I'm failing miserably (again) to keep this thing up to date, though I did manage to post a few of the Opus Sunday strips that were languishing on my hard drive. Not much else has been done. I have several bad sketches to post, but I haven't quite gotten around to that, just yet. Maybe this weekend. Anywho, on with the old news...
Well, we loaded up the family for the annual Christmas pilgrimage to colder climes and set off for a nice, long, cold visit. We only made it as far as Southern Utah this year, so there was no snow for the kids to enjoy. Unlike the summer debacle, I actually managed to take a few snap shots on this outing. My favorite: the "Please Drive Slow" sign posted within my in-laws' neighborhood.
It's not bad enough that the signs - posted on every street within the neighborhood - say "slow" instead of "slowly," you can tell, from the picture, that the manufacturers of the sign know the correct spelling but either omit the "ly" either A) at the behest of the some really grammatically challenged residents or B) the letters are removed by the aforementioned residents to reflect the proper way of talkin' in them parts. Either way, it's sad. Very sad.
Christmas was fun. I got some good loot and, more importantly, the kids seemed to be satisfied with their haul and to have a good time.
But...we received a not-so-nice surprise the day before Christmas (a day after we arrived): my father-in-law bought a dog - a Yorkshire Terrier. I love dogs, so this wasn't a problem for me, but our youngest was less than thrilled. She's always been afraid of dogs - even tiny little puppies like this one - so she took up a watchful position atop the tall bar stools and in her parents; arms for the majority of our visit. By the end, her fears had subsided somewhat, but she was still leery.
And just because I thought it looked cool, we picked up a gnome for my mother-in-law's yard. And that's all I have to say about that.
I actually managed to do a little bit of reading while we were there and we saw a few movies, too. I finished reading the Douglas Adams biography, Wish You Were Here, and saw The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Syriana, and Dreamer. Of the three, Syriana was probably my favorite. Dreamer was a nice story, but even the charms of the ever-cute Dakota Fanning and the gruff, coolness of Kurt Russell weren't enough to make this film a winner. Narnia was as good as I thought it would be, but is a children's story, so didn't really grab my imagination. I've never really been fans of the stories (not reading them until I was in my twenties - beyond the recommended age for these stories). I did think all the overly Christian symbolism rampant throughout the film made it interesting to ponder, if nothing else. I also saw a few videos, one of which was The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and surprisingly, I enjoyed it.
I'm sure that you're thinking I'm about to go on an "over-spending with credit cards for Christmas" rant...but you're wrong. Not that I didn't fall into this trap, but it's pretty much a given.
I am guilty of doing the 0% interest balance transfer shuffle with credit cards. I don't do it often, but every once in a while I will be sucked into a deal that just seems too good to pass up. A few months ago, Chase offered me one of these cards that I stupidly neglected to shred. And now, several months later, the account is closed. But not before having my interest rate jacked up to 60%. You heard me: 60%. Don't get it? Me neither. But good luck getting an answer from the call center operating out of Bombay. I'm still pissed, but don't really have much else to say about this, other than: Stay away from Chase. It's a bad company...very bad.
Syriana is, shall we say...lacking in direction. There are several primary characters, played by George Clooney, Matt Damon, Chris Cooper (Matt Damon's foil in the Bourne films) and several other lesser known actors, all involved with different aspects on one primary topic: the Oil industry.
George Clooney plays a well-meaning spook who has spent much of his career working in the Middle East. I'm not entirely sure which intelligence agency he is employed by, but I suspect it's the CIA. At one point in the film, his wife and son are introduced to the story. The wife, who appears to share Clooney's character's occupation, is only briefly mentioned, but the son is introduced...and then forgotten throughout the remainder of the film, as is the wife. This is one, of many, weird scenes in this film that should probably have been in the "deleted scenes" on the DVD.
Matt Damon plays a marketing intelligence guy. At least that's the only way I can think to describe his character. I'll try not to ruin the film for readers who have yet to see this film, but Matt Damon's character has little reason to love the Arabs he is forced to work with, even going so far as to openly insult one of the Arab "princes" he is negotiating with:
You want to know what the business world thinks of you?
We think a hundred years ago you were living out here in tents in the desert, chopping each other's heads off - and that's exactly where you're going to be in another hundred.
