Monday, February 28, 2011

Little Miss Hail Storm

We sat in the car, watching the little bits of snowy rain pounding against the windshield. An older couple in a car two spots in front of us struggled to open their umbrellas while closing and locking the doors, then hurried as best they could toward the theater. "Let's go for it," one of us said -- probably Caesar as I was too chilled to open my mouth. I shakily pulled the hood over my head and exited the car, slamming the door before any droplets could make their way inside. Poor Caesar -- we left his umbrella back in the hotel room so he tried to hunker down, hoping to make a smaller target for the icy rain.

All this for the opportunity to catch a preview of the musical Little Miss Sunshine at the La Jolla Playhouse.
As with the movie, the musical of Little Miss Sunshine follows the Hoover family as they cross the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona in a beat up VW van, en route to Redondo Beach, CA, so little Olive can compete for the title of "Little Miss Sunshine". Troubles pop up along the way, putting family bonds to the test, but ultimately bringing the Hoover's closer together.

One thing Caesar and I were both curious about was how the road movie would be translated to the stage. In the film, much of the story takes place within the confines of the VW. Scenic Designer David Korins created something unique with the VW breaking apart onstage, doors and roof being carried away by the chorus to reveal the Hoover family seated inside. The actors then powered the VW à la the Flintstones to make it pivot and turn, while at other time using hydraulics to raise sections of the van seats in order to focus on one or two actors. Three different-colored shades with ragged edges served as the backdrop, subtly creating changing mountains and skyline. I haven't been this impressed with a scenic design since the turntable and the barricade in Les Misérables.

The actors were amazing: Dick Latessa as Grandpa, Malcolm Gets as Uncle Frank to Hunter Foster as Richard Hoover and Georgi James as Olive Hoover. The chorus was equally great, with each of the six choristers given the opportunity to share in the spotlight. (Eliseo Roman was hysterical as Bud Garcia, the emcee of the pageant.) But with a powerful voice and fine acting skills, Jennifer Laura Thompson stood out at Sheryl Hoover, the mother and wife trying to keep her family from teetering over the edge.

I liked the music from William Finn and James Lapine, though it wasn't memorable. (Well, with the exception of Grandpa's Advice which we continue to refer to as something else because of a certain word that is constantly repeated.) A few songs stood out for me as good, but -- how to put this -- if a soundtrack were released, I wouldn't buy it.

A few of the sight gags didn't work for me, either. Such as: to show the Hoover's had reached California, a border crossing sign -- the one feature a family holding hands and running -- drifted across the stage, followed by a group representing the family running across the border until a red warning light flashes, and they freeze. Seemed a bit tacky. And the cop who sidled up to Dwayne, gripped him around the shoulder, looked him up and down, telling him he should join the Boy Scouts -- also, very tacky.

Was it worth the cold, the rain, the sitting in a parked car until the hail subsided? I believe so. I enjoyed the experience, if only to see the staging and to see actors I never thought I'd have the chance to see.

Friday, February 25, 2011

She's a Superfreak!

Tomorrow, we head out to catch a preview of the new William Finn/James Lapine musical, Little Miss Sunshine. It's not often that we get to sample a musical that's "in the works". (I think the last one was 9 to 5 which we both loved.) No sound bites from the show, so I'll leave you with one of the songs from the movie. Here's Devotchka performing Till the End of Time:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

OMG! OMG! OMG!

First Time Dead 2 finally arrived! The book containing my short story What the Cat Dragged In! And it has that new book smell to it. Digging the very cool illustrations for each story, too. But wait! There's more! I'm participating in my very first book signing (!!!) on Saturday, March 5th, at Dark Delicacies in Burbank around 2PM, along with Dave Minyard, who has a story in Volume One of the First Time Dead anthology. I'm so excited!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Book Review: B Is for Beer by Tom Robbins

One thing I enjoy about the library is finding weird, quirky, off-the-wall books that I would probably stand in a bookstore reading without any intention of buying strictly because, well, because the book seems a bit off-kilter. Such as with this latest slim volume I discovered by Tom Robbins.
B Is for Beer tells the tale of one Gracie Perkel, an inquisitive 5-year-old, as she attempts to find out what that funny yellow stuff is that her Dad always drinks. Her Mother pooh-poohs away the question. Her father would rather watch the football game. But her Uncle Moe, delighting in her questions, decides that he will tell her everything she needs to know about the foamy yellow elixir known as beer. He secretly lets her take a swig from his can, then promises that for her birthday -- only a few days away -- he's going to take her to the Redhook Brewery to see for herself how beer is made.

