Surprise, surprise...I'm gonna talk about some books and - an actual surprise - a musical.
I've had most of this post locked and loaded for a couple of weeks, but I just handn't pulled the trigger on it because I wanted to add one more book. That, and Dan hasn't responded. Or Steve (though Steve seems to have long ago lost interest in my blathering).
Beauty and the Beast Musical at the Lyceum theater
I picked up some tickets to a stage version of Beauty and the Beast showing at the Lyceum theater in Horton Plaza for the family a couple of weeks ago. I'd never been to this venue and was pleasantly surprised by how convenient parking and affordable - $8 with validation - parking was and how easy it was to get to the theater. The theater itself was smallish, but still held a few hundred people. We had great seats on the second level near the center.
I freely admit that I didn't get these tickets for myself and wasn't really looking forward to the experience. But after Emeli gushed for days after seeing La La Land, I kept my eyes open for an opportunity to get some tickets for a real musical. We almost had a chance to see a musical in Seattle on our vacation, but couldn't find a hotel room anywhere near the venue, so that fell through.
The cast listing in the program for the musical was interesting - at least to someone who hasn't been to an actual theater production. There were three or more people credited for each part, which we later realized was because the casting was dependent on the performance date, and each cast member had a short bio, which was fun to read.
The actress we thought would be the most interesting to see as Belle (from our perusal of the program), Sierra Poppleton, was cast as Belle for our show, so that was fun. She's a blonde in real life, but rocked that brunette wig pretty convincingly (at least from the distance we saw everything).
Gaston, played by Evan White, was also well-cast. He had the guns for Gaston and played his oafish, narcissism to perfection. He would have been an equally good Beast.
The actor who played Lumiere, Gabe Rasmussen, was great. He played the part with an exaggerated flourish and a consistently bad French accent (which just upped the fun). I was really surprised to see Gabe's cast photo because he didn't look at all like the person up on the stage - unlike the actors playing Gaston or Belle. I guess that's a sign that he's an exceptional actor.
Belle's dad was actually played by Belle's real-life dad - in a very Doc Brown-esque performance.
The only role we really felt was miscast was the Beast. His voice was too soft, too quiet and just not especially beastly. And he wasn't a very large guy, so he didn't really fit the role stature-wise either.
Everyone in the cast had strong singing voices, too - even the Beast, despite not having a beastly, deep, growling voice.
We, the audience, were asked very nicely to turn our phones off during the show, so I complied. Thus you get photos from before the show, during intermission, and after the show. And even those are flash-less, because I'm not a narcissistic jerk who doesn't care about blinding everyone around me.
Here are a couple of videos (not recorded by me or even from the performance I attended) of Sierra Poppleton as Belle. I guess the wig does look a little faker from the front row.
Earthweeds, Sons of Neptune Book 1 by Rod Little
Another author, Rod Little, reached out to me because of my - obviously - interesting and insightful book review skills and asked me to read and share a few thoughts about Earthweeds. So I read it, though it took a while to get started. I needed to finish a couple of other books that I'd already started or planned to read before Rod approached me.
As is indisputably clear to anyone who has kept up with the recent rants I've written here, I love a good post-apocalyptic (or even ongoing-apocalyptic) thriller. I even enjoy not-as-good apocalyptic disaster stories. Earthweeds falls somewhere between these on my scale.
Here's a spoiler/preview created by the author, if you like that sort of thing. I didn't watch it before reading the book and was happily surprised as events unfolded.
My first impressions of Earthweeds were that it bore a very strong similarity to The Walking Dead. For those of you who aren't ardent fans of the AMC series, the first Walking Dead episode has Rick Grimes, the show's primary protagonist and a Georgia cop, waking up in a decrepit hospital after being shot by a criminal. As he wanders the unexpectedly abandoned hospital, he finds himself in a world of ruin and danger. Similarly, the teenage protagonists of Earthweeds are out in the woods, having been camping and hunting for an extended time, as the Earthweeds apocalypse arrives. On their way back to civilization, the streets are empty of people (live or dead) and derelict cars litter the roadways (very Walking Deadesque).
