Monday, July 23, 2007

Leavin' On A Jet Plane

My bags are packed. The traveler's checks are purchased. The photo album is made. The gifts are bought and packed. The camera is in the day pack. My passport is ready.

I've finished reading So Long and Thanks for All the Fish and Mostly Harmless. I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows because the book was too big to take along in hardcover and I didn't want to accidentally hear any spoilers.

Tomorrow DD#2 and I leave for a 16 day trip to Japan with 10 other Girl Scouts and 4 other adult leaders.

Hubs and DS#2 leave next Sunday.

Over the years, we've hosted several Japanese Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, showed them around town, taken them camping, river rafting, fishing. Now we're going to visit them. The Boy Scouts will include Korean Scouts as well as Japanese and American.

We'll be doing some sightseeing and hike Mt. Fuji. We'll be visiting museums, temples, and parks with bowing deer. And shopping, although Japan is not the bargain it once was.

I'm leaving the computer at home, so I will not be posting. Or reading other blogs and columns. Or responding to e-mails. Or cleaning the spam out of my in-box.

DS#1 will be moving to his first college apartment without us. DD#1 will be celebrating her 21st birthday on her own--which scares me more than anything that could possibly happen at work. I figure that work will either realize they don't need me and I'll be laid off or they will decide that I can Never Do This Again. And give me a Treo or a Blackberry (also known as a "Crackberry") so I'm available 24/7/365.

I've tried to make sure all contingencies and possibilities are covered, which means there are probably gaping holes.

Too bad. I'm outta here.

Sayonara until my return next month!

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Mystery House

Every couple of years, DS#2's birthday falls on Friday the 13th. In fact, he was born on Friday the 13th. So I try to do something kind of special for him when that happens.

The Winchester Mystery House in San Jose has special flashlight tours on Friday the 13th, so that's where we headed. Okay, and there were a couple of Girl Scouts along for the ride as well. We had a great tour guide who told us that one of the things guides get to do is ignore the velvet ropes and explore the house on their own.

Sarah Winchester was married to William Winchester, heir to the Winchester rifle fortune. William and their daughter died within a short period of time and Sarah consulted a seer in an attempt to contact them. The seer told her she had to build a house to hold the spirits killed by Winchester rifles and, as long as she kept building, she would live.

Sarah moved from Boston to San Jose, bought a farmhouse on three acres, hired builders, and built. And built. She did not hire an architect, instead designing the house herself. She was only 4'10" and she suffered from arthritis, so the stair rails and the risers are very short. Sarah was fascinated with the number 13 and with spiderwebs, incorporating both in the design of the house.

Because it was dark and we only had flashlights, I was really disoriented. Many of the staircases have twists and turns, so I was also a little dizzy. The windows are beautiful, although difficult to appreciate in the dark. Some of the features are quite innovative: there is a solarium where the excess water from watering the plants drains through the floor and waters the garden outside. There are staircases that lead to the ceiling, a beautiful stained glass window that not only faces north--which means the sun would never shine through it--but also is blocked by an outside wall.

During the 1906 earthquake, Sarah was trapped in one of the rooms of the house. The tower collapsed, shifting the wall sideways, squashing the door which still bears the mark of the crowbar used to pry it open. Sarah moved out of the house (but kept on building) into a houseboat. Six months later, the houseboat caught on fire and Sarah moved back into the mansion.

After the quake, the entire front of the house, where Sarah was trapped, was boarded off. A new kitchen was built and more rooms added.

There are also extensive gardens and outbuildings that we did not get to see (that tour costs extra). Sarah spared no expense in building and furnishing the house and it shows, although her original furnishings were sold off after her death.

Of the original seven acres, three are left--still pretty awesome in the middle of San Jose where real estate is a prime commodity. The Tiffany glass is awesome, both in the designs and the sheer quantity of it.

Still, I got the impression that Sarah wasn't a particularly happy woman. She was not a recluse, but San Jose was the middle of nowhere (even in 1922, the year of her death), so she would have had to travel to San Francisco to enjoy the company of her social peers. She was a tough woman to work for, although she paid her servants quite well for the day.

