Monthly Archives: September 2004

Discovering authors

So a couple of months ago, the editor of Mystery*File sent me a list of books to select to review and at random, I picked Eleven Came Back by an author I’d never heard of. Mabel Seeley. If you want to read the review, you’ll have to contact Steve Lewis and subscribe, but let’s just put it this way:

Mabel, where have you been all my life?

Apparently, Mabel Seeley was once a pretty popular author and penned a decent number of books (several of which are now being reprinted). A couple of sites place her in the Mary Roberts Rinehart “Had I But Known school, but her protagonists seem a lot smarter than your typical HIBK gal to me.

I’m on my third Mabel Seeley novel and while I can’t say that this is the best of the three I’ve read, it’s still really good.

Too much tinkering?

Just got the Star Wars original trilogy on DVD last night–no thanks to overzealous UPS delivery people insistent on getting me to sign for it (would that my paperboy be so diligent; darn kid has the most expansive definition of my house–next door, the downstairs neighbor, across the street…).

I haven’t watched it all or even most of it yet, but I admit to being nervous. The man will keep “ fixing” his films. If he would offer up the original, theatrical releases as well, I wouldn’t mind so much, but I don’t think Lucas intends on doing that. These are probably now going to be the only Star Wars films out there (unless you’ve got laserdisc or VHS copies of the originals). And frankly, there’s this unpleasant, uneasy 1984ishfeeling I’m left with.

On the other hand, what I did see? Wow. I don’t usually give a flying fig about pure audio and visual quality, but the result is so good, that I have to admit it; I’m impressed.

If it’s set in North Dakota

Finally finished my book club’s choice. I like the members a lot, but honestly, what is so appealing about all of these books set in America’s heartland that feature miserable people doing miserable things to one another? Or almost worse, characters having awful things happen to them? Adversity can be fascinating, but if I wanted to read the Book of Job, I’d go and read the Book of Job.

I’m not a big fan of Oprah fiction; I’m just not. To be perfectly honest, I could do without the America’s heartland aspect of it too. Other people see fields of waving grain or whatever. I keep flashing back to the Centennial mini series scene where it’s the Dust Bowl years and the crazy mother loses it, grabs an axe, and takes out most of her family.

Give me Dear Jane any day.

Road trips from hell

I love it when a movie manages to be amusing and disturbing at the same time. This weekend I caught this weird little flick that I can’t believe I never heard of before. The reviews I’ve found keep stating that it’s a second rate Hitchcock attempt, but I disagree. Slow movie at times, but really quite funny throughout even in the scary bits.

The opening sequence with the car trip is marvelous. Totally brought back childhood memories of journeys, the like of which was so beautifully captured here.

It’s a Game

By now I’ve watched my share of reality TV. Some of it has been better than others. Throughout almost all of these turkeys has been at least one commonality: the notion that ethics and morality don’t apply within the game. The implication–and often outright statement–is that it’s perfectly justified to lie, cheat, steal, backstab, because it’s a game.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve played lots of games in my life and none of my fellow players have ever tolerated cheaters. And while I understand that we’re talking about something a lot different than Monopoly or Scrabble, I find this notion of the reality TV game as ethical vacuum just a tad specious.

Claiming that your grandmother is dead for a dubious strategical advantage is beyond juvenile. Reneging on promises (too many to link to)–well, let’s just say I’d be curious to know how this effects this contestants once they’re off these shows. Intermixed with this deviousness is a fake camaraderie that’s often bizarre. Everyone hugs all the time. It’s like watching Senatorial enemies talking about “my esteemed and honored colleague.” Who the hell do these people think they’re kidding?

