Monday, May 30, 2011

On Memorial Day

(And, yes, the cat lasted until about 8:09 before meowing for dinner last night.)

My neighbor had some pieces published in the "Kids' Reading Room" section of the LA Times.  Here's a link to her piece on Memorial Day from a few years ago.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Another Sign My Cat is Smarter Than She Lets On

So, I've been working really hard on the "get sleep" plan.  Most work days (I still haven't figured it out for weekends), I stop doing stuff at 8:00 and just crash on the couch and unwind, so that I can get to bed at a decent hour.

For me, unwinding often starts with dinner, which is eaten in front of the TV.

And I always feed the cat her dinner before I feed me mine.  This initially began as a matter of self- (or, at least food-) preservation, back when she was a kitten.  The only possible way I would be able to eat in peace, without a little feline nose poking around my dinner plate, would be to plop down the cat food immediately before grabbing my own food.  This way, she'd be otherwise occupied (and full) and less likely to steal some of my grub.

So, every day at 8:00, the cat food hits the mat, then I prepare and eat my own food as the unwinding part of the evening starts.  I've been pretty good about this -- except, as I said, for weekends, when it is all shot to hell, because sometimes the TV goes on early in the afternoon, and then the plan falls apart.

It certainly did yesterday, when I was watching TV while surfing the web from about 3:00 onward.

Until the meowing started.  

At 7:58.

Holy crap.  She can tell time.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

This changes everything

Am posting from my cell phone, so apologies in advance for when it fails completely. I'm using swype, too. Swype really does change everything, as it is the first thing that makes me think I can possibly do without a physical keyboard on my next phone.

This opens up all sorts of possibilities for the aforementioned next phone (which I am thinking about a lot on account of the current phone doing the planned obsolescence thing a few months before my New Every Two discount kicks in.) If I needed a keyboard it would be down to the Droid 3.  But of this swype thing works out, I can go for any android phone verizon carries.

Which would be really cool except, amazingly, they don't appear to be coming out with a phone with all the features I want. (Wish I could buy a phone the way you buy a computer from Dell, picking exactly the specs you want.  Yeah, that'd be cool.) So now I'm spoiled for choice and still don't know what to choose!

(Ooo, play is about to start. Let's see if this can post.)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Wolverine Sings

You know, Hugh Jackman must have the weirdest effing career in show business.  As he (superficially apologetically, but probably somewhat gleefully) pointed out in his one-man concert show, which just finished up two weeks in San Francisco, Hollywood knows him as "action hero" (and occasionally "romantic lead"), whereas Broadway knows him as "song-and-dance man," with his biggest success coming as playing extra-flamboyant Peter Allen.

I remember being in the audience when he was hosting the Tony Awards one year, and, during a commercial break, he asked if there were any requests.  Someone shouted, "Wolverine!" and he demurred, suggesting this wasn't the right place.  Thing is, when he's doing a one-man show, it is the right place, because he's trying to appeal to his entire audience ... whatever the hell that is.

(Largely female, apparently.)

.... He mentioned hosting the Oscars.  This is why Hugh Jackman made a good Oscar host:  He will do anything to entertain an audience.  (Are you listening, James Franco?)  Dude was seriously working it -- for an hour forty-five solid (with one small break for a costume change).  Mostly singing, sometimes dancing, frequently telling charming anecdotes, occasionally showing film clips, and -- in what might be the most impressive of all his talents -- working the audience.

To tell you the truth, I actually walked out of that thing thinking he was a good (not great) singer and a good (not great) actor -- but he's got charisma coming out of his ears and, largely because he's willing to work his ass off, what he is great at is simply entertaining.

I've been to shows where there are, shall we say, "Fans" with a capital F.  Plenty of them were in attendance at this performance, and Jackman really impressed with the way he interacted with the fans, giving them what they wanted -- while, at the same time, not letting the crazies interfere with anyone else's enjoyment of the show.  Fan wrangling is clearly an art.  And Jackman is a master of it -- making the fans feel appreciated, but (in a friendly way) putting the kibosh on things when they demand he take off his shirt ... or -- in a moment that could've come off as either amusing or creepy, when one of them reached up and started undoing some of his shirt buttons herself.  Seriously.  Do that with some performers and I expect you'll be watching the rest of the show from the alley, where the ushers have unceremoniously dumped your ass, no refund (beat-down on the way out the door optional).  But instead, he determined she was, in fact, harmless, invited her on stage, got about 20 laughs out of the situation, and not entirely subtlely rebuttoned one (but not, I noted, both) of the buttons she had undone.  Fans walk away thinking he's totally accessible and charming and all kinds of wonderful, and everyone else has a great time.  Win-win.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Moment of Silence

A brief moment of silence, please, for Lie to Me.  Yes, FOX was in cancellation mode earlier this week (when blogger was in you-can't-post mode), and, in the flurry of shows that died (and got more press coverage) FOX also dropped Lie to Me.