And, by building her Mystery House, Sarah did achieve immortality of a sort. Her story is told and her house featured on shows and in books about eccentrics and ghosts. Thousands of people tour her house and gardens and learn part of her story. But we'll never know the whole of it and that's part of the mystique.

The flashlight tour is pricey and has an age limit of 10 and older. You walk about a mile when you're done and there is no air-conditioning in the house itself. While there are three elevators, they are not used during the tour. I'd like to go back and do the entire Estate Tour, which includes the house, the gardens, and the "behind the scenes" (the basement and outbuildings).

The kids enjoyed it. We then sang "Happy Birthday" and passed out cupcakes at the picnic tables outside. We also got to keep the flashlights--and they were better quality than I thought they'd be. So we're set for camping. :)

Shake, Rattle, & Roll

At 4:44 a.m., Hubs woke me up.

"What's that?" he asked.

"It's an earthquake," I answered.

The quake lasted long enough and was strong enough that we knew what it was. The kids and the animals slept through it.

"It must have been a 5," Hubs said, once it was over.

"No, it wasn't that strong. A 3, maybe a 4," I guessed. This is what you do in earthquake country. If you don't have to duck-and-cover, then you can guess the strength on the Richter Scale.

And, yes, it was a 4.2 quake. This particular one felt like more of a shake, rather than a roll. None of the books fell off the stack above the bed. Nothing looks to be displaced, although in this house, it's difficult to tell. BART checked the tracks and the trains are rolling again. PG&E is checking reported power outages.

We have yet another reminder that we live, quite literally, on the edge.

And we have to find a better Early Warning System than our dog and our cats.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

In honor of my birthday, the six of us went to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. We paid full price, too, since we went to the 8:00 p.m. showing. And we sat together--I'm not sure when that last happened.

But the movie...

Okay, imagine you're a director and have been asked to film a movie of a book that is a phenomenal international success. The book is roughly 900 pages long (my edition, the first hardback version published by Scholastic, is 870 pages) and is filled with intertwining plots and subplots and features one main character and 10 second-tier characters, and about 10 to 15 third-tier characters. This book is the fifth in a series of seven, where much has happened previously that affects what happens now and much that happens in this book will affect what happens later. Only you don't know what happens later because the sixth book hasn't quite been released yet and the seventh book isn't even written.

Your run time must come in under 3 hours.

Many of the readers of the series are fanatics and will know every misstep you make. They have their favorite characters and favorite scenes. There are websites devoted to the finer details of plot points and character. They will not just watch your film; they will scrutinize every frame.

On the other hand, you have to make the film understandable to those in the audience who haven't read the books at all.

The age of your audience ranges from 5 or 6 through adulthood.

You do have high quality, A-list actors, mostly from the U.K. and Ireland, who are quite willing to be in these films, even for 30 seconds (think Tracy Ullman as the maid in Prisoner of Azkaban.)

Oh, and by the way, the actors playing most of the major characters are now teens, threatening to age out of their roles, so there's a bit of urgency in getting this film done.

Given the above, I find it quite amazing that there are directors even willing to tackle these films. I think Chris Columbus (Sorcerer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets) was probably wise to pass on the rest of the series.

Of the six of us, only DD#1 and I have read the books. We have all seen the movies. The "kids" range in age from 23 to 13. Hubs and I are suitably older. I'm probably the most serious Harry Potter fan in the bunch.

We all enjoyed it. The effects are great, although not as spectacular as the dragons in Goblet of Fire. Although there is one scene with fireworks. And the fight scene at the Ministry of Magic.
The lack of razzle-dazzle is fine, though, because much of this story is about relationships: among Harry, Ron, and Hermione; between Harry and Dumbledore; between Harry and Cho; between Harry and Sirius; between Harry and Voldemort. This movie has a darker emotional landscape--as the tag line says, The Rebellion Begins. This movie really does earn its PG-13 rating.

There is also rather clever use of clips from the previous movies. I'd forgotten how young Harry was when he started at Hogwarts.

