December 2007 Archives

The strike by television and movie writers has reduced the amount of new episodes of many TV shows being shown, like HEROES, ditto many of the late-night shows (although many reality shows have elected to proceed without scripting). And it sounds like the strike, even if resolved today, will delay many new episodes, even new series. (New-to-US episodes of the BBC's LIFE ON MARS are still showing up, and HBO's THE WIRE re-starts in early January 2008.)

When not reading or doing other non-work stuff, we enjoy watching TV shows (we get our news elsewhere), but we're prepared -- thanks to the pile of videotaped stuff that's piled up over the past five or ten years, which we have nicknamed "The Backlog Channel."

The pile -- which I've pruned a few times, including, aggressively, this past weekend -- are the sundry shows I've taped because we couldn't watch them as they happened, because we were out, busy, watching something else on another channel, or because we missed previous episodes and are trying to watch them in order.

The pile I just triaged had everything from several years' worth of the National Westminster Dog Show (we did see the winners), half a dozen episodes of LIFE (we're catching up), some of the past season or three of Dr. Who (which we may not bother with), sundry PBS documentaries, stuff we've watched that I hung on to, and even a few show episodes I thought we'd seen, like a THREE MOONS, plus a handful of movies. (And I've got several boxes of videotape to sell...)

Now I've got everything sorted by show and date, of the main pile. (There's still some in the closet, with really older tapes, like, I think, PBS's broadcast of The Rock Follies... several dozen episodes of THE AVENGERS, taped in like 1990, when they were first rebroadcast.)

The increasing availability of some shows for free "on demand" viewing over cable, or on computer, has simplified some of the problem. We watched a number of episodes of AMC's (originally intended for HBO, I gather) MAD MEN on cable, and have to go back and catch up with CBC's charming comedy LITTLE MOSQUE ON THE PRAIRIE via the net.

And if, by some chance, we catch up with this, there's always DVD collections via the library or NetFlix, if we feel we have the time, energy and focus... or read more books.

On The Big Screen: The Golden Compass

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I went and saw the film, THE GOLDEN COMPASS, the day after it opened, to make sure I saw it, on an at-least-middlin' sized screen.

I enjoyed it a lot; I'd happily go see it again (on a larger screen, if possible), and if the eventual DVD has extra material, I'd rent/borrow it for that, although I don't feel the desire to own and re-re-re-see the movie.

Spoiler alert: for those of you who haven't read the book (yet), I'll do the first half of this review without giving anything away, beyond stuff from the first few minutes. I'll put up a Spoilers Follow flag before any serious plot-killers.

Some of the underlying premise: The books (and movie) take place (mostly) in a parallel Earth, where people's souls are external and visible, taking animal form, and behaving like autonomous, talking beings. Referred to as "daemons," (pronounced "demon" in the movie, I don't know whether that's how Pullman meant it pronounced in the book, versus the more Greek-ish "day-mon." (This isn't a spoiler, it's part of the movie's voice-over intro.)

It's books, it's now a movie, too: Like the LORD OF THE RINGS film trilogy, and the five or six Harry Potter films, the GOLDEN COMPASS movie is based on a popular "ology" of fantasy books -- in this case, the first volume (except, I'm told, the last three chapters) of Phillip Pullman's trilogy HIS DARK MATERIALS. The three books in the trilogy are THE GOLDEN COMPASS (known in the U.K. as "Northern Lights"), THE SUBTLE KNIFE, and THE AMBER SPYGLASS. (Useful-looking web sites: www.hisdarkmaterials.org and the site by the book publisher.)

Book or movie first?: Should you read the books first? I can't advise you. Having read the books makes it lots easier to know what's going on, but, of course, changes the experience from "what's going to happen next?" to "So how will they show this?" -- probably the biggest challenge that Tolkein and Rowling readers faced in seeing the movie adaptations.