So, yes, on behalf of my firm, I accept your money
Chris Cooper is a Texas Oil executive greasing the palms of the right political players to maximize his corporation's profits. Texas, and Texans, aren't portrayed in a very favorable light in this film.
Amongst the other characters in the film are key figures in an middle Eastern monarchy, lawyers/investigators involved in an Oil company merger, and sleazy politicians who have memorable lines when confronted about shady dealing in the Oil industry.
Corruption is our protection. Corruption keeps us safe and warm.
Corruption - is why we win.
Amanda Peet plays the wife of Matt Damon's character, but isn't pivotal to any of the myriad plot lines woven through this poorly told story.
One of the interesting subplots of the film was a look into how the shoddy treatment of lowly Arab immigrants from poorer nations (many were Pakistani) by their Arab neighbors directly leads to the recruitment of pawns for Islamic-extremist terrorist networks targeting the west. I don't know if there was any truth to the portrayal, but it seemed likely enough.
This film isn't the post-apocalyptic vision of our future that I suspected it would be. This is no Road Warrior - it's a statement on what is happening in the world right now. Unfortunately, the film's ending is no less confusing than the direction of the various plot lines. Nothing is resolved, no bold statements are made...unless it's this: futility reigns and evil will triumph.
Or maybe I missed something.
Tales of the Traveling Pants
I realize that The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is beyond "old news," but since I saw it, despite my manly protests, and enjoyed it - I'm going to tell you why you should see this film.
This film is, for the most part, standard femme-fare: four friends recount the events of a "life changing" summer. Annoyingly, the story revolves around a ridiculous pair of jeans. I hate it already.
When the trailers for this film were aired, months ago, I saw nothing of interest...well, other than Alexis Bledel. But even that fresh-faced cutie wasn't enough to get me into the theater to see what was surely a saccharine-coated estrogenfest.
The premise of the film is this: four teens who have known one another their entire lives are separated during the summer. This is the first time the four have been apart for any extended period of time, so it's...drama time. One of the girls goes off to Greece to visit her grandparents (Alexis Bledel). Another goes to Mexico for Soccer camp. A third is off to spend the summer with her father (her parents are divorced, so she has seen little of her father over the years). And the fourth, Tibby (Amber Tamblyn), is stuck at home, working in a Walmart clone: Walman's. While working, this fourth character is also filming a documentary on the abundant supply of losers in her town. She calls her documentary the "Suckumentary."
I've never really watched Gilmore Girls and only became aware of Alexis Bledel's cuteness when I saw Tuck Everlasting, but she has lost something in the intervening years. She is still a cute little thing...but is lacking the innocence (or maybe she was acting, I don't know). Either way, she is not the reason to see this film.
The "soccer camp" and "divorced parent" story lines are probably of interest to the testosteronally-challenged, but I found them both to be snoozeville.
The fourth storyline starts out slow, but becomes the reason I would recommend this film to anyone. Amber Tamblyn plays the rebellious, angst-ridden teen very well, but she isn't the reason either. The story surrounding Tamblyn's character, and the young actress who plays the precocious neighbor who befriends her, are the elements that make sitting through the rest of this film worthwhile. Jenna Boyd, the twelve year-old who plays the part of the annoyingly cute neighbor, shows amazing character depth. Her part is well-written and skillfully draws on the empathy of the viewer. Time and again, this little girl reminds us how unfairly we judge others around us. One such scene found the two mismatched friends reviewing the footage they had shot earlier:
Tibby: Well what, what is she doing here? Tell me.
Bailey: She's thinking.
Tibby: She's thinking? I think she's trying to grow a brain, that's what.
One of the bonus features of the DVD is the completed "Suckumentary." In the film, Jenna Boyd's character, Bailey, secretly taped herself for Amber Tamblyn's character, Tibby, to find later. This is what she said:
"Maybe the truth is there's a little bit of loser in all of us you know, being happy isnt having everything in your life being perfect. Maybe it's about stringing together all the little things like wearing these pants, or getting to a new level of Dragon's Lair. Making those count more then the bad stuff. Maybe we just get through it. And that's all we can ask for."
This is a film that can draw the sobbing little girl out of even the most emotionally dead neanderthal. I should know. Maybe it's good that I waited to see it on DVD so I could have a peek at the bonus features. So shut up and pass the Kleenex.