One caveat: if you have read the book, don't re-read it beforehand. It won't help. Many of the subplots and many details have been eliminated. The movie makes sense as a movie and that's how we judged it. I do think the movie is faithful, for the most part, to the spirit of the book, even if it's not a faithful word-for-word recreation of it.

On the March Hare scale: 4.5 out of 5 Golden Tickets.

--------------POSSIBLE SPOILERS-----------------

When I finished reading Order of the Phoenix, I felt I had been emotionally sucker-punched. The scene at the end of the book, where Harry takes out all his anger and frustration on Dumbledore and his office, felt real to me in a very visceral way: I cried in sympathy while I read it.

The movie lacks that intensity. As DD#1 pointed out, you have to be able to leave the theater at the end of the movie. And she's right. Still, I thought that Harry's anger in general, and in the office scene with Dumbledore, was underplayed.

The fight scene at the Ministry of Magic was considerably shortened and simplified.

Many of the subplots are simplified and not much time is spent on Cho or Luna. Or Tonks. DD#2 picked up on the fact that the characters wish each other "Merry Christmas" rather than "Happy Christmas" which is more customary in England and she missed that.

I'm more comfortable with Michael Gambon's Dumbeldore in this movie because he has to be more physical during the fight scene and I don't think Richard Harris could have done it.

The entire section about the O.W.L.s is gone. Harry's counseling session with Professor McGonagall is deleted. Again, it's about the pesky run time limit.

No mention is made of the mirror that Sirius gives Harry for Christmas. This may prove to be an important omission, as Ms. Rowling has indicated that it may be important in Book 7. And we, the readers, don't take anything she says about the Potter 'verse lightly!

Nor is any mention made that there is another child who fits the prophecy. In the book, Dumbledore tells Harry that Voldemort could have chosen Neville Longbottom as his nemesis. But, instead of choosing the pureblood child, Voldemort chose a child like himself: a mixed-blood (or "mud blood"), the very race he claims he hates. (I don't think the actual prophecy that Harry listens to is proclaimed very clearly in the movie. DS#2, who hasn't read the books, understood it was Sybil Trelawney who made the prophecy and that it indicated that Voldemort and "The One" could not both live.) I think this is a crucial omission--I think Neville has slowly been coming into his own and I believe he will have a crucial role to play in Deathly Hallows.

Of course, once Deathly Hallows is published, we'll know for sure if David Yates (and the previous Harry Potter directors) guessed correctly.

Book Review: Life, the Universe and Everything

Which book finds our intrepid quartet searching the Galaxy for the Question to the Ultimate Answer. You know, the Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything.

The story resumes, since this is the third book in the Hitchhiker's trilogy, with Arthur Dent stranded on prehistoric Earth. Arthur used to live on Earth, back in the modern era, before it was destroyed by the Vogons for an interstellar bypass. Coincidentally, that was five minutes before the Most Intelligent Beings on Earth were about to learn the Question to the Ultimate Answer.

Stranded with Arthur is his best friend, Ford Prefect, originally from Betelgeuse, who is a field reporter for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Ford met Arthur when he was originally stranded on Earth for 15 years while doing field research.

They have given up hope of being rescued from prehistoric Earth when suddenly a Chesterfield sofa appears and transports them to the cricket pitch at Lord's Cricket Grounds in London a few days before Earth is to be destroyed. White robots appear, steal the Urn containing the Ashes of the Cricket Stump, and generally cause pandemonium. Slartibartfast, who won an award for creating the fjords in Norway, rescues them.

The white robots, it turns out, are from the planet Krikkit.

Meanwhile, Trillian and Zaphod are tooling around the Universe. They all end up at the same party that has been going on for several generations. Trillian is picked up by Thor and Arthur has a confrontation with him by insisting that Trillian leave.

Turns out there is a bomb that combines the energies of several suns and will destroy the Universe and everything in it. And the Krikkiters are threatening to set it off. It's up to Arthur, Ford, Zaphod, and Trillian to save the Universe. With or without the help of Marvin, the supremely intelligent and chronically depressed robot.

Who can blame Arthur for wanting to escape to a pleasant, quiet planet to think it all through? Ah... but that's another story.