But after these early similarities, the action of Earthweeds takes a decidedly different turn. Zombies are replaced by giant man-eating lizards (crocodile/alligator-sized), who - through some mysterious process that's never really explored in the book - are victims of this story's apocalypse. We know little more than the lizards are created in basements/cellars after people are mysteriously encased in cocoons for about a week. And we know that isolation somehow protected the non-transformed people in the story from exposure - or at least that's what I gathered from the back-stories of the major players in the book. As the story progresses, we learn more about why things have happened, but the mechanics of how the transition occurs and why it happens to some and not others remains a little vague.
A couple of the characters in the story have special abilities that are very reminiscent of a comic book superhero or, to bring a non-comic book source into play, characters from the George RR Martin edited series Wild Cards. Since this book appears to be set (more or less) in the real world and not in a super-hero fantasy world, I was hoping for an explanation for the characters' super-powers. Ultimately, all but one of the super-powered character's abilities are explained, so I'm still wondering about the source of the abilities of one character. Maybe book two will reveal the source.
Here's a taste of some of the super power action -
At that moment he looked up from his fishing spot in the middle of the stream, and was face to face with a large mountain lion, a cougar. It drank from the stream, then lifted its head, looked straight at Bohai. The boy did not move.
He wasn't afraid of this cat. Bohai always had a good rapport with animals, and he swore he could actually understand them, communicate with him. It was hard to prove this to others, but he knew it to be true.
By now over a hundred lizards teemed into the streets from side alleys, burrows, and open garages. One scrambled out from underneath a rusted car. Ken was surrounded, and the first lizard dropped his shoe and bit down on his ankle. He fumbled for the gun at his belt.
This all happened within seconds. The group watched helplessly, as their friend was dragged down.
"Go!" Ken yelled, then turned and fired a gun at the lizard on his foot.
The others fired their weapons into the melee. Bullets and arrows took down lizard after lizard, but more kept coming. It was a swarm of black death. The boys backed into the van, and Jason revved the engine.
"What do I do?" he yelled. He didn't know if he should hit the escape pedal, or back up to try to get Ken. But backing up meant backing into hundreds of angry jaws.
Desperate, Sam shot an electric bolt into the crowd of reptiles. It sent a couple rolling, but couldn't stop them all; it barely made a dent in their ranks. He tried, but couldn't put a force-field around Ken. There wasn't much Sam could do at this distance; he wasn't used to using his powers this way.
"You're one of us, Sammy. You're different, but the same. Maybe a little bit special. And definitely a little weird."
"Thanks. You're just as weird, you just haven't found your chi yet."
The older brother laughed. "Yeah, maybe. Time will tell. Someday I'll wake up with psychic powers, like an X-Man."
This was the first Rod Little book I've read, so I have a few comments about his writing style -
Rod is fond of foreshadowing events in the book. And he does it a lot. A little too frequently, in my opinion. I'm fine with subtle foreshadowing, but I'm not a fan of constant references of things to come later.
Maybe I'm just being overly-critical. Here are a few examples, so judge for yourself.
Without speaking, Shane shot Sam a look that asked if he was okay. He was always able to understand his little brother, and always able to look out for him. Tonight would stretch the limits of that ability.
The five of them rode silently out of town: Sam and Shane, Jason, Tina and Ken. They had less life experience between them than a single adult, but they were full of survival instinct and the will to try. Sam and his brother had hunting skills, at least, and that was going to prove helpful in the coming days.
When dawn filtered into day, the war began. [except it didn't. Not for a few pages and well into the morning, anyway]
"You know chickens are birds," Camila reminded them. "So there should still be some around, since the birds were not affected by the mutation."
"True that," Sam said. "We could use them for fresh eggs. If we can find any hens."
"I'm on it," Jason said. He pushed his long hair back. "We can check out some farms later on in the week." They wouldn't get the chance, but it was a nice idea.
The narration style throughout the book felt a little weird at times. The narrator explained things that the characters should have been completely unaware of. Yet the narrator's voice wasn't presented as an independent party telling the story, it was just kind of jammed into the text as if the characters were aware of things.
Again, it's very possible I'm reading more into it than I should. Here are a few examples, so - again - judge for yourself.
