We're going through a bit of a health crisis at the moment which means we are spending a lot of time at the doctor's office. As a result, I downloaded several new games, to keep me busy while we wait to see whoever we need to see next. Hopefully next week we'll be in the infusion suite, getting a chemotherapy class drug, which means four to five hours at a time sitting while medicine drips into our veins. Which also means we need a pretty darned entertaining mobile game collection, to help ward off boredom and worry.
Seekers Notes: Hidden Mystery tries to be that game but in the end falls short. Hidden object games are excellent when you are not sure how much time you can devote to the game. When you're sitting in the waiting room, where you can be called at any second, opening a game that can be played for two minutes at a time is a pretty solidly reasonable thing to do. Most of the levels I've encountered in this game so far have around a three-minute time limit, meeting the time criteria.
But it doesn't meet the ability to keep a person busy for several hours at a time criteria. Like many “free to play” games, Seekers Notes gives you a limited number of times you can play levels. Then you either have to wait for your lives, in this case they call it energy, to refill, get friends to send you some or buy them with actual money.
They recharge at the rate of three minutes per energy unit, which doesn't sound bad, until you realize that after you rank up a bit you're paying 40 or more energy units to play some of the levels. That's a hundred and twenty minutes to recharge those energy units. Most games that I play recharge at the rate of one life per half-hour. This one is essentially taking four times as long. And when I'm looking for something that I can play steadily for several hours I need to look elsewhere. I can probably play three levels in a row of Seekers Notes. That's incredibly disappointing.
However Seekers Notes does have its pros. It's fun and challenging. Some of the scenes are quite pretty and there are a few interesting bonus games, like a memory style card matching game.
The basic gameplay goes a little like this: you are a new arrival to a town called Darkwood. Town folk interact with you and tell you things such as that the town has a curse upon it. They apparently can tell that you're super good at finding things and they set you little tasks such as finding their lost toys or banishing dreadful creatures.
The actual Hidden Object portion of the game is different from some other games that I've played. Some games the objects are always in the same spot and they just add more and more that you need to find to make the game more complex. In Seekers Notes the objects move around from play to play. One time you open up the ballroom a birdcage veil may be on top of the piano. The next time you open it it might be stuck to a wall.
There are various modes of each scene. Text scene is straightforward with you finding items based on a text description. This can be a little confusing because it may say find a bow and you don't know whether it means the kind of bow you put on a present or the kind of bow you put in your hair or the kind of bow that you use to shoot an arrow.
There are anomalies that come along and change things up. One of them changes the description of what you have to find so that instead of text you see the silhouette of the item. In others you need to find matching pairs. And one more is called a morph where an object changes from one thing to another and you need to find the ones that are changing. This is the one that is most confusing to me. Because I don't see them changing and I'm not sure how the heck I'm supposed to figure out which ones I'm supposed to find. I do see a couple of changes but in general if I'm supposed to find nine sets I can easily find two. That's a little frustrating. It's definitely my least favorite mode.
You can get Seekers Notes for free from the Google Play store and Amazon.
(Purchasing anything via these links will net us a commission from Amazon, which helps keep the site up and running.)
Traditionally we do not publish the week of Thanksgiving but we are breaking that tradition to give you this list of the shows and movies that are coming and going from Netflix in December of 2016.
Angels in the Snow (2015)
Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
Beyond Bollywood (2014)
Black Snake Moan (2007)
Chill with Bob Ross: Collection (1990)
D2: The Mighty Ducks (1994)
David Blaine: Street Magic (1997)
For the Love of Spock (2016)
Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce: Season 2 (2015)
Glory Daze: The Life and Time of Michael Alig (2016)
Harry and the Hendersons (1987)
Hitler: A Career (1977)
Holiday Engagement (2011)
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)
House of Wax (2006)
Merli: Season 1 – NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Merry Kissmas (2015)
National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)
Picture Perfect (1997)
Rainbow Time (2016)
Rodeo & Juliet (2015)
Swept Under (2016)
The Angry Birds Movie (2016)
The Crucible (1996)
The Little Rascals (1994)
The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000)
The Rock (1996)
The Spirit of Christmas (2015)
Uncle Nick (2015)
Waking Life (2001)
Way of the Dragon (1972)
We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story (1993)
White Girl (2016)
Zero Point (2014)
Fauda: Season 1—NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Hip Hop Evolution: Season 1—NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Pacific Heat: Season 1 –NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Lost & Found Music Studios: Season 2 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
The Good Neighbor (2016)