Her excitement over the next few days turns into disappointment when Uncle Moe has to cancel the trip. Terribly upset, she goes on a bender, making herself sick, and unexpectedly bringing her to the attention of a very special and magical intruder who plans on showing young Gracie just what all the fuss surrounding beer is about.

B Is for Beer is a charming and funny cautionary tale about all that is good and bad about that wondrous alcoholic beverage beer. Yes, it does seem odd to tell this kind of story with the main character being a 5-year-old girl. But think about it: a child learns by imitating and asking questions, especially of their parents. Gracie sees her father drinking beer, sees how it affects him, and is naturally curious. What Tom Robbins manages to do is to mix the childlike inquisitiveness with an adult viewpoint, crafting a very enjoyable story, and sneaking in a bit of educational subtext. The story doesn't say Beer is Good or Beer is Bad, but presents scenes to highlight both viewpoints and to allow the reader -- or the young Gracie -- to form his or her own opinion.

I definitely recommend this to beer lovers and abstainers alike. A very fun read.

B Is for Beer
by Tom Robbins
ecco/Harpercollins
ISBN; 978-0-06-16727-3
hardcover, 127 pgs.


borrowed book from Long Beach Public Library.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Noise Next Door

2:30 this morning: the cat climbs on my chest, and his kitteh breath rouses me from sleep. I roll over causing him to crawl over to Caesar, then climb out of bed myself to use the restroom. Finally sneak back underneath the comforter and electric blanket only I can't fall asleep thanks to our neighbors in the apartment building directly adjacent. The noisily pound up the stairs and across the walkway, laughing and shouting to one another. A few voices drift away and disappear while three remain, joking, probably drinking, and keeping a general ruckus too loud for sleep lasting roughly 30 minutes. I wonder why their neighbors aren't saying anything, especially the one with the young child who screams every Saturday and Sunday morning non-stop beginning at 6AM. I also wonder why I hope someone else will take care of it instead of opening the window and asking them to keep it down. Maybe I don't like confrontation. Maybe I doubt it will do any good. Maybe letting the neighbors know that I'm the one complaining for fear of retaliation. The college-aged kids next door -- and I will call them kids because that's how they act -- seem to lack respect for others. Once confronted, they tend to go out of their way to make life a living hell for those who rat or complain. Clanking bottles during the wee hours of the morning. Mischievous laughter and trampling along the walkway shortly after the lights go out. Anything just to mess with people.

Eventually, the voices fade away, and I manage to drift back to sleep. Before the alarm blares The Cure announcing time to get ready for work.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Gaming

Foursquare: I've quickly become addicted to foursquare. I didn't think the silly game for my phone would take such a hold, yet I find myself pulling out the phone and checking in wherever we go. So far, my checkins have earned 21 badges, with these being the most recent:

Does anyone know of a foursquare self-help group?

Gowalla: After emailing their customer support and responding with the information they requested, not a word was heard from them so after a week, I started using foursquare. Then . . . three weeks later, I finally received an email telling me that the problem was fixed and that I should re-install the app. That was it. Nothing about my original question regarding what permissions the program needed to operate on my phone. I did so reluctantly but ran into the same issue from before. All I wanted was to know the permissions which for foursquare can be found in their FAQs. So I give up.

Cursed Mountain: I'm getting into this horror game for the Wii. I'm still in the first stages of Cursed Mountain, but already I like the graphics, the gameplay, and the story, which piques the horror node in my brain.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Book Review: Three Tales by Gustave Flaubert

You would think that by having a BA in French, I would know that Gustave Flaubert authored more than one book. And yes, I did read Madame Bovary for one of my literature courses during college. However, I wasn't much of a fan of the novel so I never bothered to learn about any other books or stories he may have written. Then, last Saturday while browsing the books at the library, I discovered a thin volume containing three tales written by Flaubert, and decided to give it a try. (Of course, it did help that the book stretched bafrely past the 100-page mark.)
A Simple Heart tells the story of Félicité, a young woman who begins work as a house servant after her chance for true love evaporated in the blink of an eye. It didn't really strike me as a story but more of a portrait of the young woman, finding comfort in what little she has, striving to always do good by the family for whom she works thought they seem to pay little attention to her wants and needs, and always maintaining her faith when others would start to falter.

In The Legend of Saint Julian the Hospitalier, the young Julien is pre-destined to become a saint from birth, based upon visions witnessed by both his parents, and the two treat him as such, delicately, making sure he has the proper education and spiritual nourishment. Yet after an innocent run-in with a mouse during church, he becomes quite a little demon when it comes to the treatment of animals. His cruelty increases day by day, until one afternoon while on a hunt, he slaughters an entire valley of deer but is cursed by the one remaining stag and his life changes forever.