On the March Hare scale: 4 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks

Monday, July 09, 2007

Buy Me Some Peanuts and Cracker Jacks...

The fact the All-Star Game is being played at Pac Bell... no, SBC... no, AT&T Park has been hard to miss. Tonight is the Home Run Derby and I decided to walk down to the Park during my lunch hour and take a peek.

It's a beautiful day. The fog creeping through the Golden Gate has stuck to the tops of the East Bay Hills. The breeze is brisk and from the West. The first sign that something is going on is that Pier 28, behind Red's Java House is full of white tents and has two auto trailers of black, full-sized Chevy pick-up trucks. The line of portapotties is wrapped in advertisements for Chevy, featuring a batter, a fielder, and a catcher in the same graphic style as the logo to the left.

I didn't think to bring my camera to work, so I can't show you the different graphics decorating the Embarcadero sidewalk. They're kind of cool, featuring a ball splashing in water, kayakers, the Golden Gate Bridge, the front of a cable car, and the clock tower of the Park. They may be done by the same artist who designed the signs for the different parts of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area--I've asked around, but no one seems to know.

About three piers from the Park, some kids have set up a lemonade-and-homebaked cookie stand. $1.50 will buy you a 16 oz. cup of lemonade; $1.00 will buy two homemade chocolate chip cookies. The stand is named "3 Brothers"--mom was busy chasing the youngest of the three when I passed by. The ship chandler/nautical decor shop had signal flags out and its doors wide open. Carmen's at Pier 40 was selling bottles of soda and energy drinks on the sidewalk. The kayaking rental place advertising "tours" of McCovey Cove--and possibly a chance to snag a home run ball.

The crowds were already lining up at the gates in front of metal detectors. Signs were posted detailing the security procedures. Oddly, they seemed to be only in English. The garbage cans, however, were labeled "Trash," "Bottles and Cans," and "Compostible" in English, Spanish, and Chinese. And they were color-coded.

There is already quite a crowd of kayakers and small boats in McCovey Cove. The U.S. Coast Guard has a boomed off the area in front of the Lefty O'Doul Memorial Drawbridge and has a small boat anchored there. The entrance to the Cove is also boomed off, so only small craft can get in. San Francisco Police Department has their Marine Unit boat tied up and has patrolmen on jet skis (the bigger ones). And the Port of San Francisco has their security boat out.

The only groups I didn't see were the Navy and the Fire Department.

My favorite small craft, though, is the raft painted half in the yellow-and-green of the Oakland A's and half in the black-and-orange of the San Francisco Giants. They have an ice chest and a beach umbrella!

The plaque in front of the Seal is missing, which is too bad. San Francisco's first pro baseball team was the Seals (Oakland had the Oaks), during the Pacific Coast Conference days. The Giants' mascot, Lou Seal, and the statue are a tribute to the previous team.

Several local restaurants have vendors' carts in strategic locations in case you become hungry or thirsty while waiting in line. No extra portapotties that I noticed--a serious oversight, as far as I'm concerned!

Walking back, I looked up at the Bay Bridge, stately, gray, and utilitarian. The logo on the American League and National League shirts feature the gaudy orange of the Golden Gate Bridge. She gets all the scenic shots and the regional symbolism. The only time the Bay Bridge was mentioned during a ball game was when a section collapsed in 1989 during the World Series--on the Oakland side.

Lots of people, early as it is, lots of baseball jerseys, lots of cameras. So far, everyone is in a good mood and happy. Kids are playing catch on the green. Guys are pounding the pockets of their gloves, hoping to catch a piece of history.

It's a nice break from real life.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Movie Review: Ratatouille

I deliberately did not read past the first paragraph of Julie D's. review of this movie over at Happy Catholic. But when Hubs wanted to see a movie last night, I knew which one I did want to see--and it wasn't Transformers.

We both enjoyed Ratatouille. In fact, I raved about it so much when we got home that when DD#2 and a friend went to see it this afternoon, DD#1 agreed to drive them and take DS#2.