Homeland (Iraq Year Zero): Season 1
Reggie Watts: Spatial—NETFLIX ORIGINAL
The Devil Dolls (2016)
The Model (2016)
The Cuba Libre Story: Season 1—NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Captive: Season 1—NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Cirque du Soleil Junior - Luna Petunia: Season 1 NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Club de Cuervos: Season 1—NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Fuller House: Season 2—NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Four Seasons in Havana: Season 1—NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Medici: Masters of Florence: Season 1—NETFLIX ORIGINAL
White Rabbit Project: Season 1—NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Lucky Number Slevin (2006)
Phantom of the Theater (2016)
Breaking a Monster (2016)
Ricardo O'Farrill: Christmas Special—NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Colony: Season 1
I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016)
Nobel: Season 1—NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Versailles: Season 1 (2015)
Call Me Francis: Season 1—NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Crazyhead: Season 1—NETFLIX ORIGINAL
No Second Chance: Season 1—NETFLIX ORIGINAL
The Adventures of Puss in Boots: Season 4 —NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Miss Stevens (2016)
Gabriel Iglesias: Sorry For What I Said When I Was Hungry—NETFLIX ORIGINAL
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Season 6 (2016)
Ten Percent: Season 1—NETFLIX ORIGINAL
The Break: Season 1—NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Travelers: Season 1—NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Trollhunters: Season 1—NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War (2016)
When Hari Got Married (2013)
Ajin: Season 2—NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Chasing Cameron: Season 1—NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Comedy Bang! Bang!: Season 5 (2016)
The Hollywood Shorties (2016)
The Eighties: Season 1 (2016)
Big in Bollywood (2011)
50 First Dates (2004)
American Beauty (1999)
Black Ops: Series 2
Camp Takota (2014)
Carmen Jones (1954)
Cats & Dogs (2001)
Curious George: Swings Into Spring (2013)
Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood (2016)
Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)
Event Horizon (1997)
Monkey Business (1952)
Myth Hunters: Series 1
Myth Hunters: Series 2
Neil Young: Heart of Gold (2006)
Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: A VeggieTales Movie (2008)
River of No Return (1954)
Sling Blade (1996)
Thor: Hammer of the Gods (2009)
The Great War Diary: Season 1
The In-Laws (2003)
The Out-of-Towners (1999)
Top Gun (1986)
Valley of the Dolls (1967)
World Trade Center (2006)
Legends of the Knight (2013)
The Red Baron (2008)
The Best of Me (2014)
The Da Vinci Code (2006)
High Profits: Season 1
World War II in Colour (2009)
Beyond the Hills (2012)
Dark Skies (2013)
Just Friends (2005)
Spy Kids (2001)
Hercules: The Legendary Journeys: Season 1
Hercules: The Legendary Journeys: Season 2
Hercules: The Legendary Journeys: Season 3
Hercules: The Legendary Journeys: Season 4
Hercules: The Legendary Journeys: Season 5
Hercules: The Legendary Journeys: Season 6
I've been thinking about the presidential election quite a bit this past week. I have a theory which is possibly controversial. Did the rise of the anti-hero in pop culture directly contribute to the election of Donald Trump?
Years ago being a bad or good guy was very cut-and-dried. There were the white hats and there were the black hats. There was the sheriff in the westerns and then there were the outlaws. There were cops and there were robbers. Basically it was us versus them and we were good and virtuous.
And then all of a sudden things changed. We were introduced to characters like Dexter, who is a serial killer (but a lovable serial killer). We're introduced to Walter White, a character that I loathe but that many, many people loved and rooted for.
I'm not talking about your flawed hero like Hamlet; I'm talking about people who are terrible or do terrible things or a combination of both.
So we went from sort of black and white characters, with very little shades of gray, to sort of treating characters, especially our heroes, as a smorgasbord of food we really shouldn't be eating. We took what we liked and we admired, while we tried to ignore the rest and pretend that the shrimp wasn't actually going to kill us. As long as we didn't eat the parts we were allergic to we would be fine right?
But we are directly influenced by what we watch and read, even if it doesn't feel like we are. So while we were learning to ignore that which was disturbing in our entertainment we were also learning to ignore it in real life.
Both Donald Trump, the presidential elect, and former president Ronald Reagan came from an entertainment background. Mr. Reagan of course was an actor while Mr. Trump was a star in reality television. The Apprentice and The Celebrity Apprentice were both wildly popular and, most importantly, made viewers feel as though they were really getting inside of Mr. Trump's head and learning how he felt and what his core beliefs were.
When Mr. Reagan was elected president my circle of friends thought that a great deal of his appeal had to do with the fact that he was very comforting. He was uncle Ronnie, or your granddad, who would sit you down and tell you that everything was okay and you don't need to think about it at all. It was his very easy-going demeanor I think that helped a lot of people relax at a time when there was a lot of stress over the nuclear arms race. But meanwhile he was passing policy that killed many HIV positive and full blown AIDS patients.
