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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Firefly - Episode 1 Serenity (Mike's Review)

James and I decided to watch Firefly together and each write a review of the episodes.  I am one of those Firefly fans, you know the type that seemingly search out any and all Internet lists or discussions of what were the best Science Fiction TV shows or even just the best TV show and has to mention Firefly.

James only knows the show from his encounters with others of my ilk.

It is an interesting thing to rewatch a show you like so much with someone else who is at fairly skeptical about the show, particularly if you respect that person's opinion on these things.

And strangely the opening of the first episode reflected my feelings.  I wasn't sure how it would go, a little confused and on the screen confusion rained in the ranks of Brown Coats trying to hold a position in a valley.  And as Sgt Reynolds worked at getting his men in order and continuing the fight I felt sure James would become as captivated as I had been when I first watched.  And like Mal by the end of the scene I was still in uncertain territory and perhaps a bit betrayed.  Like his superiors who decided to surrender I had no influence over James reaction which seemed unmoved.

The rest of the episode introduces us to the crew and the ship and a typical job.  They need to unload some smuggled goods.  There are lots of funny moments that I laugh out loud at, only one is shared with James - Wash playing with his dinosaurs.

The character of Book, the wandering preacher, ends up on Serenity because he's looking for a ship not a destination claiming that he's not interested in destinations only the journey.  I think when I first watched this I may have thought that just a cute McGuffinaa to get the character aboard, this time it felt important.  I like he does at one point wonder if I'm on the "wrong ship", not just in this project but often in life.

We're also introduced to Simon and River, a brother and sister, doctor and genius, refugees from the Core or Civilized planets.  Book was looking for a journey and only after embarking does he wonder if he's on the right ship.  Simon didn't want to be on a journey and yet like Book he too has no clear idea of a destination beyond keeping River safe.  River of course only knows she wanted to get away and had no choices at all in where she ended up.

We met Kaylee the engineer, although intelligent and capable which is clearly shown in how she takes care of her ship both the engines and recruiting passengers she's the relative innocent to the rest of the crew.  No horrors of war, no long mysterious past, no one chasing her.  And she's aware of this and still lives her life fully unafraid of the missteps she knows she'll make out in the verse.

I already mentioned Wash the pilot.  And then we have Zoe his wife and war veteran like Mal.  Stable and confident as a rock, yet something trembles insider her I feel like Wash gives her refuge.

Then there's Jayne.  I'm reminded of the Cucumber Monk from my Zen reading.  Wise in his simplicity.  Wise in the way that he knows what he is, and goes full tilt into life with that.

I've talked about Mal and I wont try to summarize him here.

It is fun noticing things I didn't notice or realize before, like the camera shots made possible by the full scale set of the ship they built and the odd cuts trying to create a documentary feel.

The episode ends with Mal having managed to get paid for a job after many missteps, bad choices and good choices, not the moral good or bad just things that go well and don't.  From a superficial view it was a bad few days and things are still tough, but Mal says it's ok because they're still flying.  This doesn't strike me as trite as it might sound reading this.  It is offered again with a full heart, it is truly all he wants at that moment.  And this what I remember loving about the show, the characters so fully living their lives and making those good and bad choices and finding love of life in where ever they are no matter how painful.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Monument Ave - Movie Review

Monument Ave

A list on of movies set in or around Boston caught my attention and this movie staring Denis Leary and Colm Meaney caught my attention.  Set in the 90's and in Charleston neighborhoods I expected to find the setting, characters and themes familiar and hoped for an interesting look at something familiar.  My family history is more closely connected to Southy than Charleston but I knew and hung out with kids from Charleston connections and the two neighborhoods had very similar histories.

As the film opens I certainly felt the familiarity.  I found myself smiling, not that there were jokes but at the familiar foolishness of the guys hanging out in the neighborhood and at Denis Leary's character Bobby's home.  They are caught up in criminal activity, robbing cars primarily but connected to a larger crime organization run by a Whitey Bulger type character played by Colm Meaney named Jackie O'Hara. 