The animation is, IMHO, incredible. No motion capture is used, but when the lead character, Remy, is swept through the sewer, I felt like I was along for the ride. And when the colony of rats swarm into the kitchen, I felt like a colony of rats was swarming into the kitchen. In fact, I shuddered a little bit, involuntarily. The Paris on the screen looks like the Paris I visited three years ago, albeit with a little romantic memory thrown in.

But the absolutely best thing is that Brad Bird and Pixar haven't forgotten that the story is the most important part! I cared about Remy (who is a rat) and his passion for cooking. I felt his frustration as he tried to explain why he cared about food to his brother rat, Emile. I cared about Linguini, the kitchen boy, and sympathized with his awkwardness, which is both physical and social. Skinner, who was Gasteau's sous chef, is an opportunistic bad guy who is profiting from Gusteau's reputation. Colette is a tough cookie who is working her way up in what most certainly was a male profession.

And Anton Ego is a critic's critic. His goal is to make grown men cry.

As usual, Brad Bird has chosen voice actors who suit the characters, so I focused on what the characters were saying rather than being distracted by The Actor Who Is The Voice. (Much as I enjoy Meg Ryan, I found her voice and mannerisms very distracting in Anastasia. I didn't have that problem with Ratatouille.)

In my enthusiasm, I forgot to mention the short at the beginning.

The cartoon short before the main feature is a fond memory of my childhood. It let us kids know that the show was going to start in earnest and gave us time to settle down. If the main features (yes, I'm old enough to remember double features) were Disney movies, then the shorts were Disney cartoons featuring Mickey or his pals. Other studios used Looney Tunes or Woody Woodpecker.

Pixar shorts are produced in-house. I'm not sure if they're exercises or skits that were not long enough for a feature. But this one is pretty funny and is done without any dialog. Just facial and body expressions--which is rather challenging since everything is animated!

By the way, Hubs and I weren't the only child-free adults in the audience. There was at least one other couple who I suspect were "foodies" because they were laughing harder than almost everyone. But then, The French Laundry, a famous French restaurant in San Francisco, is thanked in the credits. (I wonder if their "research" included lunch? And, if so, is it a write-off?)

And, yes, John Ratzenberger is a voice in this Pixar feature, too. Don't peek--see if you can figure out who he is!

There are lots of positive messages in this movie, but I didn't feel like I was being hit over the head with them.

Definitely a movie for the entire family. Perfect summer entertainment. Will probably add this to the Christmas list when the DVD is released.

On the March Hare scale: 5 out 5 Golden Tickets

Remembering Beverly Sills

The San Francisco Chronicle had a nice tribute about Beverly Sills in their print edition and online. The writer, Joshua Kosman, observed that Ms. Sills made opera "American," making it seem less a fussy European experience and something that an average person could enjoy. She did this by essentially remaining the "girl from Brooklyn" that she was born.

I remember reading about Ms. Sills in that most American of publications, Reader's Digest. She learned to sing opera by listening to her parents records over and over, then singing what she heard. This meant, of course, when she started training, she had to unlearn all her mispronunciations. And she was a redhead by accident--when she was young, the hairdresser mixed the proportions of red and blonde hair dye. Instead of being a golden or a strawberry blonde as originally intended, Ms. Sills became a redhead. She liked it so much, she kept it.

My favorite memory, though, is Ms. Sills' appearance on The Muppet Show. This must have been in the mid-80's, right about the time she retired from singing. Sam Eagle was quite pompously happy that the show was finally going to get some culture and fawned all over Ms. Sills. She, however, had other ideas about what she was going to do. Dressed in a lovely, flowing evening gown she... tap-danced. And she wore patent-leather tap shoes with the big organza bows, similar to the kind Shirley Temple wore as a girl. Sam was appalled, but the rest of the cast was thrilled. In fact, she might have danced with Harry Monster.

(I loved The Muppet Show, especially for these moments when the guest stars got to do something completely unexpected. Rudolf Nureyev also tap-danced on the show.)

Sadly, the world is a little bleaker. Not only did we lose a talented diva, in the truest sense of the word, but we also lost someone who knew how to poke fun at their image. And how to laugh!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Birthday, America!