Mr. Trump is equally visible; probably even more so given his extensive use of social media. But he doesn't have that you can trust me vibe that Mr. Reagan had. Instead he might remind you more of a brash, blow hard kind of con man uncle that your mother doesn't want you hanging around with. The one who makes money on the side by selling cigarettes and booze to your friends when you're a freshman in high school. The one who takes you to the brothel with a wink and a hundred-dollar bill when you turn 15 and tells you he is going to show you how to be a man. Or if you're a girl, the uncle who's always looking a little too closely at your friends and making everyone uncomfortable.
How did we elect a man who is a self-confessed sexual assailant? A man who has openly bragged about grabbing women by the genitalia? A man who boasts about not getting consent?
Maybe we need to look to the popularity of shows like How I Met Your Mother which features a character who lies and manipulates women and obviously cares nothing about boundaries or consent. Even a movie that may seem like pure fun, and adapted from Shakespeare, like 10 Things I Hate About You is at its core about objectifying women and treating them as prizes.
If the examples I cited above were isolated incidents maybe I would have to dig harder to come up with reasons why we elected a man like Mr. Trump. But unfortunately these are just a tiny portion of the messages that we're bombarded with every day.
Making our culture, and our country, greater is going to take a ton of work at every level.
This week's bonus treat is a poem by Langston Hughes, one of the great voices of the Harlem Renaissance. While some people were calling for America to be made great again Mr. Hughes was calling for America to be America. To be the ideal of America that we all long for.
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s film from Dusk till Dawn has always had its own little category in my mind. It's a peculiar film, so much so that when I first saw it back in the 90s I thought maybe Quentin Tarantino, who wrote the script, had two script halves that he didn't know what to do with so he just kind of stuck them together into one film.
At the beginning is the story of the Gecko brothers. One of them is deeply disturbed and a sexual predator while the other one thinks of himself as a protector and an all-around super cool dude. Quentin Tarantino plays Richie Gecko, the predator, who also hallucinates, and George Clooney plays Seth, the more responsible brother. (But he's just as quick to kill a person as his more deranged brother.)
The brothers are on the lam after robbing a bank and taking a hostage and are on a collision course with Harvey Keitel and his two teenage children, who are traveling in a motorhome and headed south. Seth and Richie are also headed south while trying to get there ill-gotten gains over the border and into Mexico. They're headed for a place called El Rey which Seth touts as Paradise on Earth.
Naturally their two paths converge, to the detriment of Harvey Keitel's family. Once they are kidnapped by the Gecko brothers, they try to make their way across the border, without alerting the border guards..
So about halfway through this story, which so far has been a kind of classic Tarantino Crime Story, it turns into an absolutely insane, over the top, camp vampire film.
The change is so abrupt and so out of left field that it's kind of hard to take in if you weren't expecting it. I watched it with someone a few days ago and they thought that I had inadvertently changed the channel part way through.
It's an interesting film and I think you should see it if you've never seen it, even if it's just so that you can say that you have. However I was still quite surprised to hear that it was being made into a TV series. The movie has a beginning and an end, and it's very fast paced and everything is pretty much resolved at the end. So how are they going to make a TV series?
So with some trepidation I started watching the series. How did they turn this film into a series? Bye taking an exciting movie and slowing it down until you feel like you're on the last mile of a 100 mile hike, wading through deep mud. It is so so so so slow it's kind of agonizing. It seems like what took just a few minutes in the film is now an entire episode long.
Someone recently asked me what they should watch at that moment. They were trying to wind down for bed and wanted to watch a show that wasn't going to be too interesting or exciting because they wanted to be able to fall asleep quickly. So I told them yeah you should watch the Dusk till Dawn series. It's so slow moving that even if you fall asleep while it's on you won't really have missed anything.
The crazy thing is that Robert Rodriguez's name is all over this series. I believe he wrote the Bible for the series and he wrote the pilot I want to say he is the show runner. How does a man who writes and directs the kinds of films that he does make something that so incredibly dull? Maybe he just got tired of making exciting films and wanted to try something as an experiment?
To be fair it's not just a remake of the film. They are adding new elements to the story, such as the extreme likelihood that Richie is a serial killer who is working for a cartel. Of course this means that there are gruesome scenes of women who've been mutilated after they've been murdered. Blech.
I can only hope that this thing picks up, before I have to mentally file it as a sleep aid.
(Purchasing anything via these links will net us a commission from Amazon, which helps keep the site up and running.)
Last Wish and The Gulf
Before I go I wanted to speak very briefly about Poppy Z Brite’s newest offering; Last Wish and the Gulf. Mr. Brite, who's also going by Billy Martin these days, has not written anything in quite some time. He has been making his living creating jewelry and I guess I'll call them magical talismans? Although that's not quite right. He's also been painting so he has been being creative but writing beyond his social media updates seems to have been quite difficult for him. So it was with great excitement that I read that he had released a small ebook which contains two stories, one of which is brand new.
