Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Classic Film Review: West Side Story!

West Side Story, taken from the Broadway play of the same name in the 1950s, draws its parallels to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Rival gangs want to "rumble" and the single members within each, Maria and Tony, are in love, surrounded by the hate and animosity of their respective groups.

I won't draw the parallels to Shakespeare here; just suffice to say that the fights, the characters and the lovers all have their counterparts. But West Side Story is not so much about the plot and the at-times one-dimensional characters. It's about the music. It's about the dance!

Wonderful choreography by Jerome Robbins and the amazing tunes by the team of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, just take you away. You can't help yourself, it's so mesmerizing and at times dark and depressing.

The movie, despite light tunes like "Tonight", and "Maria" has its dark overtones. The murder of two of the gang members and Tony's involvement, the betrayal and lies after the attempted rape of one of the Puerto Rican women by the Jets and Maria's final act makes for some somber storytelling.

But as in Shakespeare, this is a tragedy, and as a tragedy will be dark but will also give the viewer hope for a love gained and lost.

The production values are quite high. The cast can't help themselves but to dance as they walk, dance as they stroll, dance as they match each other stride for stride, movement for movement. A wonderful, electrifying experience!

11 Academy award nominations and winning ten. This was a big film for Natalie Wood (Gypsy, Splendor In The Grass) and her co-star Richard Beymer (The Longest Day, Twin Peaks).

The amazing choreography is just to die for. I'd love to see these performed on stage someday.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Book Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King!



Doctor Sleep

This past year I’ve read two King novels:  11/22/63, about an alternate history to the Kennedy assassination and Doctor Sleep, a supposed sequel to the excellent The Shining.

The Shining was a fun, scary book to read.  Dan’s father and mother take over as caretakers to the Overlook Hotel in Colorado where, by the way, a horrible murder by the father of the family of the previous caretaker occurred.  They need Jack (Dan’s father) to take over. 

Unlike the movie which ignores what the Shining is, Dan’s father, a recovered alcoholic, tries to kill his family and give his son over to the evil that lurks there.

OK, Doctor Sleep fast forwards to Dan’s life – he’s just like his father – alcoholic, abusive, criminal.  His mother, never developed in this story, dies, and so does his mentor, a cook from the Overlook who also has the Shining. 

First Impressions:

The story drags on and on about Alcoholics Anonymous, Dan’s adventures along the East Coast seaboard, his near miss car accident and a mysterious thing on the road that is never explained. 

After a couple hundred pages of this the reader is introduced to two characters:  The True Knot, a group of vampire-like people who suck up the Shining of children – they torture and kill them, then suck up the Shining.  Creepy.  And this drags on and on.  Do I really want the detail of every person in the group, what their hang-ups are, and so on?  Really?  A past history would have been better, but oh well.

Another is Abra – who as a baby freaked out at the same time as the 9/11 disaster in NYC.  Turns out she has the Shining too, much more powerfully than Dan did. 

After that intro we again go into Dan’s world.  King drops the alcoholic nightmare stuff and briefly involves the reader in Dan’s hospice work, how he helps the dying go to the “other side” with the help of a psychic cat.  Yikes!

Finally, finally, The True Knot, Abra and her parents and Dan meet and though somewhat anticlimactic, is a satisfying end to the tale. 

Conclusion:  

You need the patience of Job to finally get to the end of this dragging behemoth of a novel.  It does not have the pace of The Shining, nor does it have the interesting many-faceted characters from 11/22/63.  What it does have is some interesting views of how an American teenager deals with her psychic powers – which was the most entertaining part of the book.  Too bad I have to get to page 400 to find that out! 

Three stars, Mr. King. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

2014 Chinese New Year Parade & Photos - San Francisco

Chinese New Years is always a fun parade to shoot, but only if you're in the right place.  I had a very hard time finding a decent lighted platform.  Should have brought my flash unit.  Very crowded, several people deep.  Managed to save about 100 of 400 shots taken, not a great percentage in my usual event-mode.  Pentax K-5 came through very well.