So when they're ridding around in Digger's cab talking about what they're going to do for the night, it felt familiar, not the things they're going to do so much like the drugs but just the feel of being in that car having that conversation.  The smells of cigarette smoke and fake leather car seats in side a cold car with four other guys, the overlapping comments, conflicting suggestions about who to see and where to go, it was all familiar.

The story moves on and introduces Teddy who prior to the events of the film was in jail on a conviction related to some job he had done for Jackie.  And Ted has for some reason been let out early.  The presumption being that Ted got out early by talking to the Feds about Jackie.  We never really learn if this is true or not and it doesn't really matter.

The scene where Ted and Bobby and friends are all together for the first time since Ted came back again brings up feelings of familiarity and nostalgia.  Then Jackie appears.  The uncomfortable chill even as the characters welcome Jackie to join them strikes me as well.  I think of all the guys in my life I've been afraid of and how you just hope they don't take notice of you or if they do that they don't think you're important enough to concern themselves with in any significant way.  I know bolder and perhaps more successful people instead deal with that fear by making themselves not only noticed by valuable.  It isn't a path I've ever been able to walk.  And the film could've taken that turn, I thought maybe that was how Denis Leary's character would deal with it.

Ted is killed by one of Jackie's henchmen, right in front of Bobby and the others.  And they hold the code of silence, saying nothing to the police.  It at once seems so obvious what they should do and why they don't.  Who could be the first?  Who would even risk being the first to ask the group to stand together?  I was right there in that fear with them.

Another character is Seamus, Bobby's cousin from Ireland.  Although he comes from Dublin at a time when he surely saw plenty of violence and hatred it seems the violence he witnesses in Charleston shakes him.  He tells Bobby he wants to go home.

But before he can the police pull Seamus into a police car in front of others right in the neighborhood.  We learn later, after he is shot dead in Digger's cab, that he didn't talk.  But of course that doesn't matter to how someone like Jackie runs their organization, their neighborhood.

Bobby doesn't make himself valuable.  Despite the fear he so clearly has, the uncertainty about what he is or isn't capable of, or perhaps the certainty of his limitations he doesn't confront Jackie but does kill him.  It isn't a heroic act, and when I watched the scene I felt neither elated or sad.  It did feel right.  Not right as in good, right as in it made sense given all that had happened in the film and by implication in the character's lives leading up to the part of the story told in the film.

The acting was pretty excellent all around.  With the possible exception of Cam Neely,  The man was an Outstanding hockey player and from all accounts I know of an excellent guy all around.  All he had to do was walk into a room and look surprised, he didn't even have to talk.  He pulled it off - just. 

This is a pretty wonderful movie in a terrible kind of way.  It felt so familiar even with the evil it portrayed and it isn't easy to see the beautifulness of humanity in the story although it is clearly there.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Review - Mike

I am an enthusiastic fan of the books of JRR Tolkien and the movies Peter Jackson made of the "Lord of the Rings" and I've been in a state of excited anticipation since I first heard rumors that Mr Jackson was planning to make a film interpretation of "The Hobbit".

As it turned out I finally ended up walking into the theater carrying concern about the fact that this fairly short, simpler story was going to turn into three epic films.  I put my trust in Mr Jackson and took my seat.  I didn't leave or squirm in my seat the full nearly 3 hours of the movie.

Well I did squirm a bit, but not for sitting to long, it was right at the start.  The movie opens with a sort of prologue which takes place just a bit earlier in the day of Bilbo's birthday celebration.  He is just then starting to write his book on his adventure to the Lonely Mountain.  Here we encounter the first of several items that don't match how Tolkien wrote down his story.  These things generally don't bother me, certainly there were several of these types of departures in the LoTR films and still those films told an excellent story of comparable quality in the form of film as Tolkien's story in the form of the written word.  What bothered me about the prologue was, it wasn't necessary, it felt like pandering to an audience that didn't need pandering, even people unfamiliar with the books didn't need this preparation if they'd seen the LoTR films.  And even people who hadn't seen the LoTR films didn't need it, the story for them could've started off just as the book did.  At least this is what I think and it seemed like Mr Jackson just wanted to show Frodo and Bilbo from the LoTR movies, token cameos.  That's how I felt watching it and that could be uncharitable based on other elements of the film that seemed to be taken from the appendices found at the end of the LoTR books to provide more depth and complexity perhaps this prologue was a way of introducing the idea that Bilbo at first lied about how he came to have the ring and the fact that the Hobbit as most read it was a children's version of a tale much more series.