The Last Wish is a piece of flash fiction about someone who is determined to go out his way; which is definitely not the mainstream way. The Gulf is a character sketch of a young man whose life is completely up ended when the hurricane strikes. (The story left me feeling quite melancholy.) As expected from Mr. Brite, both stories are well done. The first one reminded me of a one paragraph story by Cuban modernist Virgilio Pinera that explores the hideous depths of insomnia.
(Purchasing anything via these links will net us a commission from Amazon, which helps keep the site up and running.)
As I mentioned above, I was thinking about the terrific short story Insomnia by the brilliant Virgilio Pinera. I dug up this link that also has two other pieces of short fiction: one about eating a mountain and one about swimming on dry land. I particularly like the thing about the fish.
We're wrestling with shingles and a biopsy at my house so this is an extra short column. Hopefully next week will be better.
Some books are easier to approach than others. There are some books that I can't wait to open the cover and dive in. But there are others that give me what you could call approach avoidance conflict. I want to read them but at the same time I really don't. Chris Lynch’s young adult novel Inexcusable falls into this category. It's told in first-person and it's the story of a high school senior athlete who is trying to explain that he is not a rapist. That it is impossible for him to have done something so terrible.
The story is intercut between present and past. In the present he is in a room with his victim, a childhood friend that he thinks he is in love with. He won't let her leave the room until she agrees with him about what happened. His argument is that he's a good person and good persons don't rape people so therefore he can't possibly be a rapist. Being seen in the best possible light and being like is extremely important to this character, whose name is Keir.
The story essentially covers Keir’s senior year, with him describing certain incidents in two ways; what actually happened and what he wishes happened. It takes a skillful writer to be able to carry out this dichotomy without making the characters sounds schizoid. Mr. Lynch does an excellent job showing us the Keir that us severely troubled and the Keir that wants to be a good person.
Inexcusable is quite readable. I finished it in about an hour and a half. I meant to only read the first chapter and then do something else but I ended up reading it all in one giant gulp with that same horrified fascination you might have when you're watching something terrible happen in front of your eyes. That feeling that you should be able to put a stop to whatever is going on, before someone is badly hurt, but being unable to alter the outcome.
You can read an excerpt here:
BTW, the dialogue at the beginning of the book is pretty stilted. Don't let that dissuade you from reading this book. It gets better.
November brings us season one of a show called K-POP Extreme Survival. I was hoping this was going to be a music have powers to tame the Savage Beast sort of thing but I was wrong. Instead of being about Korean pop idols singing crocodiles to sleep it's about a girl who pretends to be a boy so that she can become part of a K-Pop group. 4 reasons. To do with love.
Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, which has been garnering tons of buzz, debuts on the 25th. Six children's Christmas offerings bow on the first; most of which are Thomas and Friends related. Burn After Reading, by the Coen Brothers, debuts on the 16th, along with season three of The 100.
In addition Netflix presents 3 films about the political cycle. Two of them are from this year and one of them is from 2009.
This month we get ready to say goodbye to some beloved and reviled shows and films. Fan favorites E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and four seasons of Courage the Cowardly Dog are going bye-bye. The Powerpuff Girls, all six seasons, are flying off into the sky while Legally Blonde one and two also bow out. At the other end of the spectrum, gritty films Urban Cowboy, Deliverance, and Fatal Attraction head for the hills.
Special Political Bundle: this trilogy of terror is available now.
