Monday, June 30, 2014

The Leftovers

No, I'm not talking about last night's meat loaf.  HBO has premiered a new series called "The Leftovers."  Fascinated by the previews, I recorded it and watched it this morning.

It's an eerie premise.  One day the world was normal then everything changed.  Focused on a small town in upstate NY, it begins with the day it all went wrong.  A young mother is in a laundromat with a crying infant in his car seat.  She's multi-tasking doing laundry and talking constantly on her cellphone.  She finally gets the baby strapped in the car's backseat and gets in the car shutting the door, still yakking on the phone, and trying to shush her screaming little boy.  All of a sudden, he is silent.  Surprised she looks over the seat and discovers he has disappeared.  She panics when she cannot find him anywhere.  There are other people calling for their loved ones who vanished with her baby.  It crescendos into wailing, screaming, and the sounds of cars that lost their drivers crashing into each other.

In the next scene it's three years later.  We meet the police chief, his daughter, and his son.  There are lots of people who vanished on The Day.  In the media there are arguments between the religious and the non-believers as to whether it was the Rapture or not. Two percent of the world's population has disappeared.

There is a strange cult of watchers who do not speak, constantly smoke cigarettes, dress all in white, and stand around as reminders of all the people who are gone.  In the beginning episode, they come to the remembrance day that commemorates the event some three years earlier.  Their silent presence and hand-made signs stir the crowd to violence and a melee ensues.

The police chief sees his wife among the demonstrators.  She left him and their two children to join the bizarre cult.  I don't know why smoking is a prerequisite to belong, but apparently it is.  The members walk around with lit cigarettes always hanging out of their mouths, even a meals.  Pleasant atmosphere, no doubt...

There is interesting symbolism that has yet to be explained and may never be, who knows.  An elk appears to the police chief in his dreams and in reality.  To some Native Americans, an elk (wapiti) is a spirit guide or power animal.  I don't know what the connection is in this story, but there is a definite metaphysical aspect to the animal and his appearance in the story.

On that note, I have to tell you I downloaded the book this afternoon to my Kindle.  I want to figure out what's going on in this enigmatic series.  I found the pilot episode both compelling and repulsive at times.  This bears further watching (further recording and watching later, that is...)I may review the book later, so look for more info.

My big news for the month of July is that my novel will be available in the next few weeks.  You can bet I'll keep you posted on that.

Take care and mind the heat...I don't know about where you are, but it's hot as blazes here and the ac is working overtime.  My poor shih tzus need to be clipped.  Until their appointment in two days, they'll be panting like a salacious old man and woman.  Hang in there, guys...

Friday, June 20, 2014

Driving out of Bon Temps with a Note to Kings Landing

If you watch True Blood and Game of Thrones, you'll understand the title of this post.

True Blood, based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels by the brilliant Charlaine Harris begins it's last season this Sunday night on HBO.  Since the series has never tracked the plot lines of the books to a great degree, there's no telling what will happen.

Leading up to Sunday, HBO has been airing the other six seasons of TB in order. Plus, they're airing a 30 minute, bittersweet special in which the main cast and production staff wax nostalgic.  For those of us who have followed this series, it's a sad thing to see it go.  But it's probably for the best. 

While waiting for Sunday night's episode, I've been watching the beginning episode of each of the seasons.  They run them in the overnight hours, at least in the Eastern Time Zone.  By the time I get up, walk the dogs, etc, the last episode of that season comes on. I've been watching it with my morning coffee.  And like some programmed automaton, I am still fascinated with the series.

The world of Sookie Stackhouse, be it in the books, or on the television series, is set in a typical small southern town.  The only difference is some of the residents are vampires, werewolves, shape-shifters, witches, fairies, and the occasional crossbred individual.  Don't even get me started on the lone Maenad who visited Bon Temps (which by the way for the uninitiated among you means Good Times in French as in "Let the good times roll!")

I think the reason some of us are so drawn to this setting is its familiarity infused with a bizarre, paranormal world. If you're from the South, you'll recognize Bon Temps, its human denizens, its social occasions, deep fat fry cuisine, and tendency to gossip. You can relate very well to the workings of society.

The other attraction is the ironic weirdness of the place filled with non-human types, each particular breed with its own code of conduct and degree of danger to the human population. True Blood, like Harris' novels, has run the gamut of emotions.  It has made me laugh uproariously, cringe in disgust (oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!), and weep buckets - sometimes in the same episode.
It has been a cathartic thrill ride on summer Sunday evenings.

The thing about the series which put me off in the beginning has become my favorite aspect of the show.  Since the plot lines have strayed from the novels, even the most ardent Harris fan can be surprised.  Granted some of the surprises aren't good, but you never know what's going to happen next.  Since Harris published her last Sookie Stackhouse novel last year, I know how that universe ended - who got Sookie, etc.  It will be very interesting to see how the series ends.

In any case, I want to thank HBO for bringing their version of Bon Temps life (and death) to us for seven seasons.  It's been a hell (and I mean that literally) of a ride.