Wish You Were Here
Since the untimely death of Douglas Adams (May 11, 2001), there have been at least three books published (that I am aware of) that are at least semi-biographical. The first of these, The Salmon of Doubt, was published in 2002. It contains the, sadly incomplete, Dirk Gently sequel and a collection of many articles that Douglas wrote for various publication on a wide array of topics. In these articles, Douglas tells the reader a great deal about himself and the way his mind works, but you still only get a glimpse of Douglas's life and history. This book is not the subject of my post.
The second was written by Neil Gaiman in 2003 and is entitled Don't Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galxy. Neil does a great job discussing the events of Douglas' life as they related to the production of the Hitchhiker radio scripts, television series and novels. Mention is also made of his work on Dr. Who and the efforts to turn Hitchhiker's into a film. Neil is a great writer and creates very readable and entertaining prose, cleverly educating the reader about any and every Hitchhiker's related item as well as sharing a few intimate looks into Douglas' life. But this book, while a worthy read, is also not the subject of this post.
In April of 2005, the "Official Biography of Douglas Adams" by Nick Webb - aptly entitled Wish You Were Here - appeared on the bookshelves of America. It had been published in 2003, but was apparently not deemed marketable to Americans until the relative success of the Hitchhiker's film showed that a few Americans might be interested. Giddy with happiness, I quickly acquired my own copy.
It found a place on my bookshelf, waiting for me to finish Catch 22. Several weeks later, I started this wonderful book, but foolishly continued to read other books simultaneously. Months later, I have completed my journey and now have a much greater knowledge of the life of Douglas Adams.
In the Prologue, entitled A commendably brief introduction, but you may skip it if you like, Nick Webb writes:
Contemporary biography is the Area 51 of the literary world. There's a lot of circumstantial evidence to show that it exists, but very few get to visit. The rest of us wonder what the hell is going on behind the perimeter fence.
Biography set in the past is less mysterious. Disappearing from sight, the writer tunnels through a mountain of research - emerging dazzled by the light, years later with a book. If this contains some entertaining history, sixteen pages of attractive pictures, an argument about the subject that can be supported - perhaps with a little casuistry - from the documentation, and it doesn't cost more than $24.95 ($35.00 if it's a whopper), the book is acceptable.
Nick Webb makes many other interesting and often funny remarks in the introduction, but that was my favorite bit. The book consists, primarily, of a steady narrative by Nick Webb, though Douglas Adams is often quoted.
The world is a thing of utter inordinate complexity and richness and strangeness that is absolutely awesome. I mean the idea that such complexity can arise not only out of such simplicity, but probably absolutely out of nothing, is the most fabulous, extraordinary idea. And once you get some kind of inkling of how that might have happened - it's just wonderful. And I feel, you know, that the opportunity to spend seventy or eighty years of your life in such a universe is time well spent as far as I am concerned.
Nick is fond of footnotes, something I've always appreciated - especially when they are of the humorous Douglas Adams/Terry Pratchett variety. One of these footnotes explains the almost-familiar "mind-buggeringly."
Buffs might be interested to know that Douglas replaced this witty expression of amazement with the more conventional "ming-bogglingly" in the Narrator's account of the Babel FIsh in Fit the First. History does not record if this was pressure from the BBC, an expedient eye on the American market, or just the thought that such a graphic expression might distract.
There is no way I can possibly do this book justice and retain your feeble attention spans, so I will leave you with one last quote from Nick Webb (also contained within the Prologue) and assure you that this is a biography worth reading - especially if you have any interest in learning more about the brilliantly creative and generous visionary who brought us the Hitchhiker's Guide and so much more. He was a devoted and doting father, a lover of music, a skilled musician, a dedicated supporter of ecological causes in addition to being a well-known author and comedic genius.
Douglas Adams had a gift for making us look again at the world and see how strange it really is. You remember those quizzes in comics and magazines when something is drawn from an odd angle or photographed from an unusual perspective? The circle within a thin bar projecting diametrically from either side that turns out to be a bicycling Mexican wearing a big hat seen from above? Douglas's writing pulls a similar trick.
There is so much more I had hoped to say about this book, but without writing twenty pages, I doubt it would be possible.
So...whattya think? Am I off my gourd? Tell me here.