Election Season 2016
Funny or Die Presents: Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal: The Movie (2016)
In the Loop (2009)
Undecided: The Movie (2016)
The African Queen (1951)
Bob the Builder: White Christmas (2008)
Candyman 2: Farewell to the Flesh (1995)
The Confessions of Thomas Quick (2016)
The Doors (1991)
The Heartbreak Kid (2007)
Jetsons: The Movie (1990)
King's Faith (2013)
Love, Now (2012)
Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You (2016)
Pervert Park (2014)
Stephen King's Thinner (1996)
Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990)
Thomas & Friends: A Very Thomas Christmas (2012)
Thomas & Friends: Holiday Express (2012)
Thomas & Friends: Merry Winter Wish (2010)
Thomas & Friends: The Christmas Engines (2014)
Thomas & Friends: Ultimate Christmas (2009)
Food Choices (2016)
Meet the Blacks (2016)
The Crown: Season 1 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Dana Carvey: Straight White Male, 60 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
The Ivory Game (2016) - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Just Friends (2005)
World of Winx: Season 1 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Danger Mouse: Season 2 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
All Hail King Julien: Season 4 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Case: Season 1 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Estocolmo: Season 1 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Roman Empire: Reign of Blood: Season 1 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Tales by Light: Season 1 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
True Memoirs of An International Assassin (2016) - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Under the Sun (2015)
Take Me to the River (2015)
Chalk It Up (2016)
Carter High (2015)
Dieter Nuhr: Nuhr in Berlin - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
K-POP Extreme Survival: Season 1
Men Go to Battle (2015)
The Missing Ingredient: What is the Recipe for Success? (2016)
The 100: Season 3
Burn After Reading (2008)
Jackass 3.5: The Unrated Movie (2011)
Lovesick: Season 2 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL (Formerly known as Scrotal Recall)
Paranoid: Season 1 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
The Battle of Midway (1942)
Beat Bugs: Season 2 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Colin Quinn: The New York Story - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Divines (2016) - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Prelude to War (1942)
San Pietro (1945)
Sour Grapes (2016)
Tunisian Victory (1944)
Undercover: How to Operate Behind Enemy Lines (1943)
Why We Fight: The Battle of Russia (1943)
WWII: Report from the Aleutians (1943)
Mercy (2016) - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Penguins: Spy in the Huddle: Season 1
3%: Season 1 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Michael Che Matters - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Silver Skies (2016)
Ghost Team (2016)
I Dream Too Much (2016)
The Jungle Book (2016)
Level Up (2016)
The Addams Family (1991)
Almost Famous (2000)
Angel Heart (1987)
Bratz: The Movie (2007)
The 'Burbs (1989)
Can't Hardly Wait (1998)
Chuck: Seasons 1-5
The Core (2003)
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Echelon Conspiracy (2009)
Eight Crazy Nights (2002)
Empire State (2012)
Escape to Witch Mountain (1975)
The Family Man (2000)
Fatal Attraction (1987)
Get Rich or Die Tryin' (2005)
The Holiday (2006)
Into the Wild (2007)
Kangaroo Jack (2003)
Legally Blonde (2001)
Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde (2003)
Major League (1989)
Mansfield Park (1999)
Meet Joe Black (1998)
Mel Brooks: Make a Noise (2013)
Open Season (2006)
Open Season 2 (2008)
Open Season 3 (2010)
Patton Oswalt: My Weakness Is Strong (2009)
Powerpuff Girls: Seasons 1-6
Scream 2 (1997)
Sex: My British Job (2013)
Shameless: Series 1-10 (UK)
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)
Something's Gotta Give (2003)
The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (2004)
Spy Game (2001)
The Sum of All Fears (2002)
Total Drama World Tour (2014)
Underground: The Julian Assange Story (2012)
Urban Cowboy (1980)
Varsity Blues (1999)
What Women Want (2000)
The English Teacher (2013)
The Homesman (2014)
Seal Team 8: Behind Enemy Lines (2014)
Naked Among Wolves (2015)
The American (2010)
Let's Go to Prison (2006)
The Boxtrolls (2014)
Scenic Route (2013)
Ultimate Spider-Man: Web Warriors (2015)
The Boondocks: Seasons 1-4
Chowder: Seasons 1-3
Courage the Cowardly Dog: Seasons 1-4
Uncle Grandpa: Season 1
Robin Hood (1973)
Stuck in Love (2012)
I heard very little about Black Mirror before I watched the first episode on Netflix. I heard it was science fiction and I heard that it was very good. That's it. So I was totally unprepared for the first episode, called The National Anthem. It was some of the most stunning, confusing television I've ever seen. And I really don't want to spoil it so I don't want to go into any details but it begins when a very popular princess is kidnapped and there is one demand only. And that demand is so hateful, humiliating, and bizarre that it's very difficult to take in. The prime minister is asked to do one very specific thing, which of course he immediately refuses to do.
But at its core the story is about public opinion, social media, and how one influences the other and then influences right back again.
This episode is extremely well done with some brilliant and often subtle, low key acting. (I couldn't help worrying about how much PTSD the actor who played the Prime Minister came away with.) It is extraordinary well-written and weirdly believable. I didn't want to believe it, but I did anyway. I found myself laughing at times and then feeling like a terrible person for laughing. I don't know when I'm going to be able to psych myself up to watch the next episode, which I hear is even more grueling; if that's even the right word.
Seasons one and two are currently available on Netflix. Season 3 is debuting in about a week. You can see the National Anthem trailer here:
Kubo and the Two Strings
We have a second run movie theater fairly close to my house. They are actually my favorite kind of theaters. And this one costs I think $3.50. I spent $20 for myself and another person, including popcorn and sodas. That's really not too bad for an afternoon's entertainment.
We managed to go and see Laika House's latest film, Kubo and the Two Strings, on the very last day it was showing. ( I.e. yesterday.) I really like Laika House's work. Coraline was a terrific adaptation and I absolutely love ParaNorman. I don't know why but I somehow missed the Boxtrolls but I plan to catch it in the next couple weeks. I actually didn't know a single thing about this movie before I saw it. Unfortunately I missed the first few minutes due to some miscommunication with myself and my reminder software, but my movie watching partner had already seen it and was able to fill me in.