The fact that other shows got more press coverage may suggest that the cancellation wasn't an altogether bad idea from a fiscal point of view, but I'm still pretty bummed about it.

I think Lie to Me, like many other TV casualties gone before their time, was the victim of a crappy timeslot.  Or, putting it another way, I don't think I ever watched Lie to Me when it actually aired -- it was always DVR'd, and sometimes I wouldn't even get to it the same day.  (And late DVR viewings don't help ratings.)  Honestly, when they put the show on hiatus, I thought it made my Mondays easier -- although I still missed the show.  

Figuring that Lie to Me would appeal to the same audience as House -- you know, what with a really good British actor playing a know-it-all character who reads people really well and generally pisses off everyone around him -- Fox put it in the timeslot right after House.  Which seemed like a good idea on paper, but if you like both shows, you probably don't really want to watch one right after the other (what with the similarities being more apparent that way).  Not to mention that they're both running opposite Dancing with the Stars, and if you get your DVR working overtime, you can generally manage to fit House in before you flip back over to ABC for Castle (which I'm sure is also aiming at the same demographic), and Lie to Me just sits there waiting to be picked up later in the week when there's nothing else on.

But here's the thing, and it finally hit me last season -- Lie to Me is actually better than House.  It's not better than House ever was -- but House has been on a fairly steady decline after it became self-aware.  (Right around when it ditched the very first team.)  House was great when there were problems to solve and House was a jerk but solved them anyway, and it was fun watching him manipulate people.  Then House became self-aware and all of a sudden it was about Cuddy and Wilson trying to manipulate House into being a better person, and Cameron playing House, and Foreman not allowing House to play him (and they never really knew what to do with Chase, but kept him around 'cause the actor was probably on a multi-year contract) -- and the medical mysteries took a back seat while the writers decided to make the show all about this character.  And they sort of forgot that what made the character appealing in the first place was watching him work.  Look, anyone with two brain cells to rub together knows that House is based on Sherlock Holmes -- and while Holmes is perhaps the greatest literary detective ever invented (or is at least in the top three), nobody wants to read a Holmes story where the main plotline is Watson trying to make Holmes nicer.  He is who he is -- we want to see him doing his thing.  House writers have given that up ages ago.  They want their character (and their show) to evolve.  But every time I catch a rerun from a previous season (which is, like, always, if you have cable), I keep thinking "Yeah, that season was better" -- knowing, deep down, that when I'd first watched that episode, I'd had similar thoughts about the previous season's reruns I watching then.  So, yes, House has been on a steady decline because it has run its course.  It was awesome at the beginning, but they had nothing left to do with this character, and now it's (sorry) limping along as only a ghost of what it used to be.  But we keep watching it more out of obligation than entertainment, and because you never know when Hugh Laurie is going to turn around and do something impressive.

In contrast:  Lie to Me.  It was new and fresh and we haven't seen the myriad ways in which Tim Roth's character could piss people off.  It also had the good sense to give Lightman a daughter (ok, small problem that the actress couldn't really act, but she was improving), so that there was always a person in his life who he had to deal with, even when he'd rather not.  Even if it was a House clone, it was better simply because it was newer, and there was a whole universe of situations they had yet to put Lightman in.  And, at the same time, it wasn't a House clone.  More of a police procedural than a medical one, Lie to Me could do something House very rarely could:  put its lead character eye to eye in a box with the villain and let him push until the truth came out.  You can't very well go eye-to-eye with a disease or a tumor; House's brilliant deductions generally happen when he's alone and we just see the "Aha!" moment.  But Lightman can interact with the baddie (and the victim, too) and keep pressing buttons based on the reactions he's getting.  It was almost like some of the very best Pembleton-in-the-box bits from Homicide -- you just know the detective is going to, quite literally, out-smart the suspect.  And that made for great viewing.

So, goodbye Lie to Me.  Your absence makes my Monday nights easier to deal with, but every time I'll watch House, I'll be missing you.  

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Saw "Thor" yesterday

Was intrigued by the very positive reviews.  I expect one of the Avengers movies to suck majorly, and my initial prediction was that it might be this one.

I preface the following with my not knowing shit about the characters here.  I realize my Geek Cred is on the line, but other than a very rare dabble, I haven't crossed the line into comic books.  Therefore, I had no idea of the original Thor.

Well, no.  What I did have an idea of was the original Thor -- him from Norse mythology -- and couldn't figure out how they'd manage to fit fantasy into a world that was basically science fiction.  I mean, you've got pseudo-scientific explanations for how Tony Stark became Iron Man and how Bruce Banner ended up Hulkifying himself (those darned gamma rays).  But now they've got to co-exist in the same world with a Norse god and I wasn't entirely sure that this was going to, you know, work.