The stark and bloody imagery seemed a bit contrary to what I would expect from the someone destined to be a saint. I had a difficult time accepting his sainthood when it finally arrived.

Herodias is a re-telling of the beheading of John the Baptist by Herod at the request of Salomé. I found this tale very confusing thanks to too many characters and encountered much difficulty trying to keep the story straight in my head. And oddly enough, the title character, Herodias, was hardly seen as was her daughter Salomé.

Three Tales was an interesting read. And I use "interesting" like my Mother, who uses the word for anything she doesn't particularly enjoy but doesn't want to offend anyone.

Three Tales
by Gustave Flaubert
Oxford University Press
ISBN: 9780199555864
softcover, 117 pgs.


borrowed from Long Beach Public Library.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Illusionist
Sunday evening, my friend Clark and I caught a screening of the animated film The Illusionist, one of the three films nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards. I've eagerly been anticipating the release of this film in the States since viewing the trailer last November. I enjoyed the Director's last film -- The Triplets of Belleville -- and this looked to be equally enjoyable.

And we were not disappointed.

The Illusionist follows an illusionist, one of the few remaining vaudeville-style performers striving to keep his art alive, as he finds himself out of work thanks. He travels from Paris to Scotland, trying his hand at small theaters, but finding himself almost left behind as rock and roll begins to emerge more readily on the scene. While performing on a small Scottish island in honor of their first electric bulb, he meets a teen-aged girl who is immediately swept up in the magic he creates, so much so that she secretly follows him to the boat leaving the island and attaches herself to him. They find a small apartment in Edinburgh and set up a makeshift home. While he spends his evenings performing at the theater, she wanders around town, eying the people, the fashions, things she doesn't have but wants. While she wishes, the illusionist does his best to keep the realities and hardships of the city from her: the decline of his type of work, the changing attitudes, the changing people, the changing world.

An animator presided over a discussion after the film and talked about different aspects of the animation such as the light effects to re-create Edinburgh, the look of the characters, even the hours spent creating a 6-second rain sequence. All that work paid off, because this was some of the most stunning animation -- mostly hand-drawn -- that I've seen in a long time, harkening back to Disney film styles like 101 Dalmations. The animation played a much larger role than simply looks as the film has little dialogue. Everything came across through actions and situations, almost like watching a silent film.

As for the story, it was based on an unpublished script from Jacques Tati. Written in the 1950s, he based the story on himself and his daughter but felt it hit too close to home and decided against producing it. Years later, his daughter felt that Sylvain Chomet, the director of The Triplets of Belleville, would be able to best tell the story. And she was right. Through Chomet, all the wonder of magic and the bitter-sweet changing of the times unfold into a charming and heartbreaking film.

Monday, February 14, 2011

An "Author" by Any Other Name

Well, First Time Dead 2 is officially out. And, if you look carefully, you might see something shocking. No, I don't mean the cover. I mean the names of the authors listed. Here: take a closer look . . . .


See that second author listed? That's little, old me! My name officially appears on Amazon.com as an author.

Someone pinch me!

Happy Valentine's Day


To my Sweetie


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Book Review: The Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones
In order to turn his Master's thoughts away from a recently deceased and beloved pet, Captain Asim of the guards suggests a clandestine walk through the streets of the city. The Master agrees and orders Asim to bring one or two guards along with them; Asim immediately thinks of Dabir, the tutor of the Caliph's daughter, knowing him to be quick-thinking and good with a weapon. On a lark during their outing, the Master suggests stopping by a fortune teller whose prophecies appear to have mixed up the futures of Asim and Dabir. Still puzzling over the strange, a stranger crosses their path, pleading with the small group to safeguard an ancient relic from those whom he is fleeing.

Back at they palace, the Maters tells Asim and Dabir of a similar relic in the treasury of the caliph. So while Dabir attempts to translate the strange markings on the relic, Asim fetches the other relic. Soon, the two find themselves traveling across the 8th-Century deserts of Iraq, trying to locate the site of the ancient city of Ubar, believed to have been destroyed by God. But the evil sorcerer Firouz has already set out on the same journey, and Dabir and Asim must stop him before he uncovers the secret of Ubar's destruction and uses that on the city of Baghdad.

