Monthly Archives: March 2006

Hic sunt dragones

New episode of Lost this week. So far the show’s season has been, well, uneven. Occasional flashes of brilliance, followed by long patches of mediocrity. Last night was one of the brilliant ones. As regular viewers will know, each week is written around a different character using flashbacks. This week was Locke’s, which is always a good starting point. Terry O’Quinn is a strong performer who can pretty rock anything he’s given. This was no exception. Also featured in the episode was Michael Emerson. One thing I love about this show is the fact that so many character actors are given nice meaty parts in which to shine.

Strong episode, minimal Kate (always a good thing), and a nice big fat juicy puzzle for those inclined to tackle it. Namely a map with equations, Latin phrases, cryptic notes. My favorite phrase is “hic sunt dragones” which translates to “there be dragons.” It’s a phrase commonly found on older maps from the days of yore. Namely when there were uncharted regions. Nothing worse than the unknown, I guess.

House of Cards

House of Cards is one of those films that I’’ve seen bits and pieces of over the years. I finally had the chance to see the whole thing. By the way, lest anyone be confused, this is the Kathleen Turner/Tommy Lee Jones movie, not the wonderful miniseries with Ian Richardson.

Turner’’s archaeologist husband falls to his death in Mexico. A shaman tells
Turner’’s youngest child, Sally that her father has gone to the moon. So Ruth (Katheen Turner) and her two children move back to the States whereupon Sally begins to display autistic symptoms. Ruth refuses to admit there’’s a problem, but as the situation worsens, a psychiatrist played by Tommy Lee Jones is called in. Still adamant that there is nothing wrong that mother love cannot fix, Ruth tries to reach her daughter another way. And succeeds.

The good folks who’’ve written reviews at IMDB are divided on the subject. I have to say both Ruth and the message of the film ticked me off. There seems to be debate about whether or not Sally had autism; some argue that it’s a vision quest.

I don’’t think that’s the point. There are two big problems with this film. The first is that the brilliance displayed by the children with pervasive developmental disorders is glorified by Ruth. Although the psychiatrist character makes an excellent case for normalcy, Ruth never does accept it, which is not only annoying, but a flaw in the script. The second is the ending, which strongly suggests that hey, it is possible to reach these kids through mystical means. That may be an understandable emotional response, but it’’s also dangerously deceptive.

In the category of cool if disturbing

One of the grad students shared this odd find with me. The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death is a book of photographs about the work of one Frances Glessner Lee, an early expert in forensic science. Lee created elaborate miniature dioramas of crime scenes that could then be used for police training purposes. The level of detail is incredible, but the images are disquieting–perhaps because we (or I do anyhow) tend to associate miniatures and dollhouses with children and innocence.

2:30AM TV!

Insomnia is an annoying thing to have. Last night, I fell asleep at the old lady hour of 9:30, missing the last half of Blow Out. Yes, I know it’s trash and possesses no redeeming qualities, but I don’t care. I have dropped two reality based shows from my line-up count ‘em two and I haven’t added any more. But I digress. I woke up at 2:30 AM too awake to get the sleep I needed, but too tired to do anything productive. Been there, done that, more times than I care to admit. My usual prescription is TV and Sudoku puzzles. Unfortunately 2:30 AM also means there are umpteen million channels with nothing but infomercials. My two choices were Her Twelve Men and Donnie Darko neither of which I had ever seen and both of which were already in progress.

Her Twelve Men was a programmer featuring Greer Garson in her last film for MGM. I think they’d hired Deborah Kerr (another elegant English redhead) by then and Hollywood has never been kind to older leading ladies. Garson’s a widow looking for a new direction in life. She becomes a teacher at a boys’ boarding school headed up by Richard Haydn (if you’re too lazy to click, he was the theatrical agent in The Sound of Music). The redoubtable Robert Ryan is the cynical co-teacher and love interest. Schmaltzy and largely forgettable, but I couldn’t help watching. Robert Ryan has that effect on me.


Donnie Darko
was an altogether different kettle of fish. I suspect it would have helped if I’d been completely awake, seeing the film in its entirety, and without commercials. But I wasn’t. Jake Gyllenhaal is the lead. I guess troubled teen may be the closest I can come to the character. Whether he’s schizophrenic or whether his visions are real is unclear. But he’s seeing something, namely an evil looking giant rabbit named Frank. There’s a mess of stuff in there about time travel and alternate realities, but between Bravo’s cuts and my switching between this and the Greer Garson flick, I couldn’t make heads or tails out of it. I’ll add it to the list of DVDs to watch.