Half the time, it all seems like such a waste of time too. A co-worker got me hooked on Big Brother 5 and last night Karen got “evicted.” Can’t say I thought the woman was the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I thought Karen had a couple of good points. She was upset at how Diane a cocktail waitress in real life engineered her removal. In the first place, it looks like Karen was a dead fish in the water for this round early on. The two women had been reasonably friendly and had enjoyed an alliance of sorts. Instead of telling Karen ahead of time that she was on her way out, Diane lied to the woman outright assuring her she was safe. Why? Doesn’t look like Karen could have done anything to stop it. So Karen gets evicted and refuses to give Diane a hug. Rather than tell the woman off, she contents herself with a “thanks for backdooring me.” Diane denies this was the case. And tellingly, after Karen has gone, and her one remaining friend calmly tells Diane it’s no big deal, Diane becomes highly defensive.

A wise person once said “you plays your money, and you takes your chances.” If you’re going to screw somebody over, at least have the common decency to admit it to yourself and the world that that is what you’ve done. After you’ve just announced on national TV that “it’s a game and anything goes,” don’t waste my time defending yourself ad nauseum.

Bits and Pieces

There are some movies that I’m doomed never to see in their entirety or in sequence. I keep seeing bits and pieces of Swimming Pool, which unfortunately seems to be one of those films where you really need to see the whole thing–in one sitting. Not a great movie by any means, but oddly haunting. I’m still not certain that I understand it.

Also caught a chunk of Heavenly Creatures. It was so fascinating that I finally did the smart thing. Looked it up and then made a point to see it the whole way through. The story was based on the Parker/Hulme murder and was directed by none other than Peter Jackson. Some really nice performances throughout, visually haunting, and an overall good plot made this well worth my time and effort to see it in sequence.

Dump & Stir versus Martha

Now that I’m possessed of my own kitchen again, I find I’m watching a lot of programming on the Food Network. My overall impression is that they need some better shows. In their zest to get away from traditional cooking programs, all they have now is stuff with an angle. Not that this is always bad. Alton Brown for instance is an amazing guy and I adore Good Eats.

But I find that the time slot I end up watching is the 6PM to 7PM one and that means Rachel Ray’s 30 Minute Meals goes head to head with Martha Stewart’s From Martha’s Kitchen. Two more different programs I cannot begin to imagine.

The weird thing about the two women is that they both drive me crazy for some of the same reasons. Martha’s over-enuciation and Rachel’s overly enthusiastic delivery grate on my last nerve. I also can’t stand the jargon use by both of them.

That acknowledged, their approach to cooking is diametrically opposed. With Martha, if you haven’t harvested/raised/distilled every ingredient from scratch and you haven’t been to some overpriced specialty store, it ain’t cooking. With Rachel, if it takes more than 30 minutes, she doesn’t bother talking about it, which can be nearly as annoying as Martha. I mean, quick cooking is a godsend, but there are times when a slow cooked meal is really worth the trouble.

That said, I have to say, I prefer shows that make cooking accessible. We shouldn’t be frightened to try new things. We shouldn’t be scared to try cooking at all.

Letting Go

Inspired by TLC’s Clean Sweep, I’ve been going through all of my possessions for the last few months, sorting, organizing, and tossing. I have to say this is one instance where reality TV has been educational.

The show’s premise combines reality TV, decorating, and some pop psychology. A professional organizer, a designer, and a slew of helpers come to the aid of a couple (any permutation of a couple–as long as there are two people) who have let clutter take over their home. There’s a design function of the show, but the more interesting component to me is the part where the contents of two rooms are emptied out on the couple’s lawn, and they have to sort through their belongings. The organizer forces them to take a hard look at what they’ve been amassing and to reassess its importance.

This is not great TV. Don’t get me wrong. But on occasion some of the participants and all of their junk have struck a chord with me. I may not collect M&M paraphenalia, but I do tend to hoard bills. I weed my book collection regularly, but I hold onto videos and DVDs and often end up with duplicates. And for every participant holding onto mountains of weird collectibles and stuffed animals, there’s somebody who has all of their credit card statements for the past 20 years in stacks of boxes.

Invariably, at the end of the program, both participants talk about how good they feel. How much of a burden has been lifted. And although my home has never been nearly as bad as some of these folks, I know there is room for improvement. Armed with some guidelines and a list from one of the better personal finance books out there for real people, this week’s project is clearing out my records.