)

Travel Thursday: Pain and Pleasure in Paestum

Where would you find Greek ruins more ancient than those in Athens?
Italy?
Sure, why not?
On the southwest coast of the boot was Paestum, discovered by accident in the eighteenth century, dug up and repaired by many generations of archaeologists, and now studied by me. I’d given myself a month to work my way through them, but that deadline had come and gone, and I was still here, though for other reasons. The place was just so interesting, more from a historical than architectural viewpoint, that I couldn’t make myself leave. The town had been inhabited for seven hundred years–rare in itself for an ancient place to last so long–before falling in the last days of the ancient Roman Empire. Now that it was uncovered and at least partially restored, the sun-bleached limestone could be seen for miles on the flat coastal plain. . . although it certainly looked more beautiful without scaffolding. Yet even then the Temple of Hera was incredibly glorious in that condition; it hardly seemed possible it looked any more beautiful when built in the sixth century BC. Next to it the Temple of Neptune was big and powerful, missing only the roof, but with thirty-six Doric columns still standing.
As great as it was to visit at any hour, easily the best was the late afternoon, from the shore, where the setting sun turned the stone to gold. I shot and shot and shot through the well-named golden hour, but since the sunset was in the other direction, I made my way back toward town so I could get the ruins in front of the light show, and also so I didn’t have to make my way back in the dark. The last thing I needed was for Blanca to come looking for me and make fun of me for getting lost. . .
Blanca claimed to be a doctor of physical therapy, though she had no diplomas hanging in her office. On the other hand, everyone in Italy who graduated from college was called dottore, or in her case dottoressa, so maybe that wasn’t as big a deal as I’d originally thought. Her practice, if indeed it was called that, was in her home, a block from the beach in the tiny town that had sprung up beside the ruins, approximately fifty miles south of Naples, and even though that road didn’t go through the big resort areas like Sorrento and Positano, let alone the island of Capri, they were still close enough for her to get a lot of business from that direction. All the big hotels sent her referrals, mostly for their own workers but once in a while a high-tipping rich tourist as well. In addition to that she ran a small but well-regarded internet site catering to non-porny sex questions; I’d noticed she was more apt to answer the physical ones rather than mental or emotional, but other than a smile I didn’t comment. It helped, of course, that she knew five languages, the obvious ones being Italian–naturally–and its siblings Spanish and Portuguese. English and German rounded out her linguistic skills, though when I’d wondered about Arabic and Swedish she’d simply made a face.
“Didja have fun playing in the dirt?” she drawled now as she heard but didn’t see me come in, since she was busy on the computer.
Noticing she’d gotten into the habit of talking to me in Italian–she’d said she wanted to practice her English, but apparently she thought I could do better with hers–I sighed, “Not really.” A week into this relationship I’d given up on explaining to her that I wasn’t doing any digging. “What’s really shocking is I haven’t found any sign of the World War 2 landings, either on the beach or the town. From all I heard about heaving fighting against the Germans–”
“Sixty years of people gathering souvenirs, or selling them,” she yawned, finally getting up and turning around to hug and kiss me like only she could.
“Fun day at the office?” I grinned when I could.
She slapped my shoulder and turned away, heading for the kitchen. “Not at all. Two customers didn’t hit on me. I must be losing it.”
Sincerely doubting that, I asked, “Were you wearing that potato sack the whole time?”
“It’s a caftan!”
“Most people don’t have my eye,” I mused, moving in to hug her from behind. “Otherwise they’d see that you can make even that fugly thing look hot.”
Turning in my arms very gracefully, she went all little-girl, batting her eyes. “Really?” came the softest whisper ever.
“Weally.”
“Didja hear the big news today?”
“Nope.” Yawn. “I was either thinking of the job or you, no room for anything else in my brain.”
“You may need more RAM, then,” she mock-growled, adding a smack to the back of my head, only to miss and get me on the side. The ouchie reminded me of my earlier archaeological misadventures.
And of course she noticed. “What happened to your pinky?”
“Not sure. Somewhere along the way it got cut.”
“Did you have it looked at?”
Shrug. “Cleaned it as best I could, but remember I’m allergic to alcohol–”
“That’s right! I’ll need to find something else to clean it with. Come along.”
“Yes, dear.”
She was still laughing as she looked through the medicine cabinet, but that didn’t stop her noble quest. A few minutes later I was cleansed–or at least my pinky was–and bandaged, leaving me to flounder as to something to say, as she claimed she didn’t like being thanked.
“At the site I’m exploring,” I suddenly drawled, “there’s a swimming pool where the ancients did underwater laps.”
“Wow! Don’t cramp up halfway.”
Chortle. “Expected that, considering your line of work.”
Gasp. “Am I getting predictable?”
“Perish.”
She grinned as she realized she was good enough with American idioms to not need the rest of that.