But do read them. I've read all three books -- several times -- and enjoyed them. They're full of distinctive characters, marvels and other nifty stuff, and a rip-rousing lot of action. (I've read some criticisms, mostly on how parts of the second and third books seem to lose their sense of direction, and I can't argue that, but they're still wonderful, wonder-filled, good books.

Good job of rendering the book?: My summary opinion of "how well did the movie do in conveying the book?": Very well. I had no clear in-my-head images of what I expected -- unlike, to some extent, LORD OF THE RINGS -- so I wasn't disappointed, and didn't find myself muttering "That's not what she/he/they/it looks like..." If anything, the movie exceeded my mental images. Lovely steampunktech vehicles, architecture, and all. The movie kept/conveyed the tone of the book, took us to all the locales -- Jordan College, the docks, the cold north, the castle of the armored bears. No complaints.

And the movie did a good job of introducing all the characters, helping us keep track, moving parallel sub-plots along... and bringing the events to a good closing point at the end, while also clearly stating what the (hopefully) next movie will be about.

The only thing I really didn't like was the dorky song over the closing credits. Bleah.

Go see it (unless you belong to a religious group that has forbidden members to see it).

SEMI-SPOILERS STARTING HERE...

I'm not going to tell you about the movie proper; other people can do that, probably better than I can.

The golden compass is an Alethiometer -- a handheld instrument that lets the user get answers to questions, assuming they have the ability to query the device and properly interpret its responses. In the book, if I recall, alethiometers are (important) tools used by protagonist Lyra Belaqua and others; in the movie, the golden compass takes on greater import, it seems.

There's some major differences between the book and the movie, although they don't, in my opinion, make a big difference to the general action.

In particular -- as you probably know if you've heard any of the radio interviews/discussions, or read some of the reviews -- in the movie, the Big Bad (to borrow a Buffyism) is the Magisterium, an organization seeking to eliminate free will, to wipe out sin. In the books, although the Mag. is still a Medium-Size Bad, it's, ultimately, about a powermad-gone-senile angel who claimed to be the divinity (if you read the books carefully, they're not about "God dying" or "killing God," it's "an angel who claimed to be the Creator"), and the BB is the angel Metatron and his multi-universal minions.

If/when we get to Movie #3, possibly even within #2, this could make for big differences; in GOLDEN COMPASS, not so much, in my opinion.

(The Catholic Church has decided that the Magisterium is a very thinly disguised negative portrayel of the Church -- something I, um, confess I neither noticed nor cared about either way. The Vatican is apparently Not Happy. It's good to see they're not still busy being upset about Dan Brown's DA VINCI CODE :-)

Things I liked: The movie's makers did a lot of nice touches regarding the daemons, which I've decided I won't mention, so that even if you've read the books, you can still get some sense-of-wonder out of this. I will say it was nifty seeing all the daemons alongside and interacting with their people, in scenes, it made the whole notion a lot more real than the books did.

The zeppelins were fabulous, the interior looked a lot like some of sf artist Tom Kidd's Gnemo paintings.

What else...I liked the cast, which includes Daniel Craig (the most recent James Bond) did a good job, Derek Jacobi in a good if small part, and Nicole Kidman  (loved her in MOULIN ROUGE) as a well-dressed "don't mess with me" mastermind. Great sets, great scenery. I gather some people complain that the CGI effects are to much like LORD OF THE RINGS, HARRY POTTER, and everything else that's been out lately; I didn't have that problem.

Conclusion, sort of: I don't know if this helps you decide whether or not to go.

My bigger question(s): I wonder what the reading/watching experience is like for somebody who hasn't read a bunch of fantasy and science fiction?

In theory, given STAR WARS, STAR TREK, HARRY POTTER, LORD OF THE RINGS, and NARNIA, not to mention ALIENS and whatnot, this may no longer be possible. However, soaking one's brain with movie and TV scifi isn't necessarily the same; it may familiarize you with obvious concepts (alien, rocket ship, faster-than-light, wizard, magic, lesnerize, et cetera), but not necessary "the science fiction (reader's) point of view."