I felt the old excitement return or rather I should say my heart filled with part of what my excitement for the film hungered for when the dwarves broke into song and started juggling Bilbo's dishes, and again a short time later when they sang the lament for their lost homeland.

We see the discussion around the map, the key and the plans such as they are, the introduction of the idea that Bilbo would be the burglar and his own hesitation and the doubts of the dwarves but unlike in the book Bilbo seems to not feel the need to defend himself as a stout and capable fellow.  And yet the next morning he runs out of his hole, contract signed after the company of dwarves.

I felt impatient at the lack of attention given to Bilbo's motivation.  I'll get back to this in a bit.

When the company encounters the trolls I felt pretty satisfied that the scene was meeting my expectations, except perhaps that I had always pictured the Trolls as a bit more humanoid.

And there were additions, things not in the book that worked well and I enjoyed.  Like Radagast (a bit of a quibble here though in that why do we get Radagast in the Hobbit where he doesn't appear but not in Fellowship of the Rings!?), that was fun and added to the story.

I enjoyed the Rivendell scenes but as the film moved to a scene showing a meeting of the White Council, Saruman, Elrond, Gandalf and Galadriel we are shown Galadriel standing alone in an archway with soaring music and we are left here for what is probably less than one minute but feels much longer.  It struck me again like a pandering cameo.  But then the scene develops into a good and valuable addition to the film version of the story I thought.  But again a moment at least of impatience.

And at this point I'd like to step back a bit to the Troll scene.  The Tolkien's version is a wonderful example of the quality of his story telling.  It uses the first adventure as an opportunity to show Bilbo practice for the first time being a burglar and also showed well the kind of Wizard Gandalf is, not one who waves a wand or casts a spell at every need but uses small tricks and cunning.  He keeps the Trolls arguing, using their own disagreeable nature against them until sunrise overtakes them.  In the film he get just a bit of that in the form of Bilbo trying to pull this same trick.  That seemed to me a fair enough change to put the focus of the story more on Bilbo but it felt to short for me and then Gandalf uses his staff like he does at the Bridge of Khazad-dum to crack a rock to let the sun shine through.  Too quick, too overdone for Gandalf; these Trolls hardly deserve the kind of effort Gandalf puts into fighting the Balrog.  And so my reason to return to this scene for comment is that it seemed to me more time could've been spent on this to bring it closer to the story as told in the book and not overuse Gandalf's magical powers if other unnecessary aspects I spoke about earlier; the prologue, Galadriel's entrance; were cut shorter.

I don't know what the world would've done without Ian McKellen, in my mind there is no life of Gandalf outside Tolkien's pages without Mr McKellen, no other person could be him as fully as Mr McKellen.  And I felt the actors all did well and fit well their characters, although Thorin I have to reserve a little on, I didn't feel the level of connection to his character I did for most.

I always considered myself more of a Lord of the Rings man, I might still identify with Frodo and Sam more than the other characters, but I also on occasion thought of myself of Boromir and even Strider (if not Aragon if you know what I mean).  After all the Books making up the Lord of the Rings story are much more adult, complex and subtle.  Even with the refashioning of the Hobbit after the Lord of the Rings stories implied a connection the book "The Hobbit" is still the book as it was and it is a simple story, calling it a children's story doesn't seem fair but it is a story a child could read and enjoy.  And it seems this story, as told in the book, is much more a part of my own story of myself than I was aware and I think because of this Mr Jackson's first installment of his film version of the story will have to withstand my sensitivities when he retells part of my story.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Haiku - Modern Reflection

Spidery lines of glass
Reflections on the day
After dropping the iPad

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Book Review: “Nemesis” by Philip Roth

Despite considering myself to be an avid reader and the reputation and work of Mr Roth this is the first novel of his that I have read.