Dan Curtis passed away this week. I have a love/hate reaction to his work. On the one hand, he was the driving force behind one of the more interesting and creative soaps ever produced, Dark Shadows. On the other hand, he apparently didn’t have the strongest handle on the soap opera format. In the long run, I suspect that contributed to the show’s demise. All that said, he was a creative man and he will be missed.

Sopranos, Big Love, and more

Finished Belle Ruin. I loved Hotel Paradise which was the first Emma Graham novel in this series. It had an otherworldly quality to it. It was hard to pinpoint the time period. The descriptions of the small, faded town were so well written I could picture the place. Really, it was a lovely, haunting little book. The sequel left me cold. This is the third, and it’s an improvement. Still…it’s not a particularly good mystery. I’m all for atmosphere, but not at the expense of a strong structure.

I was bored the other night and ended up watching Pretty in Pink. I’m not sure how I missed seeing this in 1986, but I did. Too bad because I think I might have enjoyed it more. As it was, I kept going, “Oh, my god, That hair! Those clothes! Is that James Spader? It is! Ye gods. Ohhh, Harry Dean Stanton!” But other than that, the movie wasn’t exactly memorable. It’s hard to get into teenage angst when you’re on the wrong side of thirty and bitter.

Speaking of Harry Dean Stanton, I’ve been enjoying the new HBO series, Big Love. The cast is great: Bill Paxton, Chloë Sevigny, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Grace Zabriskie, the aforementioned Harry Dean Stanton, Bruce Dern, Mary Kay Place, and Amanda Seyfried (who I first saw on All My Children. The subject matter is tricky though. There’s a big ol’ ick factor that will be hard to overcome. Still I’m hooked.

The Sopranos meanwhile, is everything I could have hoped it would be and more. It’s been very metaphysical. I mean the season started off with William S. Burroughs’ Seven Souls. You gotta love that. Edie Falco has been rocking the past couple of episodes. She’s not afraid to take risks in her acting and I’m not talking about going without makeup.

If they can’t even Google it…

You can’t go very far these days without stumbling across articles about Helicopter Parents and the Millennial Generation–at least not if you’re a public services librarian in the academic sector.

The Phantom Professor had a post the other day about these folks and linked to yet another article. Her blog, btw, is fantastic–teaching from the other side of the fence is always worth checking into. Anyhow, one of the comments is from a 23-year-old who claims that her parents are still doing everything for her (taxes, oil changes, etc.). She sounds a little mournful about it all.

If that isn’t an argument for information literacy, then I don’t know what is. This generation is lauded for their proficiency with technology, and yet it hasn’t occurred to this woman to type a couple of words into Google. I realize that this is one blog post, and that it is quite possible that 23-year-old Alicia is a 49-year-old guy named Melvin who lives in his mom’s basement. But I’ve logged in enough hours at the reference desk to notice that being able to figure your way around an iPod does not a genius make.

It’s All About the Food

This weekend my local PBS affiliate was airing reruns of The French Chef with the late Julia Child. The shows I saw were in black and white. They had low production values. She didn’t talk down to her audience. Some of the recipes had she not swapped them out would have taken hours. It didn’t come out perfect every time. But man, the show was all about the food.

In the past couple of years, the Food Network which had already ticked me off for cancelling programs with people who knew what they were doing, has gone rapidly downhill. They’re self-admittedly about personality now. They don’t want trained chefs or cooks. They want to aim for the 15-30 male demographic. The good news is that Giada is probably safe. Even though she can cook, they’ll keep her around for the sake of her plunging cleavage.

I flip betwen PBS and the Food Network on Saturdays. Aside from a few people like Giada and Sara Moulton (and who was cancelled) who know what they’re doing, the FN has their new stars, the over-exposed Rachel Ray, Sandra Lee (or SLoP as she is often referred to) and their newest find, Robin Miller. The last was busy making pasta ahead of time (stored in a ziploc baggie) which is a crime and stuffed porkchops. She stuffed them, barely seared them, and then put them (warm) into another ziploc baggie and into the fridge. Trichinosis anyone?

PBS in contrast has a number of shows like Lidia’s Family Table and Daisy Cooks!. I know that if I try to make these recipes, they will work and they will be good. Moreover, I know they won’t involve a la Sandra Lee packets of taco seasoning and cool whip. The sets aren’t great; the programs aren’t slick, but it’s all about the food.

So I think I need to start upping the ratio of time I spend watching PBS. I will still tune into FN for the snark factor, but I love to cook. I don’t feel a need to make all my meals at the speed of light and I love really good food. PBS seems like the place to be.