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: Bitter Wood

By Martin Carter

Here be dragons, and bitter
cups made of wood; and the hooves
of horses where they should not
sound. Yet on the roofs of houses
walk the carpenters, as once did
cartographers on the spoil
of splendid maps. Here is where
I am, in a great geometry, between
a raft of ants and the green sight
of the freedom of a tree, made
of that same bitter wood.

;o)

Book Reviews: A Trio

As always, got to read them early in exchange for telling you what I think about them. Doesn’t seem like an equitable exchange rate, but I’m not about to complain.
Finding that these three books didn’t generate enough words for me to blog about them individually, I came up with the idea of combining them into one writing. Amazing! I wonder why no one ever thought of that before!
Okay, fine. On with it. . .

Rodeo Red, by Marypat Perkins
Had no idea this would be a children’s book when I electronically picked it up; you know how I am with redheads, so I couldn’t resist taking a look. Glad I did, though. It’s told as a Western, with appropriate dialect, and has great drawings. The basic story is of a little girl who gets a baby brother who wants her favorite toy, and how she figures out how to compromise and live happily ever after. . . or at least till the baby gets to the terrible twos. Actually, the end is written as “happier than two freckles on a sunny cheek,” which is simply awesome.
My fave line: “I thought for sure anybody who hollered that much would be hauled to the edge of town and told to skedaddle. But the Sheriff and her Deputy seemed smitten.”
5/5

Battlestar Galactica 2: The Adama Gambit
{Note: this is original series, not “reimagining”}
A collection of comic books which were a bit tough to read on the computer screen, but I persevered. The first story was my fave, with Athena in command on the bridge. There’s also a bit on Adama losing his confidence before growing a pair, and an intriguing take on Baltar and how he became such an ass. {Spoiler: it was Daddy’s fault.}
4.5/5

Far and Near, by Neil Peart
I’m pretty sure that even if I wasn’t a Rush fan I would enjoy reading his books, be they fiction or travel, or even journals, as this is. What’s most interesting to me is that, even though I’ve already read all of these stories off his website—albeit with months in between each one—perusing them now, as chapters of a greater piece, made for a completely different experience. I’m reminded of something he said in one of his interviews, pertaining to music but also valid here: “What I want the listened (reader) to take away is that care has been taken here.” When I post a blog about one of my many trips I prefer to let it live as a stream of consciousness, straight from my memory to the page or computer screen. Not so with him; it is obvious care has been taken here. I’m particularly enamored for his reason for journaling, as he writes in the outro (which was never posted on his website): “When reviewing the stories to prepare this book, many times I came across a passage of description, action, or conversation, and thought, ‘I would have never remembered that.’ Sobering to reflect that if a time and place do not exist in memory or in art, they might as well have never happened.” Exactly.
4.5/5

;o)