Now on to another HBO series, Game of Thrones, which is still going strong with several seasons to go.  Though not my favorite of the two series, it is still a fascinating show.  In this case I've only read one of the books by author George R.R. Martin, on which the series is based. So it's mostly all new to me, which is probably for the best in this case.

You wouldn't think so but GoT is by far bloodier, gorier, and harder for me to watch than TB.  There have been some scenes that I had to turn away from or frankly turn off.  I'm not much into watching prolonged viscera these days.

Still GoT is a fascinating saga - and believe me saga is the right word.  I won't attempt to outline the convoluted plot lines and character interaction.  I would be writing the post all afternoon, and I've got a novel to finish.

Let's just talk about the season's final episode, which aired last Sunday night. GoT occupies the same Sunday night time slot as TB.

I won't go into the whole episode only the salient parts from my point of view.  First of all, I am firmly in Dany's camp in the battle for the crown.  She is the strongest female character on the show and is the "mother of dragons" which is a clever plot device.  Unfortunately, one of her almost grown dragons (I hate to see how much bigger he'll get) has turned rogue.  He has begun killing humans.  So she had to lure the other two down into the catacombs of her current residence and chain them to prevent them following his example.  It was a sad scene with the dragons crying to follow her and her, resolute but weeping at having to do it. I give her kudos for that decision and remain firmly on her side.

The bigger story of the season finale was the fate of Tyrian Lannister.  Due to be executed primarily to rid the family of what they view as a burden and hindrance, he was freed by his brother.  Tyrian was tried before a tribunal led by his own father and found guilty.  You don't want to know about why he was found guilty  -  HUGE disgusting prolonged viscera scene...But in a bloodthirsty (is there any other kind on GoT) twist, Tyrian got his revenge. 

You see, the prostitute who was originally Tyrian's mistress, testified against him at his trial.  She was the only woman he ever truly loved.  When he was freed and instructed to leave the castle by a certain route, he had to stop at his father's room first.  Where he found his mistress in his father's bed.  He had words with her and ended up killing her when she tried to kill him.  Then I guess the blood lust was really on him.  He walked down the corridor and saw a convenient crossbow with several arrows leaning up against the wall.  That's a medieval castle for you - you can always find a crossbow, a mace, a sword, whenever you need one...

Anyhow he finds his father in and on the privy. After exchanging angry words Tyrian shoots him in the arm.  The father then reveals his true hatred for his "dwarf" son.  And that is when Tyrian fires the kill shot, leaving his father, once a mighty king, dead upon the "throne." (I am told the book went into vivid detail about the particularly gross aspect of the king's death.  One more reason I'm glad I haven't read the books.)

I applauded.  Tyrian, the put-upon brother, is arguably the best in that horribly demented family.  Michael Dinklage who plays him is a wonderful actor and does a great job in the part.

Tyrian makes it to a ship in the harbor inside a packing crate.  The man who arranged the escape boards the ship himself when he hears the bells pealing from the castle. He knows the father has been found.  No sense going back and having to explain where he's been - not with that family.

So we are left with several cliff-hangers on the season finale of GoT...Relax, we've only got to wait another ten and a half months.

Take care everyone.  Happy summer solstice!!!

Until next time...

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Sum of All Fears

THAT'S the movie starring Ben Affleck as Jack Ryan that I could not remember last time.  It is perhaps my favorite in a string of good movies based on the work of the late Tom Clancy.  I finally googled "Ben Affleck Jack Ryan" to get the name.  And when it came up I slapped myself upside the head and groaned.  Of course that's the name...duh.

I tell myself it's the stress of my life these days, but part of me says it's a consequence of my own age.  After all, my father will be 93 in a few months and I was no "late in life" baby...

I think the cause of my stress, nervous behavior, inexplicable anger/rage, forgetfulness, and inability to sleep are all linked together to one common cause...fear.

A wise friend gave me a good email talking-to recently.  She wrote that anger is often fear which we mask because anger is so much easier to handle.  Nobody wants to be a trembling vulnerable little rabbit when you can be a big, loud, scary predator frightening people away from you. "Stay back! I might fly into a rage! I just might bite!"

Eleven years ago my mom was bedfast for seven months while she was dying of colon cancer.  I watched her fade away literally until she weighed 75 pounds.  Until now, that was the most painful time in my life.  I loved my mother, but I was and am Daddy's girl. Besides my mom's last instruction to me was to take care of my father.

Now I watch my beloved father fade away daily. At times, he is confused, at times he rages usually at his most convenient target - me.  As unpleasant as that can be it doesn't make my stomach knot and my head ache as much as watching him lose his once quick wit, his acumen with language, his often cocky self-assurance, or as one of my teachers once said of him, the ability to be the "steel claw in a velvet glove."  He was once, literally, a captain of industry or at least a 1st lieutenant, of an internationally known corporation.  He was respected for his sharp mind, management style, and financial abilities.  Most of that is gone now.  He isn't totally confused.  He has good days and bad, but when they're bad it's hardest for me to take.