Above is a picture of the actual original birth certificate of the New States of America: the Declaration of Independence (image courtesy of the National Archives website). It would be incorrect to call this the birth certificate of the United States--that didn't come until the Constitution was ratified in 1789. But this is where the Colonists laid out their grievances against King George III and justified breaking away. No longer British, they were now something else. They were Virginians, Marylanders, New Yorkers, Massachusettans (is that even a word?), Rhode Islanders, Georgians, Carolinians. They didn't see themselves as one people, one Nation.

President Bush is correct to point this out, especially in the context of Iraq. Our Founders didn't get it right for thirteen years. And we're still trying to improve governance, make it better, more accessible, more inclusive.

And not everyone supported the Revolutionary War here, either. Citizen-soldiers left to take care of their families and farms back home. Businessmen and merchants balked at paying the taxes necessary to feed and clothe the soldiers. Many of the elite had ties to Britain and were actively supporting them. The British were the superior military and naval force. The Rebels fought back, not with the classic techniques used in open field battles, but by stealth. Uniforms were scarce. When forced to leave New York, Washington's officers debated burning the city. Washington and the Continental Congress nixed the idea.

How long was the war? Nine long years. The help of France (especially their navy), the Netherlands, and Spain proved decisive.

The Military Channel is on in the background, detailing the significant battles and challenges faced by the Continental Army during the war.

It's amazing that they won. Washington, a slave-owning white man, plantation owning farmer, ultimately proved to be the right man at the right time.

Right now, The Military Channel is illustrating the Battle of Trenton. The password for the mission? "Victory or Death," chosen by President Washington. In the pocket of General Johann Rall was a letter from Loyalist, warning the Continental Army was on the move. General Rall spent the night drinking and playing cards, never read the note.

This victory proved the turning point of the war. Of course, General Washington didn't know that at the time.

Parallels will be drawn with the war in Iraq. Are the insurgents the Continental Army or are they the British? Is all fair in war? If it took thirteen years for the United States to develop a working Constitution from scratch, how long should it take for a country without the cultural experience of the Enlightenment? These are important questions, I think, with no clear answers. I don't know what an Islamic democracy would look like or even if what Western Civilizations consider necessary for democracy is compatible with Sunni, Shiite, or Wahhabi versions of Islam.

(Wow! General Burgoyne's wife shortly after having her third child, packed up her three young daughters and crossed the ocean to Canada to join her husband in battle. I cannot imagine how she did that.)

I didn't meant to get sidetracked into a discussion about politics, but it's a natural when discussing revolutions. It's not always clear if the populace, the proletariat, the common folk will be better off afterwards. It's not always clear if the grievances lodged against the government or the rulers are legitimate (although I would say that gassing an entire people is).

(Thank God the British made some strategic errors, had some incompetent generals, and underestimated the will and intelligence of the colonists.)

(Patrick Ferguson, "a skilled Scottish rifleman," spared the life of a Colonial officer in his sights because it seemed wrong to shoot an officer in the back, "acquitting himself very coolly of his duty." That officer was General Washington. The date? September 11, 1777.)

Today we celebrate those brave Founders, who pledged their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor to the cause of Liberty. We honor the common men and women who sacrificed their lives and their livelihood for a cause that must have seemed rather nebulous at the time.

(Interesting--the French waited until they were sure the former Colonists, especially General Washington, would "stay the course." Two hundred thirty years later, it's the Americans who are wondering about the French.)

(Of course, the French were not being altruistic in helping the Continental Army. They saw a chance to fight the British, thereby strengthening French prestige and global power.)

Enough blogging. Time to get out and enjoy the day by celebrating with local communities. My Girl Scout troop is helping out by running game booths at one of the several celebrations happening around the area. Later tonight we'll head down to Bayfront Park, greet friends and neighbors, and watch the fireworks sponsored by two local Chambers of Commerce. We'll celebrate what's right about America.

(Kind of fitting that baseball, "America's Game", schedules its All-Star game so close to the Fourth, doncha think?)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

How I'm Spending My Actual Birthday

Standing in line for the movies, DS#2 noticed that the new Harry Potter movie, HP & the Order of the Phoenix, is coming out earlier than previously announced.