Travel Thursday: Sand Gets In Your Bard

I couldn’t help but grin as I stood with the rest of the crowd to applaud; the last lines of The Comedy of Errors had pretty much encapsulated the whole work, tying it up neatly in a bow, one might say. While it wasn’t my favorite Bard yarn–not to be confused with barnyard–it was certainly more than entertaining enough to spend a few hours on an uncomfortable chair in a small theater, and unless I’d happened to run into some loose chippy earlier in the day–or one from my past–I had nothing else to do right now. . .
No, no point in thinking this way, I admonished myself. It didn’t get any better than Shakespeare, and that’s that. . . even if maybe Marlowe actually wrote it. . .
The thought of some people I know hearing those musings and going ballistic put me in an even better mood, though I wasn’t about to bring that up here; the last thing I wanted to do was have a fight in my favorite town of Vancouver. It’d been years since I’d last been to Bard on the Beach, and one of the reasons I’d taken this assignment was remembering it and checking the calendar, finding the festival coincided, plus it wasn’t one of the plays I couldn’t stand, like A Winter’s Tale or Richard III.
Talking some pleasantries with fellow Shakespeare-goers and grabbing a 7-up to go with the complimentary cheese and crackers could only keep me going so long; after a while that got boring and I headed outside into the cool Canadian air, looking off to the side and smiling wistfully as I remembered when the shows were held in a tent over the actual sand. . .
Ah well, progress and success, I sighed, heading toward the water. . . only to find the small jetty where I’d debarked closed. It hadn’t occurred to me to ask when the miniature boats, barely big enough for five people who didn’t mind getting to know each other better, would stop their runs from the north end of downtown to Vanier Park, nor did it enter my consciousness that it would be dark when the play was over. Wasn’t it supposed to stay light longer in summer? That’s how I remembered it, anyway. And I didn’t remember hearing the nine o’clock cannon blast, though Stanley Park was pretty far away. . . nah, shoulda still heard it.
Turning just in time to see the lights going out in the building, I moved to the side with the parking lot, which by now was empty, so no chance of hitching a ride or catching a cab. I could wait for the janitorial staff to finish, but who knew how long that would take, and if they claimed liability hassles I’d be stuck here anyway.
Now what. . .?
Toe power, that’s what. Checking my water supply with a sigh, I got going, hoping I’d run into a restroom if needed, rather than a tree or bush. Those tiny lights in the distance might be Grandville Island, I thought while sincerely hoping something better happened before that.
Then I told himself it was way too early to call for a cab, since I’d been berating myself about my sense of adventure, or lack of it, lately.
I’d been in Kitsilano before, but of course everything looks different at night. Since I didn’t expect much in the way of surprises coming from the water, I concentrated on the path in front of me, as always chuckling as I remembered George Carlin’s admonition: “The good thing about living at the water’s edge is you only have assholes on three sides of you. . . and if they come this way, you can hear them splash.” That got me through the next five minutes, though if I didn’t want to attract attention it was best to stop giggling as soon as possible.
A tunnel made me wonder what I was crossing under, but I couldn’t tell it was a bridge till I was pretty far away from it. Figuring it was Burrard Street, I looked around for stairs but didn’t spot any. I didn’t see a walkway to the west, nor any end to the bridge, so who knew how long it would take to climb on it that way. Sighing, I turned back, spotting Grandville Island or its doppelganger closer but not very much. To my left were small marinas with their occupants seemingly glowing in the water; in front of me was the thin thoroughfare which I took to be a bike path, a brightly-lit road under the five-story condos that turned the area into a higher-end Yuppieville, or whatever the Canadian version was.
And then I saw her. . .
She hadn’t seen me, which was obvious in the way she startled when I walked forward; for a moment she looked frightened, but quickly turned it into a nervous giggle as she saw I was grinning. With my hands by my sides and walking a route that would take me past her, she didn’t think I would attack her, but her “Hi!” was no doubt a little more squealy than she would have liked.
“Hi there. . . are you okay? The view not to your liking?”
“The view is fine,” she giggled again, this time not so nervously. “What I can see of it, anyway. Speaking of seeing, haven’t done that with you before.”
“Hmmmm?”
She blushed a bit, visible even in the dark. “I was trying to say I’ve never seen you before, but it came out convoluted.”
“I’ve never seen you before either. . . see how easy it is?’
“I do now, yes.” She grinned a little sheepishly, but seemed to be enjoying the inane chatter. “So why haven’t I seen you around before?”
“That’s better. Because I’m visiting, and I got stranded by those little boats, and. . .”
I made the story more dramatic than it had to be, but she didn’t seem to mind, only twice berating me mildly for not having checked the schedule. With a very easy comeback of “Then I wouldn’t have met you,” I swooped right into her good graces, or whatever she called them. Giving her a chance to figure out what she wanted from this new relationship, I took in the glittering view of downtown Vancouver, wondering what I would need to get a good photo of the skyline, other than a tripod, of course. . . well, a camera would help too.
For some reason she asked me what I thought of bacon, to which I quickly replied, “Bacon is like music to my nose and tongue!”
Thinking she could hold my geeky freakout for later teasing, if there was later between us, she told me the reason for asking by saying, “Did you know bacon has the same effect on the brain as cocaine and heroin. . .?
“So I’ve been getting high all these mornings without knowing it,” I mused.
“That’s what makes you great,” she agreed.
Marshaling my energy reserves for a few more minutes while talking to her, not expecting her to invite me to stay overnight, whether on the couch or her bed, I listened to her prattle on for a while, wondering at which point she’d remember that she hadn’t told me her name yet. She ended this particular verbal diarrhea by pronouncing I could meet her for lunch tomorrow at the observation tower downtown, flouncing away and into one of the condos before I could mention it wasn’t an actual tower, just a disk stuck onto the roof of a building.
“I’m screwed,” I muttered as I walked on, annoyed that she hadn’t thought to let me call a cab, instead going for her little drama. Would serve her right if I didn’t show up tomorrow. But at least the walk would let me burn off some frustration. . . mostly caused by not getting any bacon, now that I was salivating for it.
So I was more than a little sweaty when I finally got to Granville an hour later. Thankfully there were plenty of eateries still open, as well as taxis. By the time I got back to my hotel at the western foot of Stanley Park, I’d almost forgotten about her. . .

;o)