Six CDs of Allan Sherman - Happy Holiday To Me :-)

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Allan Sherman's 'letter from camp' song "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh" is, I suspect, one of the humorous songs that most kids know...but, unlike, say Tom Lehrer (or, I'm guessing, Dr. Demento), most kids and former kids aren't very familiar with any of Sherman's other songs, which are mostly humor -- often urban and suburban Jewish -- using familiar tunes.

He did about ten albums (according to Wikipedia), starting with MY SON THE FOLKSINGER, but until recently, only about ten or twenty songs were easily available, through a "best of" CD (which I own). (There's actually two different "Best of" CDs, I believe -- some different selections, and different performances.)

Allan Sherman also wrote several books -- his autobiography epitomizes "funny people are often very unhappy." And, among other things, according to Wikipedia, he created and was the original producer of the TV game show, "I've Got A Secret."

I bought probably six or seven of his albums (vinyl) as they came out, but don't still have them all. (I do still have a turntable.) I've picked up one or two of the older albums at yard sales, but there's some I don't have, and haven't hunted for online. (A quick eBay check suggests that copies of all his albums can be obtained.)

In 2005, Rhino Records announced the six-disk MY SON THE BOX, with 149 tracks, including 31 unreleased ones -- "everything Sherman waxed for Warner Bros., and more. The albums My Son, The Folk Singer; My Son, The Celebrity; My Son, The Nut; Allan In Wonderland; Songs For Swingin' Livers Only!; My Name Is Allan; Allan Sherman Live!!!; and Togetherness are included in their entirety, along with previously unreleased outtakes, alternate versions, and live performances, as well as "Sue Me" (with Debbie Reynolds) from the Guys And Dolls soundtrack."

("Sue me" can be found on the four-CD set, Reprise Musical Repertory Theatre (Finian's Rainbow, Kiss Me Kate, South Pacific, Guys and Dolls), also starring Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Jo Stafford, the McGuire Sisters, and Sammy Davis Jr., which is interesting enough to warrant borrowing, but not, IMHO, quite good enough to justify purchasing at full price--although the Guys & Dolls, which I'm listening to my library's copy of right now, is a lot of fun.)

Given that MY SON THE BOX was a limited-edition product -- 4,000 copies -- I wanted one, and knew I should get it quickly, before they all sold. But the $139 price tag gave me pause.

I periodically checked our library's online catalog, but no luck. A month or so ago, I had the library search their extended lending network, and while two libraries had it, both declined to let me inter-library-loan it, the bums.

Then I heard a tune on one of our local radio stations that was inarguably Allan Sherman, but one I'd ever heard -- even they have a copy of the set.

Earlier this month, however, 1) I got $75 for participating in a focus group by one of Boston's local non-profit music stations. ("Finally, a focus group where I'm really in the target demographic" is what I said when I saw the other people in the waiting room.) 2) Collectors Choice Music, whose catalog I get and sporadically purchase from, had MY SON THE BOX on sale for $109.95. 3) They were offering free shipping for purchases over $50, made before December 18. 4) Their email included an "additional 15% off" offer.

That brought the purchase price down to $93.46, and I'm investing my focus group fee, bringing the net to $18.46.

I'm expecting it to arrive any day now. Happy holiday to me!

Welcome to Dern Near Everything Else

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Welcome to Dern Near Everything Else, my blog for all the stuff that doesn't belong in my Trying Technology tech-oriented blog, like stuff I'm reading, listening to, watching, or doing, and other trying and non-trying aspects of life. (There will be some inevitable overlap into and from the tech arena, I expect.)

Like my Trying Technology blog, part of the reason for Dern Near Everything Else is to provide a home for stuff I haven't (yet) gotten assignments to do from other sites/publications, follow-up musings to things I've already written, and other what-not. (If you're an editor, and want to buy something from me, whether from/based on blog entries or something else entirely, or don't hesitate to contact me, of course!)

And now... on to near everything else (other than trying technology)!

Daniel Dern

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This page is an archive of entries from December 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

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