In quick summary the novel is the story of a young man Eugene Cantor, called Bucky, raised by his grandparents in the Weequahic neighborhood of Newark, NJ in the summer of 1944.  He is very athletic, and teaches in the local school and runs the neighborhood playground.  And he wears thick glasses due to eyesight that keeps him out of the war.  A polio epidemic erupts and eventually he leaves Weequahic for a summer camp job in the mountains.  And polio strikes at the camp as well including infecting Bucky.  He ends up cutting off his dreams of a career in teaching and marriage.

The writing style is very much a style I like; at least it felt familiar and comfortable despite this being the first story of his that I have read.  The story is set decades before I made an appearance on city streets, playgrounds, neighborhood stores and lots, but still there is a connection of being a boy in similar settings and I think helped keep me in the story.

And I needed the help.  While Mr Roth’s writing style felt familiar and welcome the central character Bucky became someone that provoked strong feelings of dislike and aversion.
My identification with the characters stayed firmly in Bucky’s shoes.  That may not be uncommon, for the reader to stick with the central character, particularly in a short novel like this one.  The other characters are not neglected but also only really seen through the main character until the very end where we see Bucky through the eyes of the narrator who is finally named.   However, I usually find myself clicking with one or more of the supporting cast as well but not in this story.

It is only now thinking back that I think I realize all the points of similar experience I have with Bucky.  By the time I was in my early twenties I was no longer in a setting like the streets of Weequahic but the streets and empty lots of Winter Hill were not so dissimilar.  Our stand up guy, our neighborhood guardian was still in his teens but older, stronger and more confident than us.  And our playgrounds were mostly empty lots but we played stick ball endlessly, witnessed and relied on our guardian’s protection and mentorship in the games and the ways of the world as we experienced it.  I went to college with hopes of giving back to society.  I know what it feels like to be classified as ‘unfit’ for military service.  And I know what it is like to watch others go off to fight evil while you are safe at home with loved ones.  And my grandfather too often looms large in my life although he’s long since past.

So what bothered me about Bucky?  Of course it wasn’t a fault with Bucky it was my own ideas about who Bucky should be.  And because of all the connections listed above and the skill of Mr Roth in bringing a character to life when Bucky didn’t met that ideal in my head it felt a little too much like my own internal judgments of myself when I fail to live up to my expectations.

I liked Bucky at first, how could I not, a young man who responded so well to the love of his grandparents after the death and departure of his parents, giving back to his local community, giving and getting joy from wholehearted efforts in athletics.  When he stands up to the teenagers from another neighborhood and feels the presence of his dead Grandfather he and I shone with the light of good and wholesome manhood.  Living up to the standards handed down by our fathers and grandfathers as well as mothers and grandmothers.
I never have had to face an epidemic the way Bucky had to.  And like him I expected him to meet it in a certain way.  He and I share a sense of duty that is integral to being a good man clearly there was only one way to respond and at first it seemed he did.

Then after one of the kids he saw as another fine example of developing manhood dies and another cracks under the pressure his own fear becomes clear to him.  And his girlfriend who is away working at a children’s summer camp is afraid for him and arranges for him to come join her where there is no polio epidemic.

He says and thinks all the right things to continue to live up to his and my idea of the man he should be, yet as if his body has absolutely no regard for our ideas of what should be done he agrees to take the job at the summer camp and leave Weequahic.

This was the point at which I could not forgive Bucky.  He was abandoning the kids, letting down his boss, leaving others to take care of his grandmother, reacting contrary to what he and I knew to be the right thing, contrary to the standards set by his grandfather.

At the summer camp he waffles on going back which of course in my eyes only made him seem weaker, less and less sympathetic.  He does finally settle in and finds another young man who like Alan and Kenny back at the playground appears to be the very text book example of a developing good man who Bucky can help usher fully into the world as he imagines it.  This boy, David, is the first to fall to polio at the summer camp and Bucky falls not just to the disease but falls right out of the world although he survives the disease.