The hotel was large and impressive, like a castle from Europe, a defense of eighteenth century kings. It would make a good fortress, but a fantasy castle was its artificial theme, not its true calling. Tourism was its true purpose, which meant they could expect to find some items of comfort inside.
A woman was already pouring them each a glass. She looked more like a doctor than a housewife. It turned out she was in fact Walter's wife, and a professor of physics.
[except...nobody ever told them this, so they wouldn't have known]
"This sucks," Jason said. "You're supposed to be enlightened. I can see you're not just some gang of thugs here. So you should help us."
[nobody ever gave these people the label of "enlightened" - as I recall, they were described as dangerous]
"Oh I thought you'd try to run," he said. "What an incredibly stupid thing to do."
He raised his shotgun, and fired.
Sam flew backward and felt his shoulders hit the ground hard. An unnatural warmth flooded his chest, and he thought: Oh, hell! That's a first.
[ I think this bothered me because of the lack of detail...which did come later in the narrative. But I was very confused until then]
Mark was Lucy's son. He was not afraid to carry a gun or shoot. As a matter of fact, he didn't seem afraid of anything at all. Sam admired the kid. In any disaster, most people wallow in pity and fear, while a rare few rise and stand up. This kid was one of the rare few.
[I'm not sure if this was more foreshadowing or just narration.]
The book ends on a cliff-hanger, though not one that I really cared about. I was much more interested in how the survivors managed to survive and what was coming next for them in this new, mostly-uninhabited, world full of mutated animals. But, sadly, that seemed to be a secondary focus of the story. Also, in addition to the giant lizards terrorizing the book's survivors, there were two other mutated animal classes and one of those never really received any action in the story, other than being mentioned as the third group of mutations. So I don't know if their involvement is being saved for book 2 or if they were too uninteresting to get more story time. Maybe there's a Tolkien-inspired battle of five armies story coming in book 2.
As for my overall impression, I liked the Walking Dead vibe I was picking up early on and had high hopes. I went in with zero expectations because, as with most eBooks, I didn't really know anything about the book before I started reading it and it didn't have a cover to inspect beforehand for clues. Yeah, I know there's a cover inside the eBook, but I don't give eBook "covers" the same scrutiny I do a physical book's cover before or as I'm reading it. I thought the book started strong and ended less-strong. As I mentioned above, there were aspects of the author's writing style that I didn't love, but I think I would have been more willing to overlook those shortcomings had the story focused more on the survivors' efforts to survive and not the little green men...oops, I've said too much.
Aftermath: Empire's End
I hadn't planned to buy or read this book after my disappointment with the writing in Aftermath book 1. But I guess I'm just a completist (plus, I had a coupon that made it almost free), so I picked it up. I even optimistically read it ahead of a bunch of books on my reading shelf that were much more deserving of my time. What I didn't realize is that this is actually the third book in the Aftermath series...so, now I'm going to have to find the second book. Ugh.
I wish I could say that moving this book to the front of the reading queue proved my instincts to be infallible, but...even though it was a little more evenly edited than the first book and had some good points, it was still disappointing as far as Star Wars novels go.
The good: there's a lot of pre-Episode 7 interaction with the familiar characters from the original Star Wars films. Mainly Mon Mothma, Leia, and Han Solo. Chewbacca gets a few scenes and Luke is mentioned, but neither really take part in the book's main story line. Maybe Luke and Chewie got more action in book two - which would make sense because there are a lot of references to events that seemed to be less detailed than they should have been. The majority of the story is focused on the activities of the non-canon characters who only exist in these books (introduced in the earlier books). Oh, and Leia's pregnancy gets a lot of discussion (Ben Solo is even named - the future Kylo Ren). Admiral Thrawn gets a brief mention, giving me hope that the awesome Timothy Zahn books might finally be getting pulled into the Star Wars film universe. I can think of scenarios where Mara Jade could even make an appearance (especially with Luke lurking in the background). Thrawn, the new Timothy Zahn Star Wars book is also sitting on my to-read shelf. I have really high hopes for that one.