(During the film, I spent a small amount of time actually trying to dredge up what I remembered about Thor from that one chapter on Norse mythology in the mythology book falling apart on my shelf.  I came up with a basic fact or two about Odin, Thor and Loki and... that was about it.  I also had a bit of a giggle when I remembered the last time I'd read something about Thor finding himself on modern-day earth -- a bit in Douglas Adams's The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul.  Especially the passage that begins, "The big man awoke and tried to look up, but could hardly raise his head.  He tried to sit up but couldn't do that either.  He felt as if he'd been stuck to the floor with superglue and after a few seconds he discovered the most astounding reason for this."  That was one of only two times (to date) when I'd found a book to be so funny, I had to just set it down for a couple minutes and laugh my butt off.  Maybe I should read that again...)

ANYWAY, the movie had no problems at all bringing Asgard and the rest into the universe as we know it, so I was pleased.  Also, it moved swiftly and there was lots of comedy and ass-kicking working side by side.  No problems there.  I was a bit annoyed at the whole love story -- mostly because it was underdeveloped and impossible to believe.  If it was wedged in there to appeal to a female audience, it was totally misguided -- the female audience was happy enough with the (completely gratuitious) Thor shirtless scene.  (Commented my friend, the master of understatement, "Thor's pretty.")  I understand it being somewhat necessary for the plot (the romance, not the shirtlessness), but ... come to think of it, I wonder if this sort of totally underwritten romance (with no mental or emotional connection) is meant to appeal to the target teen male demographic in the first place.  (Just throw Natalie Portman in there, call it love, and that's the end of it.)

But, basically, it had everything we look for in one of these Marvel films, and I think Thor will fit in quite nicely with the rest of the group.  It didn't elevate beyond the material the way the original Iron Man did, but it neatly delivered the (somewhat difficult) goods.  Am satisfied.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Power of Theatre

If that there Blogger search function is correct, I've never told you all my Crucible story.

OK, yes, I did some plays in Junior High and High School.  But the only time, in my life, that I actually felt any sort of Spirit of Theatre happening to me was during a cold-read of The Crucible in my High School English class.  (Might have even been Junior High.  The memories, they play tricks.)

Anyway, you probably remember reading plays aloud in English class.  It takes several days, and each day everyone reads a different part aloud.  There is an art to cold reading -- and it doesn't really get taught in High School English classes -- so it doesn't always go well.  I mean, first, you've always got to look a line or two ahead, to make sure you're not missing your turn.  Then, you've got to actually read the line to yourself and figure out how you're going to say it.  But you should also be listening to the other kids reading the other parts in the scene -- particularly the ones who are giving you your cues.  Because you're responding to them (in character), and it's nice if you can actually sound like it when you read.

I was good at it.

There was only one other kid in class who was as good as I was, and he was the class Neo-Nazi.  (Doesn't everyone have a class Neo-Nazi?)  I always held out a sort of hope for him, seeing as he was, in fact, intelligent.  And I figure that, given time, smarts will eventually trump racism.  But, back in school, we had you might call an uneasy peace.  In that we completely ignored each other.

We were on the last day of The Crucible, and (having peeked ahead) I asked my teacher if I could read the part of John Proctor.  He's the guy at the center of play who is accused of witchcraft, and going to get executed for it if he doesn't confess.  He's in a bit of a moral quandry -- confess (falsely) and live, but damn his soul; or go to his death without a lie on his head.  My Aryan friend at the other end of the room was cast as the Judge who was trying to get Proctor to confess (because Proctor's confession would prove that all of the other accusations of witchcraft were correct).

So, here's me, at one side of the classroom, reading Proctor.  And there's him, at the other side, reading the Judge.  And I'm working hard.  I'm trying to scan ahead to see the next line while I'm still reading my own and for the first time in my life, this isn't easy because the dialogue is flowing out of both of us fast.  I felt like I wasn't reading the play anymore -- it actually seemed like the play itself was just coming out through me.

And I could have sworn, would have sworn, that my inquisitor was standing right over my shoulder.  I knew this was not true.  He was at the other side of the classroom; that's where his desk was.  But I heard him right there over my right shoulder and I felt his breath on my neck.  I almost looked up to make sure he hadn't somehow run across the classroom to actually stage the scene, but I knew that if I took my eyes off of that script, the spell would be broken, so I just kept on looking down and kept letting John Proctor's words roll out of me.  There was no more reading ahead for me (or him, I expect), just looking at the page and reading my lines, with the full force of the strength John Proctor finally finds and didn't know he had.

At the end of the play, I looked up, drained.  Class Neo-Nazi was over there, at his desk.  He'd never moved.  But I knew that, for one scene, the spirit of that play had us both.

Quite a few years later, I learned that the class Neo-Nazi had, in fact (as my teacher put it) "stopped goose-stepping across the front lawn."  Apparently, he'd had quite the break with his father when he started dating an African American woman.  Ha!