Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Sunday Review

TV this week:

  • 10 Dollar Dinners: "Beyond Pork and Beans" - Well, some hints but not as much as usual for me on the two main dishes. The biscuits, on the other hand, were of great interest to me. Cold butter and very little mixing. Ok, gotta remember that.
  • History Detectives: "Duke Ellington Plates; Scottsboro Boys Stamp; Civil War Bridge" - Wow, great story with the Duke Ellington plates. Very neat that the plates appear to be originals. The story of the Scottsboro Boys was a shameful piece of our history, but then the South back then wasn't a place to have dark skin if you wanted justice. The connections in that trial are just amazing, and the journey the research took was quite a combination. Wow. The guy in the Civil War Bridge story was taking on "the Man" to fix what he thought was a mistake. I admire that. I've seen many historical markers that I thought had minor mistakes and never thought twice, but I guess it is important that those be correct. Good for him.
  • Ghost Hunters: "Essex County Jail" - As the guy was giving the tour I kept thinking that everything could be explained by old building sounds and creepy corners for the shadows. And while I don't doubt that Josh thought he saw someone, I saw nothing in any of the footage that seemed even slightly paranormal. They never revisited the extra head on the thermal camera that Josh saw, and that was the most promising piece they got that night. Just a creaky old building with some built-up anticipation. Not much of an episode, sadly. Not even for pure entertainment value (although the bat that attacked Steve was a good moment).
  • Dinner Impossible: "Food Court Fiasco" - Seven restaurants, 30 dishes, 8 hours. I'm not sure what to make of that. Could be fun, might be horrid. Ah, kitchen problems. Always always always. The temporary kitchens are NEVER good. Doing the work of 21 people is crazy, but Robert was lucky enough to pick up another helper at the store. The results seem to be pretty good. The folks who tried stuff seemed to really enjoy it. But then, if you compare regular food court fare to what Robert can offer, I think Robert will generally win.
  • Destination Truth: "Haunted Forest" - I don't know whether this episode is proof that you should never get in a small plane with Josh Gates, or proof that you should always have Josh with you when you risk flying in an ancient small plane. Except for the plane ride, the first half of the episode was like Ghost Hunters in the woods. Now, the experience with Evan and being tossed across the clearing was impressive. The man was sitting cross-legged, and was yanked upward on camera. I can think of ways they could have faked the footage, but if they were honest about it, there is no way Evan could've made that move on his own. That would be a place to really do some serious scientific research in. Pity we never got a good visual of the clearing during the day. The second story, down in Mayan-country, was fascinating to me for other reasons. The ruins, the wildlife... and the fact that they seem to actually be hunting a cryptid and not ghosts was also neat. "It's just nice to have a light that kills things." Heh.
  • Ace of Cakes: "It's A Hard Knock Cake For Duff" - DALEK CAKE!!!! MOVING DALEK CAKE!!!! WANT!!!!!!!! But what's this, none of these people know Doctor Who? We'll make fans of Duff's crew yet. I loved the hatch in front that pulled away to show the dalek inside. I wish they'd shown the delivery of the cake. That was my only disappointment with the episode. The other cakes were good. I liked Brett.

For this week's movie, we rewatched Wallace & Gromit - The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. It was great fun, and yes, Eric, I do wonder just how they get the floating rabbits in a claymation film. How exactly do you do floating at all in claymation, though? Careful camera angles, I guess. Watching it this time through, I spotted a few things I'd missed before, mostly neat little touches with signs or expressions. I admit I found the rabbits to be disturbingly cute. And the mouths on Lady Tottington and Victor Quartermaine to be terribly distracting for some reason. Still, a great little movie. Now, if only they can get off this Wallace love-interest-of-the-moment kick and find another way to drive a plot.

This week's comic book related review is Life On Another Planet by Will Eisner. It's the late 1970s, and a signal from another planet has been discovered. What will happen next? Well, when the KGB, a cult, and a third-world country get involved, just about anything can happen. And don't forget the evil corporation with plans for big profits anda mad scientist! Eisner gives us characters that we quickly understand and sympathize with, and tells the story like only Eisner can. If you've never read a thing by Eisner before, this isn't a terrible place to start. And you can wonder, is there life on another planet?

My library book this week was Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede. Think Little House on the Prarie meets magic, and you have a tiny insufficient inkling of what this book is about. A family moves west to the frontier in a world of magic. Partly to get away from the stigma of having a 13th child, and partly to protect their seventh son of a seventh son from getting too full of himself. Told from the perspective of the 13th child, a child who some think is destined to go bad, this is a book about growing up with serious self-doubt in an uncertain world. It's written in a simple voice, but vividly enough to grab your attention. I hope there are sequels, because I enjoyed it a lot, and I want to know what happens to Eff in the future (NOTE: It's the first book of a trilogy! Yay!).