Primary amongst my complaints is the author's writing style. Though less blatant in this book than it was in the first, his style just doesn't seem to be appropriate to the Star Wars universe. And...he exhibits some tendencies that aren't really appropriate to anything. My primary complaint, the use of "even still" frequently throughout the text. It's so annoying. When you add in the mandatory Disney inclusion of homosexual characters, I feel a great disturbance in the force. I'm not saying there couldn't be homos in the Star Wars universe - but do we have to spend so much time on their romantic lives? I don't dig it.
Here are a couple of excerpts from the book to illustrate my disdain:
The man smiles, a grim, red smile. "I told you all of life was suffering. And for you, the suffering is just...beginning. You are hunted, Galli. All your plans will...unravel..." He slumps backward, the blade freed with a faint sucking sound as he falls away, dead.
It is done.
Rax feels a great weight lifted from him. A hand on his shoulder eases him back. Tashu says quietly in his ear: "A necessary sacrifice. The dark side is stronger. Our mission here is blessed, now."
Yes, it is. The true mission, at least. He nods and goes along with what Tashu says - though the man has knowledge greater than most, even still, he is a madman. An ardent believer in the black-edged side of the Force, and Rax cares nothing for such mysticism. But if it appeases Tashu, then the illusion that he, too, is a believer may commence.
"Senators are notoriously unreliable, too, and yet they form the bedrock of our democratic system. I will do better."
And yet how can she? She's losing. Day by day, her numbers wane, perhaps understandably. Liberation Day came and, with it, the attack on Chandrila. When the dust settled and the corpses were counted, she came out of surgery to find many friends and colleagues dead. And soon after began the accusations: She was too soft, militarily, and couldn't protect Chandrila when it needed to be defended. (Never mind the fact that the type of attack orchestrated against them was so far beyond comprehension and so subversive that ten navies couldn't have stopped it.) All that was made worse by the fact that she invited Grand Admiral Sloane planetside for the day's events. Which to many meant she was culpable in what happened.
Even still, the true shape of that plot against them is hard to see in full. Was Sloane a part of it, or just a pawn? Was Sloane really once the Operator? Did she betray them, or was she herself betrayed? Where did Tashu go? Where did Sloane go? Endless questions. Few answers.
It hardly matters, now.
Sadly, I'll probably read the second book in the series I skipped...and then complain about that one, too.
If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor, Bruce Cambell
I read Bruce Campbell's second book, Make Love the Bruce Campbell Wayaround 12 years ago. It was the first of Bruce's books I remember coming across (in the signed books section of the Mysterious Galaxy bookstore, of all places), so I wasn't really aware of If Chins Could Kill when I picked up Make Love the.... After reading the entertaining, but not-really-autobiographical stories in Make Love the..., I wasn't dying to read another Bruce Campbell book, but I've been a Bruce fan since Army of Darkness, so it has been on my reading-radar for many years. I finally picked up a copy from Amazon and read it after letting it marinate on the reading-shelf for a few months.
Unlike Make Love the..., If Chins Could Kill is a real autobiography. As far as I could tell, there's little non-factual material anywhere in the narration (although the introduction of the book might be fictional - I can't tell). A lot of the book is great stories of pre-famous Bruce's youth in the backwoods of Michigan, battling with two older brothers.
Here's a great excerpt - detailing one of many instances of brotherly-rivalry (complete with young Bruce's plan diagram).
Because these "raids" happened so often, we each devised ways to protect our "secret stuff." Mike hid things in every possible nook and cranny - I know, because I went through them all. Don often moved his precious things around, or hid them in "secret books." with a sharp razor blade, usually from Dad's shaver, he hollowed out numerous hardcover masterpieces from the living room. It wasn't hard to spot which ones were bogus - War and Peace isn't usually paired with The Cat in the Hat on a ten-year-old's shelf.
Because invading each other's room was such a big deal, I had to do it as often as possible. One day, a plan to bother Don worked flawlessly. I raced into his room,
made all kinds of noise and stole a white gym sock. Don was close on my heels as I ran away down the hall and ducked into the bathroom. As he entered the doorway, he saw me flush what he thought was his sock down the toilet.
"What did you do that for?! I'll kill you!"
In reality, I had ditched Don's real sock as I entered the bathroom and flushed a strip of white toilet paper (preplaced) into the septic tank. In the end, our fines evened out, because Don promptly gave me a thrashing - roughly equal to my 30 cents worth of transgressions. I wouldn't have been surprised if Don invented a fine for pretending to flush socks down the toilet.