Kubo is a little boy whose mother has some pretty serious neurological deficits and maybe some PTSD? His father is dead and he's missing one eye. He supports the family with his magic; when he plays his three-stringed instrument he can make paper come to life, turn into origami, and act out a story.
The great adventure begins as so many great adventures (and misadventures) begin; when he disobeys his mother and stays out after dark. This attracts the attention of supernatural creatures who have been hunting for him and his mother since he was an infant. His mother uses the last of her magic to help him escape and soon he is on his own, with only a paper samurai and a monkey charm for company.
But after he collapses in the snow he awakens to discover that the monkey charm has now turned into a full-sized what to me looks like a Japanese macaque also called a snow monkey. Soon they meet a Samurai/beetle, played by Matthew McConaughey. He always seems a little strange to me and when I saw his character scuttling across the ceiling I thought to myself if Matthew McConaughey could scuttle across the ceiling in real life I bet he would do it all the time.
There are some lovely quiet moments in the film but mostly there is lots and lots of adventure. Once Kubo escapes from his village he and the monkey go on a quest to find a set of magical armor; the Sword Unbreakable, the Breastplate Impenetrable, and the Helmet Invulnerable. Of course each separate piece takes them to a difficult and or terrifying obstacle that needs to be conquered.
Kubo and the Two Strings is a gorgeous creation, with some scary creatures that are beautifully crafted. If you stay for the credits you can see some of the work that went into creating an enormous skeleton that Kubo and his friends have to fight.
You can watch the trailer here:
This week's bonus treat is a video of two valiant people helping a bear in trouble.
Let me show you two quick clips from Teen Wolf. One is Gerard (Aka Grandpa Werewolf Hunter) finding out he has been poisoned and flipping out.
The second one is Deucalion, an even more histrionic character, pontificating about how wonderful and amazing he is. Destroyer of worlds! Demon wolf! Yadda yadda yadda.
I think the first clip is from season two and the second is from season three. They are so over the top and ridiculous, especially the lightning strikes punctuating Deucalion's boasts. They are hilarious. And I can go back to watching the show after the actors finish chewing up the scenery and enjoy myself.
But when I try to get through the intense silliness that is the first half of season two of Gotham, my enjoyment level drops to a two. This after really enjoying season one. The consensus in my house is that Teen Wolf gets away with extremes because it's campy, but Gotham takes itself too seriously.
Three Men in a Boat
Also in the silly camp, but with some surprisingly deep and pressing topics intermixed, is Jerome K. Jerome's classic novel Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog). Written just about a century ago, it's the story of three men, who call themselves lazy and hypochondriac, and a little Terrier taking a trip up the Thames. Interspersed with the travelogue are some anecdotes. Most of the book is very funny, as in one chapter about fishing where every person in a bar insists that they are the onesbwho caught a big fish on the wall. And then they accidentally knock it down and it cracks into a million pieces because it's made out of plaster of Paris.
But there are some much more somber notes in the middle of this light-hearted story. Such as when they find the body of a poverty-stricken woman who drowned herself. Unfortunately this was a real problem around that time with what were called surplus women. Women who weren't married, couldn't find a job, or had been "ruined", were often in deep trouble and shunned by Polite Society. Amanda Quick writes about this phenomenon alun one of her historical novels.
However the parts that are funny are very funny indeed. Not only is Mr. Jerome excellent at describing his trip and the foibles of his fellow humans, he also predicted the future. He talks about how collector's items are just old and wonders if his current day ordinary objects will become cherished hundreds of years in the future. But they already are. He specifically mentions blue and white plates, which are definitely something that people collect, as well as other items that I frequently see at estate sales. He says, "The “sampler” that the eldest daughter did at school will be spoken of as “tapestry of the Victorian era,” and be almost priceless." I wouldn't say priceless but older needlework tends to do well at auction and estate sales.
Even if you don't read the whole book you should definitely read the beginning where he describes he and his friends' hypochondria. It's quite good.
You can read the entire thing here: http://www.authorama.com/three-men-in-a-boat-1.html
Despite the fact the fact that there are more recipes available, that take less time to find, than at any time in the entire history of mankind, I still can never figure out my menu for the week. It's almost like there are too many choices so I can't even begin to narrow them down. And somehow we end up eating the same meals over and over again.
In an effort to make the menu planning process easier, I recently got a trial run of three magazines. All of these happened to be on sale for $5 a year on Amazon, which made it fairly easy to justify the expense. One of them, Bon Appétit, I didn't care for it all. (I cancelled that one after flipping through one issue.) The second one, Eating Well, was good but kind of dull.