My friend in her email said she'd be terrified in my situation.  I have to hand it to her perception. I am terrified - not of being alone eventually, I can deal with that.  I'm terrified of watching him continue to fade.  That little girl inside me doesn't always recognize the stranger he's become.

Which brings me to my point, yeah I know I am notorious for taking the most circuitous route possible. 

Fear is the most powerful of all our negative emotions. 

Oh, a bit of healthy fear such as knowing you need to get out of a situation  in which you may be hurt is a good thing.  I wish more battered women would act on their fear and leave their batterers.

Fear of our differences is a major factor in going to war, has been throughout the ages.  From the Crusades to Pearl Harbor, from Gettysburg to today's situation in Iraq, fear is the most pervasive driving factor. It breeds distrust and hatred, huge misconceptions that divide the human race into "us and them."

As an old hippie, I wish we could all just "make love not war" but I don't see that happening, not while we let our fear control us beyond all reasonable thought.

So it took a good friend and the title of a movie from a few years ago to bring me to an epiphany. I'm hoping the self-awareness will help me deal with my current situation in a better way. I don't like having a hair trigger temper.  It's just not me. And it's nothing that can be cured by the assiduous application of dark chocolate...(well, I will keep trying that remedy for awhile - couldn't hurt.)

I will repeat my favorite quote from the late, great Bette Davis (and don't let me hear of you young people tweeting "who?" Google her if you have to.  She was quite a woman.)

Old Age Ain't No Place for Sissies.

Amen to that, Bette.  It's no picnic for us caregivers either...

Oh and to you fear mongers out there, you know who you are, cut it out!  We don't need anymore prejudice and distrust in this world.

Thanks for letting me paraphrase the old song, "it's my blog and I'll vent if I want to..."

True Blood alert!! The final season begins this Sunday...Farewell Bon Temps...

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Jack Ryan:Shadow Recruit

Sorry I haven't been online much lately.  I'm working on another book.  Between that and my dad, I don't have much time to tend to my blog these days.  That being said, just a word about the lightning damage...It has all been repaired - required a new cable box, a new cable, new HDMI cable, and use of a different HDMI port on the television (the old one fried due to the lightning strike.)  I've got five of those ports on the television...guess they were anticipating a family of gamers.  Oh yes and I got a brand new tube of toothpaste which now resides in a cup just to be safe and keep the black marble free of green goo...Who would have thought lightning could strike the ground, travel under the lake to reach the outdoor cable box and come into the building to do all the damage.  As one friend said, it's a good thing I wasn't reaching for the toothpaste at that very moment...

But on to the movies!

Last night I watched the recent Jack Ryan:Shadow Recruit on pay-per-view.  I have to tell you I am a longtime fan of this Tom Clancy character, from The Hunt for Red October to Patriot Games to A Clear and Present Danger and sorry, my brain is tired, the one with Ben Affleck as Ryan about neo-NAZIs and nuclear terrorism at the super bowl in Baltimore.  I loved that movie but my mind doesn't want to cooperate today.  Oh well I couldn't do the morning paper's Sudoku either...just one of those days.

At any rate, this new movie while based on characters Clancy created is an original story.  Starring Chris Pine, it starts with Jack Ryan as a doctoral student in England on Sept. 11, 2001.  Ryan (Pine aka Captain Kirk) is so affected by the attack that he leaves school and joins the Marines.  He is sent to Afghanistan and badly injured when the helicopter in which he is traveling is hit by a missile and goes down.  Like a true hero, he saves two of his men.

He ends up in rehab and meets an intern named Dr. Kathy Mueller, played by Keira Knightley, who will become his wife in later stories.

As in the books, he is recruited by the CIA.  They send him back to finish his doctorate and put him to work as a consultant in Wall Street firms.

Now we're well out of the territory of the books.  He discovers a terror plot to destroy the US economy by the Russians.  Suddenly he's a field operative instead of an analyst.

Thus begins a fast-moving thrill ride of a movie.  Directed by Kenneth Branagh, who also plays the villain, it's a good action thriller.  There are two stories at work.  The first is the Moscow plot to destroy the US economy and throw us back into the dark ages.  The second is a terrorist attack planned on US soil to start the whole plot in motion.

This has a good cast of recognizable faces.  The Naval Officer who recruits Jack is played by Kevin Costner.  Colm Feore, one of my favorite character actors (and the villain in the movie listed above whose title I cannot remember) plays Ryan's corporate boss.  He is completely free of any knowledge of the CIA or Jack's true role.  That proves a hindrance in one nail-biting scene.  And there are plenty of those.

Intellectually we KNOW it will turn out for the best, but the action pulls us along irrevocably to the stunning conclusion.

This is pure mind candy and will make you want another bite.  Think faster, bigger, louder...

Mikhail Baryshnikov has a cameo role that isn't credited.  He has aged but looks good.  If you're too young to know who that is, he was the last great ballet dancer to come out of the Soviet Union to find acclaim in the West.  He was quite the playboy in his day and appeared in several films.

It's a great way to escape into a pulsing story.

Enjoy it.

Until next time take care, read, listen to music, watch a film, or one of the summer tv shows.  Take advantage of our rich pop culture.