Even the bathroom wasn't a reliable sanctuary. There was a lock on the door, sure, but it could easily be opened with a credit card. To combat this, a drawer by the door could be pulled out to block the way. This worked until Mike drilled a hole through the wall of our linen closet and rigged a coat hanger to the drawer itself.
I mocked Don through the door one day, protected by the door lock, only to look down and see the drawer magically slide back in all by itself.
"You were saying?" Don said, as he pushed the door open and began beating the grunt out of me.
There are also a good many tales of the lovable misfits he became AV-budies with (the Raimi brothers being the most well-known) as his interests really honed in on the film industry. There are also a few personal details about his marriages (two, as of the publication of this book) and his kids, which was really interesting.
The euphoric feeling that comes with true independence also has a price. All those months of making magic in Michigan were having another effect on the California home front - a cold wind of alienation was blowing. Fueled by other follies over the years, Lunatics wound up being the straw that broke my wife's back.
My daughter Rebecca flew out to Michigan so she could drive back across the country with me. We had a great time taking pictures and writing a book about the experience, but when we got home, Halloween day, something was different about the place. Margarita, a woman who helped around the house, was there, but Cris wasn't.
I took Rebecca and my young son Andy trick-or-treating - his dinosaur costume was a big hit with the neighbors. When we got home, Cris was still nowhere to be seen. I put the kids to bed and killed time by unpacking and watching television for a couple hours, but with each passing minute, my sense of dread intensified. It wasn't women's intuition, but I knew something was up - Cris was never one to stay out late.
About 11:00 that night, she came home, but there were no hugs and kisses. Instead, Cris stayed on the other side of dark kitchen.
"Hey, how you doing? Great to see you..."
"I've been thinking a lot about things and I'm not sure we want you back."
Cris wasn't mean, but there was a resolve in her that I had only seen one other time, when she was giving birth to Rebecca, and I knew she wasn't bluffing.
"Is this open for discussion?"
Of course there are also a lot of details about the movies and TV projects Bruce had been involved in (as of the book's publication). And there are some great stories about actors Bruce has worked with. The last few chapters are all Hercules and Xena, so that tells you approximately when the book was published.
Bruce includes excerpts from interviews with his friends throughout the book that are pretty entertaining. Here's one with Sam Raimi.
Another effect called for a "blood flood." To get the visual of liquid traveling horizontally at great speeds, trick photography was required. To do this, we built a portion of the set sideways. The camera was also tilted, thereby resulting in a "normal"-looking perspective. To understand this, tilt your head to the left. Now imagine that the room around you was tilted the same degree. Blood could then be poured from a rig in the ceiling and it would look horizontal.
This meant, however, that to assume a standing position, I would actually have to lie sideways, supported by a board. Above me, a fifty-five gallon drum of fake blood was mounted - with a bathtub-sized plug. The idea was to pull the plug and I'd get hit full force.
Sam: Okay, now Bruce, if something goes wrong and you're drowning, wave your arms.
Bruce: But that's what I'm supposed to be doing anyway - how will you know the difference?
Sam looked at me blankly, then turned to the mechanical effects guy.
Sam: How long will the blood last?
Effects Guy: Long enough to empty fifty-five gallons.
Sam: Huh...good point...okay, let's shoot it!
I lived to tell the tale, but every time I blew my nose for the next two weeks, the snot was bright red.
There are also a plethora of messages from fans and photos of the events/people/objects Bruce talks about in the narrative of his life. Here are a few of them:
If you're interested in working in the entertainment industry (movies or TV), this book should be a must-read for you. Bruce is very candid about the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes on - the difficulty in getting financing for projects, the family strain of spending so much time away from home for filming, the monumental work behind publicity tours, the risks of not finding work for lengthy periods of time...an actor's life isn't all glamor and glitz. Bruce does acknowledge that he's often amazed that he's being paid, and generally paid well, to play pretend for a living, though.
Well, that's probably more than enough for now. I'm sure even the most resolute have lost interest by now. But have no fear, I have tons of books that I've read in the past few months and other super-exciting stuff yet to be mentioned...