I turned to Hubs and said, "I know what I want to do for my birthday!"

DS#2 sighed and said, "It figures."

He doesn't fool me. The original release date of OOTP was his birthday.

Movie Review: Live Free or Die Hard

John McClane's back. He's older, somewhat mellower, but don't piss him off. He and Holly are divorced, but he's still protecting his daughter, Lucy. She's not mellow and is pissed at her dad for interrupting her make-out session with a guy who could be her boyfriend. Or not. She's not sure. One thing she's sure of, however, is she is not talking to her dad, even if he did drive down to Rutgers to make sure she's okay.

While John is trying to figure this out, he gets a call from his boss, requesting that he pick up a former computer hacker and bring him down to D.C. John doesn't want babysitting duty, but the FBI has requested that senior personnel bring the hacker, Matt Farrell, in.

John gets to Matt's apartment just as the Bad Guys have rigged Matt's computer to blow up. It doesn't, so the Bad Guys decide to take Matt out the old-fashioned way--with automatic rifles. But John is there, so this isn't easy. In fact, it's not successful (if it was, the movie would be a short).

After taking the Bad Guys out, John drives Matt to D.C. where it's established that they have nothing in common. The Bad Guys, meanwhile, decide to override traffic control in D.C. by hacking into the MTA's computers. John and Matt are stuck in traffic, but work their way over to the temporary command center of the FBI--temporary because an anthrax alarm has gone out. While there, Matt and John see photos of seven other computer geeks who have all been killed during the night.

And that's just in the first twenty minutes of the movie.

Bruce Willis plays John McClane like the iconic cowboy: little talk, more action, protector of the weak, defender of women, strong will to live. Matt Farrell is played by Justin Long. He's a typical 20-something: lives cybernetically, discusses everything, doesn't believe in violence and can't believe someone would try to kill him, doesn't really have a code to live by, doesn't know what he's capable of.

At one point in the movie, John and Matt talk about being a hero. For John it's simple: no one else steps up to do the job that needs to be done, so you're "that guy." Matt can't imagine ever being "that guy."

The action is non-stop, but there is little lingering over dead bodies. The language has also been cleaned up tremendously: I thought there was no use of the F-word, but according to IMdB, there is at least one instance. The plot is all too plausible, I'm afraid. The FBI comes out heroes; other government agencies don't fare so well. I don't go to these types of movies for the dialog, but there are some great one-liners and some laugh-out-loud moments that break thee tension. And the Bad Guys seriously underestimate Daddy's Little Girl. (smirk)

Live Free or Die Hard is definitely the best of the Die Hard movies and isn't a bad way to spend a summer afternoon under air-conditioning. Bruce Willis has mellowed some either because of age or because his daughters are now old enough to watch these movies. (Although Sin City was very raw.) Whatever his motivation, sit back and enjoy John McClane save the U.S. Again.

On the March Hare scale: 4 out of 5 Golden Tickets.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Happy Birthday and Have a Cup of Tea!

I admit I am a couple of days late with this, but it's been two years since I started blogging!

I've learned lot--mostly that writing every day is hard work. It takes a certain amount of commitment. My best ideas seem to occur when I don't have time to jot them down. (That might actually be a good thing!)

My personal highlight: a link from Michelle Malkin during the Dubai Ports brouhaha. I was able to add a little practical information--and I hope a little sanity--to the discussion.

I'd like to thank those of you who continue to listen to the ravings of this middle-aged wife and mom, who is essentially conservative in outlook (let's not throw the baby out with the bath water, please!). This is my soapbox in the very public Hyde Park of the blogsphere, ranting with the rest of the world. I appreciate those of you who choose to spend your valuable time here, rather than there. :)

Before anybody asks, that is not a picture of me as a child, although my mother tried to dress me like that on more than one occasion. Including my birthday. Tea parties in dainty dresses was just not my style.

Prayer Request for a Stranger

The Anchoress is requesting prayers for a family who sounds like they are truly in spiritual need as well as physical. Her family found itself caught up in the situation as rescuers, which sometimes happens in life. From what little she has told us, the situation is intensive, both in time and in emotional resources.