Agatha Christie this week was The Labors of Hercules, a collection first published in 1947 or Hercule Poirot tales. The conceit of the book, proposed in a short foreward, is that Poirot plans to take on twelve final cases before retiring to raise vegetable marrows (zucchini). He will pick special cases that symbolically represent the twelve labors of Hercules.
  • The Nemean Lion - Poirot looks into the kidnapping of a Pekinese. Ah, the identity of the Lion was not something I was expecting. But, while the main mystery wasn't so impossible to predict (although I didn't quite get it), the clincher on this one was Poirot's prevention of another crime.
  • The Lernaean Hydra - Poirot is employed to stop an insidious rumor. Stopping a rumor seems impossible, but Poirot takes the Gordian Knot approach to the problem.
  • The Arcadian Deer - Poirot hunts down a woman for a love-sick garage hand. This one was bitter-sweet, but the end had that tiny grasp of hope.
  • The Erymanthian Boar - Coincidentally on the spot, Poirot is asked to apprehend a killer. This one seemed a little over-complicated at the beginning, but cleared up nicely towards the end. Not her best effort, but fairly typical.
  • The Augean Stables - Poirot is hired by the Prime Minister to do the impossible. Oooh, this was good. I knew Poirot wouldn't be able to help as soon as the problem was laid out for him... and then he manages to help. Wow. Quite a feather in Hercule's hat.
  • The Stymphalean Birds - A young politician on vacation is embroiled in domestic issues. Very typical story of misdirection. You'd think I'd have this plot figured out by now.
  • The Cretan Bull - A woman comes to Poirot for help when her fiance believes he is going mad. Figured this one out fairly quickly, but wasn't really sure I was right up until the end.
  • The Horses of Diomedes - A doctor called in Poirot to help a girl who is becoming addicted to cocaine. Another story of misdirection, which is revisited again in the final story of the anthology. Disturbing story about the perils of drug use.
  • The Girdle of Hyppolita - Poirot is called to find a missing painting, and a missing girl. The result was nicely satisfying in this one. I enjoyed how Poirot's attention was so easily diverted.
  • The Flock of Geryon - A former criminal helps Poirot investigate a cult. The criminal from the first story expresses a desire for excitement, and gives Poirot a possible case. Then the two, along with some timely help, crack the case.
  • The Apples of Hesperides - Poirot is hired to find a chalice missing for ten years. The key to this one is what Poirot does at the end, and how the "victim" of Poirot's crime completely understands.
  • The Capture of Cerberus - Poirot gets involved in a restaurant run by Countess Rossakoff. Another overly complicated stroy, but hey, it fits the theme since it has a doggie! Not bad.
Overall, a good little collection. Not the best of hers I've read, but not bad at all. Poirot's determination to cultivate vegetable marrows that have more taste is funny on too many levels. And the very end of the book, which I presume is right before he actually "retires", was a nice unexpected touch. It was Miss Lemon's reaction that made it work.

Fortean Times #252, September 2009. Still sent from Belgium in a flimsy plastic bag. Bleah. The cover story is about a 1974 UFO crash in Wales (the start of Torchwood Wales, maybe)? It's actually a wonderful debunking of an event that had its details blurred by time.

Strangedays started out with polliwog rains, and I had to cover the pictures on the next two-page spread because of the graphic eye injuries shown. The Lost and Found stories were good, and seem to indicate that things like that happen more often than you'd think. The "Unknown Monsters" story on page 10 made me wish for an episode of Primeval that explores the creatures. The ape stories all seemed plausible. The Konspiracy Korner tackles the insane Obama theories, and dismisses them with an analysis of previous disinformation campaigns. I liked the bit about the so-called Flores hobbits having large feet for their size... literally hobbits? And the bits on Operation Blackjack and Michael Jackson's death were both timely and, in the case of Jackson, eerie to ponder.

I did not enjoy the third part of the Hoax article as much as the first two, mostly because the language seemed to be trying a little too hard to impress. Or maybe my brain is just not in a state to read about it. Following that was a nicely skeptical article about pygmy elephants, with nice arguments against each of the cases presented.

The Ghosts and Haunting part of the Random Dictionary pointed out another thing to look for if you are investigating a haunting. The family in the story was affected by carbon monoxide from a faulty furnace. I think if I ever take up ghost hunting, it'll be so mundane that people will be disappointed. No psychics, because I don't accept them. I'll be checking for toxins and high electro-magnetic fields to see if I can't find a reasonable explanation for the haunts. And I'll be checking houses in the daytime first before any night hunting, just to be sure there are no obvious causes or pranking going on. It's not that I don't accept the possibility of ghosts, it's just that over 99% of what people think of as "paranormal" has totally normal explanations, and the rest probably has explanations that we just don't understand yet. Searching for ghosts might be fun and creepy, but if there is something else causing the problems that might actually be doing you real harm, like a faulty furnace spewing poisonous carbon monoxide, wouldn't you rather rule that out first?

The Forum provided an interesting explanation for lost time, called Transient Global Amnesia, that was a side-effect of a drug the person who experienced it was taking. Another article reminded me of lost friends, as it was about our afterlife online. What happens to our webpages and facebook profiles after we die? Mostly, they just go on. Book reviews were good as usual, although I would not pick up that Dissection book if you paid me. I enjoyed the letters, with people writing in about their own imaginary friends. Some freaky stuff there.

All-in-all another great issue of the strangest magazine I read. To my amusement, the next issue arrived just as I finally finished the review of this one. So Fortean Times remains in my review queue!