reviews

Saturday, February 05, 2011

the strain

Well, I don’t normally go for vampire stories. I tried the Twilight stuff and found it utterly insipid. We tried to listen to the audiobook and didn’t even last ten minutes. I liked Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire and The Vampire Lestat, but she lost me with Queen of the Damned. Oh, and of course, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which scared the hell out of me when I read it in high school.

So, vampire stories is not a genre I seek out. My not-so-secret addiction is reading books (and watching movies) about the end of the world. More specifically, The End of the World as We Know It. Doesn’t matter much how the world as we know it ends: asteroid impact, plague, economic collapse, political suicide. I’m interested not in how the world is saved from apocalypse, but what happens afterward. How do people survive? What do they do? What changes?

One day I was taking a look at my recommended books on Amazon and I saw The Strain, by Guillermo del Torro and Chuck Hogan. I love del Torro’s movies—Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone are on my top-100 list. So I took a look at the description.

Hmm. The End of the World as We Know It caused by a plague—in this case, vampirism is the disease. And it costs less than the maximum I will pay for any Kindle book ($9.99). So I downloaded it.

The story starts out with a jet from Germany landing at JFK—it lands perfectly, but nobody opens the doors to get off. Eventually, it’s established that all the passengers and crew are dead, so the Center for Disease Control is called in to deal with it. Ah, a plague! Turning a person into a vampire is to pass them a virus that transforms the host’s internal organs into structures that keep the virus alive and transforms the trachea into a stinger ...

These are not your insipid, Stephanie Meyer vampires. Not at all. They are ugly, evil, virulent things that suck the blood out of their victims and shit and piss all over themselves and turn increasingly horrifying as they turn. They are an ancient plague, pre-dating Christianity and silly countermeasures such as crosses and holy water. There is nothing romantic about them. And they are wreaking havoc on Manhattan, Queens, and Bronxville. And spreading.

There are only a few who know what’s going on—some working behind the scenes to enable the spread of this plague, and some battling to stop it. There is a professor-turned-pawnbroker who’s been waiting since World War Two to battle the Master, whom the professor first encountered while he was a prisoner is a concentration camp. There are two doctors from the CDC who know what’s going on, and the teenage son of one of the doctors. There’s an exterminator. This group are fighting the good fight. And there is a gangbanger who’s kind of off in a sidetrack who also knows what’s going on and is looking to take them on.

The Stain is just book one of a trilogy. Book two, The Fall, is now out. I haven’t read it yet as I’m in the middle of another book right now, and then will decide if I want to read it next or wait until book three is out (I’m not very patient—when I’m in the middle of a series, I want to keep reading until the end).

Oops, I forgot to mention: I really like this novel. It’s scary, exciting in parts, keep me reading and staying awake much longer than I should have. I’m looking forward to the next book, whenever I decide to read it. I like two of the characters (the professor and the exterminator) a lot, and buy the villians (human villains, I mean—they’re not different from our current real-world villains, not at all ... ) I’m very interested in seeing how it all turns out and don’t necessarily expect a happy ending.

I love my Kindle—but that’s a tale for another post (it’s time for dinner!)

posted by lee on 02/05/11 at 07:54 PM
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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

design & construction by leo

Leo decided Papa Jim needed a place to put his BBQ grill, so he designed and built it. Not only that, he created a place for horseshoe tournament viewers to sit and watch. I love, love, love the patterns and the colors and can’t wait to check them out “in person” in August.

Leo started the work one weekend and then went up to Oscoda to finish the job when school got out for the year
Leo started the work one weekend and then went up to Oscoda to finish the job when school got out for the year. (click to enlarge) photo by Jim Fleming

The completed patio, June 29, 2010
The completed patio, June 29, 2010.  (click to enlarge) photo by Jim Fleming

Leo Robertson, designer and builder.
Leo Robertson, designer and builder.  (click to enlarge) photo by Jim Fleming

Leo also added an observation area to watch the horseshoe tournaments
Leo also added an observation area to watch the horseshoe tournaments.  (click to enlarge) photo by Jim Fleming

posted by lee on 06/29/10 at 11:00 PM
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Saturday, June 05, 2010

bingo would love this so much

She never tires of chasing the tennis ball. So yes, she would love this:
http://www.wimp.com/engineersdogs/

She’s pretty adept at putting the ball into my hand when she wants me to throw it, so I’m sure it would take her about 20 seconds to master this contraption. Once she got over her fear of the noise it makes, that is!

posted by lee on 06/05/10 at 11:57 PM
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Sunday, March 16, 2008

john adams on hbo

We watched John Adams, parts 1 and 2, this evening. I was really looking forward to it and I wasn’t disappointed.

The things that I noticed right away were the details of the house interior and the streets of Boston—the cloth over the entry door to keep out the winter drafts, the grubbiness of the Boston streets. I love it when movie makers pay attention to details such as this—it bodes well for the history part of it.

Since I haven’t yet read John Adams by David McCullough, though it’s on my list, I never knew that Adams defended the British soldiers accused of murder for the Boston Massacre. In fact, I never realized that the whole incident was provoked. I’m looking forward to the entire series.