The Desert of Souls is an interesting take on the Arabian Nights fantasy, mixing the sword and sorcery with a hint of Sherlock Holmes. That may sound strange, but Dabir the tutor approaches things with a clinical eye, looking for any possible leads, any minute piece of evidence -- such as the lack of blood on Asim's sword and hands after slaying an attacking bird -- and using those clues to piece together a mystery. And like Sherlock Holmes, Dabir presents his findings so as to keep Asim from jumping the gun and making a wrong decision. As a fan of mysteries, I enjoyed that aspect of the story.

Something else I enjoyed were the scenic descriptions, especially once Dabir and Asim entered Ubar. Their reactions to the strange environment and to what they encountered -- from the ghostly visions of a city's destruction to the Keeper of Secrets and his mystical constellation chart sparkling in the sands -- lent themselves well to the fantasy side of the story.

One item nagged at me continually throughout the story, though, and that was the importance placed on the supposed misreading of fortunes. The results seemed to throw most of the characters -- from Asim and Dabir to the Master and the caliph's daughter -- into turmoil, and it was mentioned often within the tale. But I never learned why it was important, and not knowing (or perhaps, not understanding) bothered me as I read.

Yet, the Sherlock Homes-style investigating combined that with the appearance of a soul-stealing djinn and the magicks proffered by Firouz result in a fine tale that any reader of sword and sorcery or tales of the Arabian Nights will enjoy.

The Desert of Souls
by Howard Andrew Jones
Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press
ISBN: 978-0-312-64674-5
hardcover, 309 pgs.


book received from publisher

Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday Music

As my fascination with foursquare grows, I've learned that some locations offer things when you checkin. Like discounts on admission and such. So this past weekend, when we checked in at a Barnes & Noble, I received an offer for $2.00 off any CD on their in-store foursquare display. Luckily, they offered at least one CD I've been wavering about buying, and I took the plunge.: Sara Bareilles' sophomore album, Kaleidoscope Heart.

I'm a sucker for the piano, but she adds great, catchy lyrics and a strong voice. And, it's one of those rare albums from which I enjoy every song, whether it's the playful Gonna Get Over You or the beautifully sad Hold My Heart. The latter is my favorite from the album.

For a sampling of her music, take a look and listen to her latest single, King of Anything:

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Favorite Movies of 2010

I had to come up with my list eventually. What with the awards season in full swing, how could I not? However, since I haven't seen quite as many of the films that are up for awards (yet), my list reflects only what I enjoyed from those films that tempted myself and Caesar to the theater last year.

10. Jackass 3-D: silly, gross humor. And I laughed at every minute of it.
9. Piranha 3-D: a fun tribute to those cheesy, schlocky horror films with nubile women and hunky shirtless college men.
8. Machete: very surprised this didn't fare better because it's a great homage to the grindhouse films.
7. Micmacs à tire-larigot: a clever and charming film from Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
6. How To Train Your Dragon 3-D: a funny coming-of-age animated film. Great animation, too.
5. Toy Story 3-D: Pixar certainly knows how to create a good film, though they could have done without the 3-D.
4. Tangled: yes, I liked this better than Toy Story.
3. The King's Speech: Excellent film that will probably win an Oscar for Colin Firth.
2. True Grit: one of the best re-makes ever, and I usually loathe re-makes.

And my favorite film from last year . . . .

1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

I'm intrigued yet scared to see if they mangle this one with the re-make. I still don't understand why the film industry didn't market the heck out of this one because Noomi Rapace is excellent. Oh well. I guess many American audiences just don't like a little subtitling here and there.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

A Day with the Queen

This may be blasphemous to some, but I'm not that big a football fan. So Superbowl Sunday doesn't hold the same interest for me. (Weren't the Lakers playing the Blue Jays, or something like that?) I suffered through my fill of the sport during both high school and college while performing with marching bands. Too many unwatched half-time shows for which we spent weeks rehearsing and food being thrown at us as we played in the stands. The game leaves a slight bad taste in my mouth.

So my friend Clark and I decided to spend Superbowl Sunday in the presence of the Queen -- Queen Mary, that is. Yet another local venue I hadn't visited in, say, 10 years. The grand ship has been parked in the Port of Long Beach since the 1960s, and I do enjoy roaming along the decks and the halls, admiring the art deco designs, and spending time wandering through the engine and boiler rooms.

The Queen Mary is also one of the more haunted locations in California, and whenever I visit, I always hope to see or ghost or feel an unseen visitor tug at my shirt sleeve. I do believe in ghosts, but want proof of my own that they exist. But, as with Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, nothing ever materializes for me, not even after our Haunted Encounter Tour from today. A guide lead us through all the paranormal hot spots on the ship -- from the engine room to the 1st Class swimming pool and even into a state room that they ceased booking as a hotel room due to ghostly encounters from guests.