What I mean by falling out of the world is he can no longer reconcile the world as is with the world that he thinks it should be.  If God is responsible then he decides he must be outside god’s plan and if not God then he must be responsible.  Again I dislike this character for thinking himself so self important and so blind not to see how he is the one trying to cut out a little bit of the world for his very own and harming himself and others with those cuts.

He survives but his body is no longer the well chiseled athletic machine that it was; he is wheelchair bound for some time and later makes progress in recovery but still needs assistance of a cane and experiences pain.  And for that weakness he ends his dream of being a teacher.  And he cuts off his relationship with his fiancĂ©. 
He ends his engagement to “save her” he says it is his “last opportunity to be a man” he thinks.  I see her as the braver soul, no not brave not only brave, the more wise soul fully loving him as he is both strong and weak, kind but humorless and willing to keep her heart open to him.  He won’t have it, THE FOOL!

The father of the first playground regular to die, Alan, says of his son, “Alan’s life is ended, and yet, in our sorrow, we should remember that while he lived it, it was an endless life.”  Bucky is called humorless in the end and I think that is fitting.  And I think Bucky too had moments like Alan living his endless life.  When he dives and when he throws the javelin.  The narrator recounts Bucky and Marcia’s first time having sex together and afterwards he opens up to her in a way he hasn’t to anyone else, “I was the son of a thief...It wouldn’t have been hard to end up a bum.”  For a moment the world of possibilities opens up and he gives his story and his possible stories to her and himself.

And yet he still wanted to fit all his life into a package that could be held.  Someone must be responsible and to be responsible for something it has to be definable, containable.  Bucky kept finding the world wasn’t fitting into package he made for it and so cut away all he could to make it fit.

I think I too wasn’t able to stop cutting away at Bucky to make him fit the package I had made for him.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Reviews it is

The reviews here will reflect how I respond to movies, TV and books.  I look for the humanity in these things, the way the characters display what is beautiful and what is ugly in being human. 

I like an interesting story and I'll comment on the plot and to a lesser extent the other technical details such as framing, effects, lighting and the like, but I have limited to no real knowledge of what is good or bad.  I'll probably have more to say about word choices and construction in books and stories.

I'll often put in context of my experiences and those include my Zen practice.  And the point of the review will never be a judgement, good or bad, just how I respond to it.

I think this is an interesting approach not because I'm an interesting person and I think anyone reading this should be interested in me and my reactions.  I think as I try to find the story of what it is to be human in the things I review the best way is to explore how the stories, music, films, touch my humanity and maybe that will show you how these things might also touch yours.

I'll also post a poem, mostly haiku, at least once a week.

Next post will be my first subject choice.  A film or a TV show rewatch most likely.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Blog Charter

I am starting this blog almost on a whim.  Actually I offered to maintain a blog for someone else and in the course of setting up a test site I thought perhaps I would jump in myself.

But what for?

I like to spend time doing nothing, accomplishing nothing specific (more on that later), as much as most people.  However, if I'm going to put effort into this I'd like to think I might accomplish something by that effort.


- Provide expertise: I'm only qualified to do this in the field of Information Security and some other areas related to Information Technology.  I don't think I want to do that at home too.  I could provide expertise, or rather related experience, in hiking, backcountry camping.

- Share experiences: Who the heck cares?  I'm a father, I work full time, I hike, I watch movies, read books, practice zen, been married, been in the Air Force, traveled a bit.  I might have some good stories to tell and my experiences and reflections are no less valuable than anyone else and no more.

- Haiku and other poems: I would like to share some.  I might even include short stories in that list.  It would perhaps help keep me more disciplined about producing work.

- Reviews: Should it be books, movies, TV...I'm no expert on any of these.  And yet I've done this on my Facebook page for a while, not for several months though, and I enjoyed doing that and got some good feedback.  I can't provide anything more than so many others, more qualified and more learned in the history of film, literature, TV etc already provide out there but I do think I could offer something.  And I think a review is a good writing practice.

I think I'm on to something.

And oh yes, I know the Greek word I used for the title of this blog "Proseisphora:  an addition to a story" is meant to refer to a structure like an attic or other structural extension to a building.  I just like to play with words like that.