See more on Flickr sets, scroll around looking for 2014 Chinese New Year

Some pix:
















Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Classic Film Review: Citizen Kane!



I got the two disc DVD set of Citizen Kane.  The film was quite controversial of the time and RKO Pictures originally was not going to play it because of the pressure put to bear by William Randolph Hearst, famous newspaper magnate and philanthropist.  Even to this day, the Hearst Corporation has its fingers in every pie:  radio, television, cable, satellite broadcasting, etc.  Hearst did not like that Orson was making what amounted to an unauthorized criticism on Hearst himself.

Similarities?  Oh yes!  Although the names were changed, the film follows Hearst's life to a Tee, with a lot of creative license being taken. 

Charles Foster Kane at the beginning of the film is being taken away as the family can no longer have him.  His mother is played stoically by Agnes Moorhead, a strong character actress in her own right (well before "Bewitched!" the cheesy sitcom of the Sixties.).

Kane gets a newspaper, expands his empire, builds a castle (in Florida rather than San Simeon (current location of Hearst Castle), collects art as well as pretty girls, runs for office, confronts scandal and finally dies, dropping a snow globe and whispers "Rosebud."

Why Rosebud?  Well, the newspaper guys who are creating the news reel (News On The March!) want to know more about Kane and what Rosebud is.  The film then goes through a lot of flashbacks and personal interviews with fictional (and thinly disguised) friends of Kane to find out more about the man, his mission and what was Rosebud. 

Was Kane a self-seeking vampire who sucked the spirit out of everyone he came in contact with?  Or did his childhood memories still haunt him decades after the fact?

Melodramatic to the extreme, some scenes were slow-paced.  The black & white photography was simply gorgeous.  And getting a peek at life as it might have been like in the early 20th Century was enjoyable and fascinating. 

"A film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet."
-Orson Welles

"Even if the good old days never existed, the fact that we can conceive such a world is, in fact, an affirmation of the human spirit."
Orson Welles

"I started at the top and worked down."
Orson Welles

Friday, February 7, 2014

Book Review: A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge


First Impressions:

I finished Vernor Vinge's "A Fire Upon the Deep" and let me tell you this monster book, clocking at nearly 600 pages, does have adventure, medieval civilizations, a bit of romance and has its dark side as well. Parts of the book do drag and the author might have been in need of an editor, but overall not a bad space tale.

Basic Premise, Some Comments:

In this universe we have 'zones of thought' that are linked through a subspace network, similar to our Internet which is colloquially called the "Net of a Million Lies." Would make a great advertisement for Wikipedia and the World Wide Web of today! The book was written in the 90s and so the pattern is of the Usenet groups of that time.

The book is broken down into several areas - the release of the "Blight", a malignant force that destroys all who oppose it, a family that discovers the "Countermeasure" but crash on a planet of dog-like aliens that only communicate in groups (a "pack" can think and respond only in a group, not singly), Ravna's planet, her job at "Relay" (as a librarian) and her relationship with a human (put together from parts by "The Old One," a superior being from "The Beyond", and their adventures together.


These parts don't always fit well. Each is expanded on (such as in the dog-like alien world, "Tine's World") and that's where the story tends to drag. We get involved in the intrigue, the castles, the battles and traitors of their race. The man and woman mentioned earlier crash-land and are immediately killed by this race. The brother and sister (Jefri and Joanna) are separated and each thinks the other is dead. The warring factions take advantage of this misunderstanding and slowly leech out technology that these children may know for their own advantages.

Interest:

I did enjoy the clash between factions in this alien society and the imaginative way they built "packs" where you would take different skills from each "dog" and they would somehow think together. With the invention of radio, thanks to the humans, the Tines discovered that they could radio to each others' brains! This was interesting but never expanded upon to include the whole race, but just one pack.