That didn't dampen our spirits, and we spent a good 3 - 4 hours after the tour had finished traipsing from deck to deck, snapping pictures from the bridge, admiring the lines of life boats suspending half above deck half above water, participating in a paranormal scavenger hunt to find other hidden hot spots throughout the ship. I think one of my favorite things was seeing the outlines of old shuffleboard courts that had at one time been etched into the wooden boards of the Sports Deck. Even after all these years out in the elements, you can still feel their raised circles and numbers, imagining someone like Clark Gable or Bob Hope shoving a puck across the polished deck.

Surprisingly enough, I'm exhausted, even as I sit typing this brief post. We climbed enough stairs that I regretted going to the gym this morning. I know my legs will be aching tomorrow!

Friday, February 04, 2011

Book Review: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
This is yet another one of the classic tales of suspense and terror that I think everyone knows: a man who has found a way to tap into his darker side of his personality, only to find himself less able to control those impulses once they are given a glimpse of freedom. How many of us have seen the various movie incarnations, delighting in Frederich March's Oscar-winning performance or even the more recent Broadway musical version? Yet, I never read the book.

So I decided to remedy that, as I have done with Dracula and Frankenstein.

The story focuses on Gabriel Utterson, a lawyer who also happens to be a close friend of Dr. Henry Jekyll. While Mr. Utterson and his friend Richard Enfield are out and about for a walk, they chance upon a darkened doorway, and Mr. Enfield relates an unusual tale about a strange, short, loathsome man who literally ran right over a young girl without stopping or checking on her. When Utterson learns the name of this mand -- Hyde -- he suddenly remembers a will that he reluctantly drew for Dr. Jekyll, involving one Edward Hyde. So begins his mission to learn about his friend Jekyll whom no one has seen for some months. Yet as he uncovers more about he friend, he soon learns the awful price Jekyll has paid to unleash his inner demons.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is definitely a classic, with remarkable writing and very vivid images. The heart of the story lies in describing the duality that hides in all humans -- the light side, which tends toward the good in things, is altruistic, friendly and happy; and the darker side, which relishes in the baser human tastes, violence and a general sense of evil. Through his tampering with the balance of light and dark, Jekyll learns that keeping one from overcoming the other is a difficult, almost impossible task. I also feel that the story sheds some light on addiction. Jekyll describes in his statement of events the white powder he created, how it affected his mood and personality, how it created the wonderful sense of change and power at the onset but over time turned into something more necessary to keep himself sane and intact.

Whatever you take from the story after reading it, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde deserves its place in classic literature as a fine example of suspense and horror and human psychology.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Bantam Classic
ISBN: 0-553-21277-x
softcover, 98 pages


borrowed book from the Long Beach Public Library.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

4sqd

I'm sure all my faithful readers will tire of hearing about my addiction to foursquare. And it is interesting to see how my addiction is contagious. To show just how obsessed I am with the game, take a look at this snapshot:


Keep in mind that I only started foursquare on January 25. I've earned 11 badges so far, with the stand-outs being RuPaul's Drag Race, Jersey Shore GTL, and Groundhog Day. I was so hesitant at first to even download the app, and now, I get the eye roll from Caesar whenever we go into a store or restaurant or some other business/building and have to "checkin".

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Age of Aquarius
Saturday night, I ventured out into the wild of Orange County to catch a performance of the musical Hair. Surprisingly, I had never seen a live performance of the show until then, only the movie version a few times whenever it happened to air on TV. But I knew some of the music. My Brother and I grew up listening to the Fifth Dimension's cover of Age of Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In on 8-track whenever we went camping -- which was often.

So it was great hearing the songs performed live, as they were meant to be, with psychedelic lighting and classic rock jams and fantastic voices. Most of the actors probably didn't need to wear mics, either. And you could feel the emotions flowing off the stage through the very mixed audience -- young, old, gay, straight, etc. As for the story, I found it a bit hard to follow, and from I could make out -- since it's very different from the film version -- the character of Claude is dissatisfied with his normal family life, joins a tribe of flower children, takes advantage of the drugs and open sex, then begins to have doubts about the tribe and his place in it once he receives his draft card. I felt the story took a back seat to the music and to the feeling of angst regarding the war, against racial discrimination, and against being yourself.

My favorite moment was the last seen, when the entire cast gathers on a darkened stage with the snow falling. They begin to join the band, lending their plaintive voices to Let the Sun Shine In. The band's music fades out, but the singing continues as all the actors leave the stage and exit through the doors in the audience. Very powerful and moving.

It's definitely a show worth watching and worth listening to.