But the third one, called Saveur, was quite interesting, has some tasty-looking recipes, and the current is all about the origins of foods. (And some drinks, including wine.) They look at everything from eggs and chickens became so popular to how soy sauce was invented to how and why Sushi became more popular once it was put on conveyor belts. I did have a quibble; they said that Native Americans didn't eat eggs because there were no chickens butt people have been eating other types of eggs for a long time. Basically if we saw an animal eating it we gave it a try. And there are plenty of animals that lay eggs of all types.
The pictures are gorgeous and the recipes look interesting. I'll definitely hang onto this subscription for awhile. You can check out their website here: http://www.saveur.com
This week's bonus treat is a video if a robot making peanut butter chocolate balls. (Spoiler alert - it's not really a robot.)
The Pickwick Papers
I have been reading so many books recently that if I tried to include them all this column would be about a mile long. I finished the Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, which I enjoyed much more than I thought I would. It's a peculiar novel in that it is full of anecdotes that are essentially short stories. It's Mr. Dickens' first novel, originally published under the name Boz, and it foreshadows the themes he will write about for the rest of his life; mainly the horrors of poverty and debtors prison.
I also read a YA novel about a fat girl who doesn't want to let her body define her called Dumplin' by Julie Murphy. Dumplin's mother is a former beauty queen and still fits into her pageant dress. As Dumplin' feels more and more alienated from her friends, her mother, her former coworkers and her sort of ex boyfriend, she decides she is going to enter this year's beauty pageant, which begins a journey she finds very surprising. Perhaps she didn't know herself as well as she thought she did. Or perhaps societal expectations are much stronger than she gave them credit for. You can read the first 13 (!) chapters here: http://www.epicreads.com/blog/sneak-peek-dumplin-by-julie-murphy/
Half a King
I finished Half a King by Joe Abercrombie, which is about a young man with a deformed hand who becomes king when his father and brother are murdered. He has been planning on becoming a minister and is a terrible fighter, in a culture where being a warrior is the definition of being a man. Once he becomes king things go downhill, until he is pretty much as low as you can get in his culture. This was a fairly interesting read in general, but the part I liked the best was the middle of the book, when he and several other characters are trying to survive both fire and ice, while being chased by a bunch of murderous lunatics. The rest of the story with the betrayals and revenges was okay, but as I have stated numerous times revenge fantasies are not my thing. You can read an excerpt here: http://www.joeabercrombie.com/books/half-a-king/an-extract-from-half-a-k...
Etiquette and Espionage
Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger unfortunately failed to truly engage me. I thought the concept was adorable and I was excited to read it, but the story and the writing itself left me feeling rather tepid. A young girl, called Sophronia, is bundled off to finishing school. She's the youngest in her family and she's a bit of a tomboy and a hoyden. So of she goes to finishing school where her mother thinks that she's going to become a polished model of good manners. But instead this finishing school teaches you how to finish people off, how to spy on people, how to gather information and all sorts of other useful things bad most 19th century young ladies were definitely not expected to be able to do. The plot of this first book revolves around a device that someone is hiding and that bad guys are looking for. There is a cute little clockwork dog and plenty of exploration and adventure but somehow the parts that I liked never cohesed into something I could love. You can read an excerpt here: http://www.tor.com/2013/01/31/etiquette-a-espionage-excerpt/
I believe that Tourist Season is Carl Hiassen's first novel. The novel is about a group of people who want to drive everyone out of Florida and return it to its natural state. Pitted against them are a reporter turned investigative detective, his former editor, a police officer, and a few others. Mr. Hiassen has a knack for teaching his readers about problems while still entertaining them. While the methods of these eco-terrorists are terrible, it's very easy to sympathize with their cause. This novel isn't as good as some of his later work but it's definitely worth a read. I particularly enjoyed a beauty queen character who isn't the sort of fluffy headed dingbat with that much of Pop Culture would have us believe she should be.
I'm rereading Ann Lecke's outstanding trilogy Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy. I read the first two for Hugo Awards voting last year and then I got the third one the day it came out. This series is the best thing that I read in 2015. I just got them for my son for his birthday and I'm rereading his copies. I wish I could read them again for the first time. I love them that much.
Set in a vast, ancient space empire, Ancillary Justice is the story of a woman named Breq who has lost everything and is looking for either revenge or justice, depending on how you look at it. I'm not usually a fan of revenge stories but this one is so intricate and so well told that it didn't matter to me that it was about a topic I usually find kind of distasteful.