Other aspects of the story: The warring factions clash near the last 100 pages of the book which I found fascinating, how each faction used the children as pawns and at one point wanting to kill them to gain advantage.

The part where each discovers that the other is alive is heartwarming but also comes with the price of a life. That was the best part of the book.

Romance: There is a bit of this, between Ravna and Pham (at least before she discovers he's not all man - oops!). Also camaraderie and loyalty between starship captains as they attempt to rescue Ravna from "the Blight." Great space battle here.
 
World Building and The Internet:

The author dwells too long on detail and I felt the reader spends a long, long time on the chatter of the 'Net, which can be annoying as you just want to story to move along, and the extraordinary time we spend on the Tines' World. There's not a lot of explanation of the "Beyond" and how and what that's all about - just hints of superior beings and we as humans or lesser aliens are their pawns, and only in the lower levels are we safe from them.

Finally, it's a tough book to put down and wait awhile and pick up again. You have to reread a few sections to refresh your memory on what's going on. As well, Vernor Vinge tends to make up words without explanation and leaves it up to the reader to figure out, as well as not fully explaining what's going on. For example it took quite awhile into the book before discovering that the alien "packs" communicated as groups not as individuals.

Final Thoughts:

Overall, a decent read. Set aside some time and give Vinge your full cooperation. May not be as good as the amazing space operas of the Golden Age of Science Fiction, but it is a worthy, if dragged-out read. Recommended.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Book Review: Timebound!



Timebound, by Rysa Walker

A new author with a new book, praised by Amazon.  What could go wrong?  Not much!

Meet Kate, a typical teenage girl with a BFF, a smartphone and a mom who dislikes her grandmother.  Kate keeps getting these “episodes” where the world seems to shift and twist, like she had epilepsy.  It’s not an epileptic fit, it’s a Time Fit (my words).  Yikes!

I’ve read plenty of science fiction and love time travel, so the story is a familiar one – a reluctant heroine who realizes it’s up to her to make things right.  A medallion that only a few with a special gene can see.  And Kate, the most powerful time mage ever, learning the ropes of the family business.  And quickly too, since her mentor (a grandmother who actually is a historian from the 23rd century, working for CHRONOS) has just disappeared!

Obviously a lot of research went into this, as 1893 Chicago’s Exposition and its resident serial killer, a Dr. Holmes, makes rather clear.

The author attempts at suspense work well for this reader, though frankly I could have done without the 16 year old squealing about how cute some boy was.  But I’m not the target audience, alas.

Characterization:

Kate grows up fast in learning the ropes of time travel and she’s developed well.  What’s with this Simon guy and his attempts at murdering the time line?  We never meet Saul, apparently her grandfather, with delusions of grandeur and power, creating the Cyrists, a cult as big as the Roman Catholic Church, predicting the demise of Man. 

The story rolls along but I’m not that much educated at the end about the Cyrists, other than a tour through their temple (great scene where Kate gets kidnapped and uses some martial arts against Eve, a girl who could also use some character development). 

That’s my only beef:  not meeting Saul, not really getting into the meat of CHRONOS as an organization, and their naivety in thinking one of their historians would think nothing of breaking the rules to change things to their liking. 

The Love Triangle:

YA novels often have love triangles but this one with a twist.  Girl meets boy, falls in love, boy forgets who she is on the next time line.  Alternatively another boy meets girl, falls in love, and girl forgets boy for the same reason!  Yikes!  I oddly like that weird kind of twist. 

Bottom Line:  Really curious how Rysa Walker will turn this all around.  Timebound is an intro book, a general introductory chapter of something more.  Let’s see where she takes us. 

Recommended.


Sunday, February 2, 2014

2014 Scientology TV Message — Spiritual Technology

   Really enjoyed this video.  People do not have any clue what Scientology is and only have critics and media for resource information.  A minority believes everything they see on the Web.  The ad is really only for those who think for themselves and want more. 



Many are called but few are chosen.  Let's see who's intelligent enough to follow up on this.