It was also interesting to see what tarring and feathering really involved—it’s pretty barbaric. I never really thought much about it before. And the trial was interesting—what a difference from how trials are conducted now. I’m not sure if it’s an improvement. Stanley made a comment about people in this country not taking too well to occupiers.

I’m not crazy about David Morse portraying George Washington—first off, he sounds like he’s got too much cotton stuffed in his cheeks, like he can’t handle the make-up. Second, I’ve never been crazy about David Morse, period, plays everything a lot on the too morose side. But Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney are really good in their roles so far. And Tom Wilkinson as Benjamin Franklin is great.

In the morning, Ginger gets her second chemo treatment. Not sure what drug this time. She’s doing really well so far, lumps are no longer noticeable and she has loads of energy—spent part of the evening rolling Twitch on his back and trying to get him to play with her. Twitch was one mad kitty. Not sure if this way expensive K-9 Immunity supplement is helping any (beta glucan therapy, whatever that is—near as I can tell it comes from mushrooms) or if it’s a lot of hooey, but she’s doing so well so far I don’t want to change anything just yet.

posted by lee on 03/16/08 at 11:25 PM
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Friday, January 11, 2008

chris matthews has foot in mouth and head up ass

Chris Matthews gets more and more offensive. I don’t like Hillary as a candidate, but his sexist crap about her offends me nearly every day.

UPDATE: I’m not sure if this animation (by Scott Bateman) will work—sometimes when I try to play it, the audio portion doesn’t work. At least not in Firefox.

The audio is of Chris Matthews spewing on about how the only reason Hillary Clinton was able to get elected Senator is because her husband fooled around. And more repugnant blather in that vein. Oh wait, here is the actual quote: “[T]he reason she’s a U.S. senator, the reason she’s a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front-runner is her husband messed around. That’s how she got to be senator from New York. We keep forgetting it. She didn’t win there on her merit. She won because everybody felt, ‘My God, this woman stood up under humiliation,’ right? That’s what happened.”

And here is the link to the video where you can hear it spewing from his own sexist mouth. What he said on this video is what’s running in the background of Scott’s animation.

MSNBC should get rid of this blowhard and give the show to Rachel Maddow (Air America)—would be really great to see someone intelligent in this time slot. And so refreshing to be able to listen to an intelligent, liberal woman instead of Blowhard Matthews.

Have fewer problems with Keith Olbermann—needs his head examined, though, about his obsession with Britney Spears. His nearly nightly mention of her was never funny to begin with—it’s pretty sad to see him pick on someone who is clearly sick in order to fill a five-minute program hole. Makes him seem really creepy, like some guy we might see on that entrapment show about the pedophiles MSNBC does. Olbermann + Britney = Eeeeyeww ... especially when he gets that übercreep Michael Musto involved in the discussion.

posted by lee on 01/11/08 at 05:32 PM
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Sunday, July 01, 2007

latest v of expression engine + a post-sicko rant

EllisLabs released version 1.6 of ExpressionEngine last week. Installing it was painless, at least for this blog which is not at all complicated.

There are some URL formatting changes that I have to look at more carefully before I upgrade some of the older installations, such as http://www.westportnow.com—that one would be a nightmare to fix if it breaks and with every version upgrade, something has broken. Though it takes at most an hour to get the fix answer in the EE Forum. One thing I love about EE is the phenomenal support.

So far, it’s been a quiet weekend. We went to see Sicko so now I’m convinced the insurance company will deny Stanley’s clot operation. Just because they irrationally denied the CAT scan with the first request ... please, let me be so wrong.

Sicko is a good movie. Makes it depressingly clear how very much the United States is NOT a Christian nation. Yes, the critics will come out of the woodwork and say how Canada’s system isn’t perfect, or England’s or the one in France and even Cuba. Or the stats can be this way or that way depending upon whose stats you look at for what year. But the bottom line is this: nobody goes bankrupt due to medical bills in Canada or England or in any country with universal health care. Nobody dies on the floor of an emergency room because they don’t have health insurance. Nobody gets dumped on the street because they can’t pay their bill. And these countries manage to afford universal health care. Nobody in these countries has to make a decision on whether to eat or buy medicine. The USA is a Christian nation? What bullshit.

Bitter? You bet. Broke due to our medical bills? Yep. Especially as I write out our insurance check for $815 today.

My only real quibble with the movie is how Moore glossed over Hillary Clinton’s role in killing universal health care with her arrogance, ineptitude, lack of political skill (at that time), and refusal to compromise—he made it seem as if it was just the Republicans who killed it—I was paying a lot of attention to this back then and I blame Hillary and Bubba just as much as the Republican pukes like Gingrich and Buchanan. Now she’s on the take too, getting the big bucks from the medial and pharma lobbies. So I guess universal health care is not on the table if she ever gets elected president.

My mother needs a PET scan to confirm (or rule out) her diagnosis, according to her doctors at the University of Michigan neuropsychology section. But it’s extremely difficult to get a PET scan paid for by insurance or Medicare. The diagnosis has a profound impact on treatment, planning, and care, yet we have to jump through hoops to get it approved or get her into a research program (if we can). Why are PET scans so expensive? Why isn’t it just the next step in diagnostics? Especially at a publicly funded hospital that is a unit of a publicly funded university?