I've heard a couple of complaints from people who had a hard time with this book because the Radchaai, the main race we encounter, don't differentiate between genders. They call everyone she. So some people don't like this and some people have complained that it's too hard for them to try to keep track in their mind if he's actually male and who is female. I'm puzzled by this. It literally does not matter what gender they are. This is a society that just doesn't care. If it doesn't care to them it shouldn't care to the reader. In that sense it has a little bit in common with the Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin, in which the characters can change gender. Our society is really hung up on people acting feminine or masculine depending on their genders, so it's refreshing to read stories where it's not important at all. I really could not recommend this series anymore strongly. It's a must read. You can read an excerpt from Ancillary Justice here: http://www.orbitbooks.net/excerpt/ancillary-justice/
This week's bonus treat should be interesting to history buffs and those who watched the Hatfield and McCoy mini series that ran a couple of years ago. It is a collection of items pertaining to one of the people chosen to hunt down one of the members of this blood feud, Johnse Hatfield, following the murder of Alifair McCoy during the New Years Night massacre. There is some paperwork, a detective's badge and a photo of the detective.
Ready for the lowdown on Netflix's October offerings and vanishings?
October brings falling leaves, Halloween and season five of American Horror Story – the one with Lady Gaga that takes place in an extra spooky hotel. On the comedy side we get the Grinder, season one, a show I very much enjoyed, as well as iZombie season two, another winner. For the kids we have shows featuring Winnie the Pooh, My Little Ponies, and Skylanders.
This month we get ready to say goodbye to some beloved and reviled shows and films. If you can't get enough of people tapping their bottle covered fingers together and saying Warriors come out to play-ay, you'll be deeply saddened to see that the 1979 movie Warriors is leaving on the first. Why not have a double feature movie night, pop up some popcorn and watch Warriors and The Running Man, the terrible adaptation if the novel by Stephen King's alter ego, Richard Bachman, which goes away at the same time? We also wave goodbye to eight seasons of Psych and Heroes seasons one through four.
See below for a selection of titles that will be added to Netflix in October 2016.
All titles and dates are subject to change.
A Cinderella Story (2004)
Barbershop 2: Back in Business (2004)
Blue Streak (1999)
Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
Dazed and Confused (1993)
Dr. Doolittle: Tail to the Chief (2008)
Fairy Tale: A True Story (1997)
Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
Gentleman's Agreement (1947)
Ghost Town (2008)
Grizzly Man (2005)
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003)
Murder Maps: Season 2 (2015)
My Little Pony Equestria Girls: Legend of Everfree (2016)
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
Picture This! (2008)
Pooh's Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin (1997)
The Queen of the Damned (2002)
Quiz Show (1994)
Saving Mr. Wu (2015)
Snake Eyes (1998)
Snow Day (2000)
Three Kings (1999)
The Uninvited (2009)
Unsealed: Alien Files: Season 4
Without a Paddle (2004)
American Horror Story: Hotel (Season 5)
Dartmoor Killing (2015)
The Flash: Season 2
The Grinder: Season 1
Arrow: Season 4
iZombie: Season 2
13TH (2016) - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Dinotrux: Season 3 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
The Ranch: Season 1 Part 2 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Russell Peters: Almost Famous - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
The Siege of Jadotville (2016) - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Supernatural: Season 11
The Originals: Season 3
Vampire Diaries: Season 7
Kuromukuro: Season 2 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Love Between the Covers (2015)
Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids (2016) - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
DC's Legends of Tomorrow: Season 1
Mascots (2016) - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Haters Back Off!: Season 1 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Project MC2: Season 3 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang (2016) - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Being George Clooney (2016)
Chapo: el escape del siglo (2016)
Glitch: Season 1 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Power Rangers Dino Super Charge: Season 1: Part 1
Dark Matter: Season 2
Black Mirror: Season 3 (Part 1) - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Containment: Season 1
Joe Rogan: Triggered - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
The Mr. Peabody and Sherman Show: Season 3 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Word Party: Season 2 -NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Doctor Foster: Season 1
Big Eyes (2014)
Jesus Camp (2006)
Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)
7 años (2016) - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (2016) - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Into the Inferno (2016) - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Skylanders Academy: Season 1 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Trailer Park Boys: Out of the Park: Europe - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
The Fall: Season 3 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Chewing Gum: Season 1 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
The following titles will be disappearing in October. Better watch them while you can.
10.0 Earthquake (2014)
Back to the Future (1985)
Back to the Future Part II (1989)
Back to the Future Part III (1990)
Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)
Deep Impact (1998)
Erin Brockovich (2000)
The Exorcist (1973)
Heroes: Season 1-4
Honey 2 (2011)
Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (2001)
Mr. Deeds (2002)
My Girl (1991)
Nick of Time (1995)
The Phantom (1996)
Psych: Seasons 1-8
The Running Man (1987)
Saturday Night Live: The 2010s: Season 38
Uncommon Valor (1983)
The Warriors (1979)
The Big Green (1995)
Ivan the Incredible (2013)
Marvel's Avengers Assemble: Season 2
The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)
The Interview (2014)
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)
The Truman Show (1998)