Project Runway – the Finale

Yesterday was the long-awaited finale for Project Runway. Things I liked:

  • All the collections were very different – I loved that they were all coming from very dissimilar points-of-view.
  • They gave the “decoy” the same amount of money for her collection. Frankly, I thought Kara Janx was pretty darn strong, stronger possibly than the other three.
  • I liked that none of them seemed to let personality conflicts get in the way of their work. They are professionals. They know what they’re doing and that’s fun to watch.

Things I didn’t care for:

  • Forcing the designers to create a 13th look at the last minute – according to the divine Tim, they thought the drama wouldn’t be there otherwise. I don’t think the producers understand that part of what makes this show so cool is that people watch just for the fashion and the construction. You don’t need manufactured drama.
  • Interrupting the fashion show for the designer voice-over.
  • Less emphasis on how the designers put everything together. There wasn’t the same level of detail when it came to the model selections, the accessories, the hair, the make-up.

As for the collections of the top three, I admit to being a spoiler addict. I was clicking through Getty Images on my lunch hour the day of the show like tens of thousands of other people. At the time, I wasn’t sure about any of the designers. My big question was what exactly was Chloe Dao thinking. Her collection looked like bad 1980s-inspired promwear. Santino’s shocked me in that I liked most of it. Daniel V., well, I’ve liked Daniel V. all along and I think I pegged him as the front runner.

But there’s something about seeing the garments in motion. Santino’s didn’t fit his models all that well, although again, I found myself liking his stuff. I liked it a lot. Daniel’s line is probably closest to my personal taste. But Chloe’s . . . it was totally different from the stills. There was something there. I wish I knew more about couture. I think it was a well-deserved win.

It’ll be interesting to see the next season. I hope to god they allow all the designers to pick different models each week. It would also be nice if they went back to their original number of designers. Too many people just makes for an overly inflated program. Also? I really don’t need to see any of the old contestants on the show again. I just don’t.

You can tell you’re a geek when

You get all excited about new tweaks to PubMed’s searching interface. Over the last couple of years, I’ve gradually come to appreciate PubMed more and more. However, it’s always had its limitations–chief among them that you can’t pick more than one limit in a given category without some really cumbersome searches. It’s also been deficient in the limit choice area. Well, now looks like that’s going to be a thing of the past.

If they would only fix that pesky automatic explode feature, I’d be a very happy camper.

Wasteland

Once upon a time I read widely and deeply. I went to the movies about once a week. I went to the theatre several times a year. There I was working in an office being treated like an idiot by my bosses while I read Anthony Trollope on my lunch hour. Then I went to graduate school.

Now I work in an environment where I’m valued for my intelligence and I watch far too much television, and bad television at that and I’m lucky if I read a book a month. I suppose it could be argued that I’m expending all that intellectual curiosity at the job, but I could also just be lazy.

On the seen and read front:

Two-Part Invention: The story of a marriage by Madeleine L’Engle. My book club picked this. I haven’t read any L’Engle since A Wrinkle In Time. I’m up in the air about this book. I am not fond of memoirs. The author tends to jump around a lot; it’s not an autobiography really so names and dates are vague. I get lost. She was married to actor Hugh Franklin who I know from Dark Shadows (he played a generic lawyer type for a couple of episodes) and more prominently as Dr. Tyler on All My Children. What fascinated me were the connections to other people I’ve read or heard about–Walter and Jean Kerr come to mind. I’ve lost the habit of reading for language’s sake and I need to correct that.

Thanks to On Demand, I had the chance to see The Upside of Anger with the remarkable Joan Allen. Nice performances from Allen and surprisingly, Kevin Costner, but the film has problems. Allen plays a mother of four nearly grown daughters. The husband has left and she descends into alcoholism and bitterness. Costner plays the neighbor who becomes her drinking buddy and casual lover. I would watch Joan Allen reading OSHA regulations; I’m that much of a fan. The film, however, is flawed. They never seem to know when enough is enough. They tried to add in material with the four daughters that took the focus away from where it needed to be.

Also saw some of (another VCR taping accident. Note to self: do not program the VCR when falling asleep) Above and Beyond. Robert Taylor is tapped to fly the Enola Gay. The training and the requisite secrecy nearly kill his marriage with Eleanor Parker. I’m not a big Robert Taylor fan. He looks like he should be doing commercials with the tagline “I’m not a movie star, but I play one on TV.” Eleanor Parker is an another story. She’s one of those actresses that for years I only knew of in one role (in this case the baroness who wants to marry Captain von Trapp in the Sound of Music). I can’t remember what the film I caught her in that made me realized how talented she was (it may have been The Seventh Sin), but I’ve come to appreciate her.