Americans can be so very stupid. In Canada, in England, the attitude is, “Well, we just take care of each other. That’s the right thing to do.” Not in America, this supposedly most-Christian nation in the world.

posted by lee on 07/01/07 at 01:56 PM
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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

safari for windows

Type looks pretty, but it renders smaller than on IE or Firefox—enlarging the type makes it look blurrier. So it looks pretty but is harder to read.

Apple claims it’s faster than IE or Firefox at rendering pages. It’s not—it’s MUCH slower. Too bad—I was hoping ...

I like that there’s very little chrome. I hate the juvenile glass buttons and scrollbars, and it makes form elements class with websites unless they’re designed to be baby blue glass sites. Is there any way to change these? I haven’t look under the hood yet to see if there is or not.

I don’t like that the reload and the stop loading buttons are the same—sometimes I want to stop something happening on a page, such as submitting a form, but I can’t do that with Safari.

I hate the way default spacing is handled: too much space. Pretty type, ugly spacing.

I think it’s not ready for prime time.

posted by lee on 06/19/07 at 02:28 AM
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Monday, March 26, 2007

absolutely amazing

We’ve been watching Planet Earth on the Discovery Channel this evening. What we’ve seen this evening is stunning. I told Stanley that this series would be the impetus for me to push getting high-definition tv if the sets were remotely affordable now.

Some of the footage shot in the ocean, such as when the dolphins herded a school of fish closer to the surface and the sea birds dove 60 feet to get at the dolphins’ catch—I gasped. I didn’t know birds dove that far under water. And the blue whales and aboreal and snow leopards and the dogs hunting impala in the Kalahari ...

Just watch it. It’s running frequently, on the Science channel as well. Below is a picture from Planet Earth: Oryx in Namib Desert (click to enlarge):

Planet Earth Discovery Channel Oryx in Namib Desert

posted by lee on 03/26/07 at 01:34 AM
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Monday, February 19, 2007

so it’s not pc - it still makes me laugh

My friend Dale sent this to me—she has a knack for finding weird and funny things. I’m sure there are those out there who will object to it for whatever reason. So don’t watch it if you’re in the pursed-lips league. I needed a laugh on this cold Monday and this provided it.

Scottish Sobriety Test

posted by lee on 02/19/07 at 12:45 PM
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Friday, January 19, 2007

about time we played hooky again

Stanley and I took a mental health afternoon off and went to see Pan’s Labryinth. We’re both huge fans of Guillermo del Toro since seeing The Devil’s Backbone (one of the best ghost stories I’ve ever seen), Hellboy, and Cronos.

image

Pan’s Labryinth is outstanding. I was kind of worried that all the raves the critics have been giving it were bullshit, kind of like the accolades heaped on crap like Dances with Wolves or The English Patient or [gag] The Sound of Music.

The movie is categorized as a fantasy, but that’s only what’s going on in one character’s head as she tries to escape the brutality of her life. It’s also about history and the heart of darkness and, I think, the reality of life for most of the children of the world.

image

Del Toro has a knack for getting the monsters right. The Paleman (the picture on the right) is the ultimate bogeyman. Ofelia, the little girl with the fantasies, looked at the murals in his chamber which show the Paleman devouring children. There is also a huge pile of shoes in the room, which made me think of Hitler and the Holocaust, which was underway and part of the backdrop of this movie. What got to me about this monster was I swear I dreamt of him myself, or a monster very close to the way he looks, as a child. Maybe our brains are wired to imagine monsters in a certain way.

Pan’s Labryinth is set in 1944 and, supposedly, a kind of continuation of The Devil’s Backbone, which was set in 1939. I think they show the impact of war on children, the despair children feel when their lives are completely out of their own control. There is a lot to think about. It’s interesting how much scarier a human, the Captain, is than even a bogeyman that eats children. And how deadening fascism is.

The little girl playing Ofelia, Ivana Baquero, is an amazing actress. She manages to play a tragic child without melodrama, without being twee. Sergi López is good as the Captain, showing evil and obsession without over-acting. And Maribel Verdú, as Mercedes, I thought played her part flawlessly. I liked the way the film looked, that slightly greenish tinge that you see in old color photographs. And the scenes beneath the ground were lit—I even wondered where the light was coming from and was grateful for it.

This is a line of dialog I thought was wonderful, when Ofelia asked the faun for his name: “Me? I’ve had so many names. Old names that only the wind and the trees can pronounce. I am the mountain, the forest and the earth. I am ... I am a faun.”

I think this movie is brilliant. It’s a hard movie—del Toro is not one to sugar-coat anything and this movie would’ve been weak if he had. It’s interesting to me that a lot of critics warn parents not to bring their kids to see this movie because it might scar them and, yes, it is scary. But then I think of the hundreds of thousands of kids who are living this daily; there are no lights that come up for them when the credits roll. That’s why it’s brilliant—it makes you think, and keep thinking, long after the lights come back on.

posted by lee on 01/19/07 at 09:32 PM
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