Sounds like The Anchoress and her family could also use some spiritual help as well, to help them keep up the good fight.

Book Review: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

The second book in Douglas Adams' series finds our intrepid crew in search of something to eat. But not before Arthur Dent has jammed the computers on the ship, The Heart of Gold, with his request for a simple cup of tea. At that moment the Volgon ship captain, the one responsible for destroying Earth five minutes before the super-intelligent beings who built it could uncover The Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, has the ship in his sites. He is following the directions of his "private brain care specialist" and is intent on destroying said ship.

Desperate, Zaphod Beeblebrox, former President of the Galaxy; Trillian, a former resident of Earth Zaphod picked up at a party six months ago; Ford Prefect, a field reporter for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; and Arthur call up Zaphod's great-grandfather, Zaphod Beeblebrox the Fourth. He gives them all some very cryptic advice that's of no help whatsoever. Arthur hits the Improbability Drive and the crew is dispersed to unknown corners of the Universe.

Zaphod finds himself, along with Marvin the always-depressed robot, on the planet where The Guide is published. A thought pops into his head: he must find Zarniwoop, the publisher. And he must find the man who rules the Universe.

The rest of the crew is still on board The Heart of Gold, along with a teapot, some milk, and best of all, real tea. They have been told to sit tight and wait. And, with nothing better to do, they follow instructions.

Zaphod finds Zarniwoop, discovers a few more things about himself, and eventually is reunited with his ship and crew. Still hungry, Zaphod orders the ship to take them to the nearest place to eat.

"Sure thing!" the ship responds cheerfully. And the bridge explodes.

When our crew wakes up, they are at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Ford gets drunk, the cow that will be their meal introduces himself, and they discover that Marvin, who had been left behind on a distant planet by Zaphod, is in the parking lot, parking cars. The gang goes to the lot and steals a ship moments before the universe ends.

Not just any ship. This ship is a drone that will crash into a solar flare as part of a concert by the band Disaster Area. And there is nothing they can do to divert it. However, Marvin reveals that the Question to Life, the Universe, and Everything is imprinted on the brainwaves of Arthur. Not that it will help them any.

Marvin doesn't get a chance to tell them because Arthur finds an teleporter and the crew escapes. Trillian and Zaphod are back on The Heart of Gold; Arthur and Ford are somewhere else. Zarniwoop also is aboard The Heart of Gold, still intent on finding the Man Who Rules the Universe. Arthur and Ford find themselves on a very different type of ship heading out who knows where.

Do Trillian, Zaphod and Zarniwoop meet the Man Who Rules the Universe? Do Arthur and Ford discover the Question to the Ultimate Answer in Arthur's brain? What happens to Marvin?

You'll have to read the book. And, most probably, read the next one as well. This is a series, after all.

And, like The Hitchhiker's Guide, most of the pleasure is in the journey, not the end. Just when you think you have the story and plot figured out, the Improbability Drive kicks in and everything changes. I found myself laughing out loud, but completely unable to explain to my family exactly why. It's all in the set-up, you see. Or you will if you read the book.

On the March Hare scale: 4 out of 5 Golden Bookmarks.

P.S. I will say that having read this book--or some version of it for it has appeared as a BBC TV series, on all sorts of records, cassettes, and CDs, a computer game, a bath towel, and, finally, a movie--I feel like I've been initiated into a secret club where the answer to any question is "42" and the password is "So long and thanks for all the fish." If you can sing it, you're hardcore.

I realized this when, at a recent family outing to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom (formerly Marine World-Africa USA), I mentioned to the young woman at the Dolphin pool that dolphins are the third most intelligent species on Earth. Humans are the second. When I told her mice were the most intelligent, she looked rather skeptical, but her co-worker who came in on the middle of the conversation said, "That's that movie!" And started singing "So Long and Thanks for All the Fish." They hadn't realized it was a book. I think I piqued their interest.

So, dear college students, home for the summer and working what appears to be a boring and meaningless job, stay open to the possibilities. You never know what gems might be thrown into your lap by a stranger. :)