Friday, December 23, 2005

Not my tree.

Although I'm impressed: a Christmas tree with 52 science fiction and fantasy ornaments. And a Yoda on top.

And allow me to repeat: Not my tree.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Oh, not much. You?

Well, it’s clear I’m having troubles thinking of things to write about – the curse of having a boring, boring life – so I’ll take this opportunity to note books and movies I‘ve liked in the past couple of months.

Books first. Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell won the Hugo award last year (and a host of others), and is sort of a Harry Potter for adults. Not in any salacious way, you understand; just with more adult themes and without the gee-whiz excitement of the Potter books. It’s a story of the return of Magic to England, and is set in the early 1800s. And written in the style of a novel written in the mid-1800s. Great fun, and a long enough book that it will last both legs of a cross-country plane flight. And most of a snow-bound week between flights.

Assassination Vacation, by Sarah Vowell, recounts the author’s pilgrimages to sites related to presidential assassinations and assassination attempts, and is hilarious. While you actually learn little historical tidbits – such as the Curse of Robert Todd Lincoln – it’s the wonderful stories that make the book so enjoyable. The book’s opening line was enough to get me hooked: “Going to Ford’s Theater for the play is like going to Hooters for the food.”

Movies. I saw King Kong last weekend. Very good, and certainly worth the bother of going to a theater to see it on the big screen. Although it's 3 hours and 7 minutes long, it goes by quickly and I never found myself looking for the remote control to fast-forward to the next scene. To be sure, a number of five-minute scenes could have been shortened by a minute and a half, but even then, you wouldn't be taking out "bad" material - you'd be tightening up scenes that went on longer only to show off the computer graphics (which were excellent, for the most part).

I’m not entirely sure that the original King Kong needed to be remade, but this was a worthy remake. I last saw the original on the big screen at a film festival in Charlottesville about 6 or 7 years ago, where it was introduced by Fay Wray. That was fun, too.

At this year’s Virginia Film Festival, I saw Nine Lives. Nine interlocking short stories, each filmed in a single shot so that you get a palpable feeling of “real time.” Excellent ensemble cast: Kathy Bates, Sissy Spacek, Robin Wright Penn, Ian McShane, Aidan Quinn, and many, many others. I think it hasn’t had a real national release yet, so you might be able to catch it in the theater.

DVDs from Netflix. No surprise: I’m an unabashed fan of Netflix. Among the things I’ve gotten from Netflix lately that I’ve liked a lot are the Firefly series, The Fog of War, the Wonderfalls series, and the Jancis Robinson wine series. And I’ve finally gotten around to seeing Sling Blade. But the real joy of Netflix – over and above not having to drive to the dreadful video rental place and wandering around searching the racks for something other than fifty copies of the latest Deuce Bigalow schlockfest – is the ability to see the interesting “little” movie that you’ll never find at Blockbuster and never see on HBO. Here are a couple that I’ve seen in the past month:

Second Generation. Essentially a made-for-TV movie, but since it was made for British TV, it’s orders of magnitude better than American networks’ TV movies. It’s King Lear set amidst Indian immigrants around London, and filled with excellent Indian actors you’ll recognize, even if you don’t immediately know all the names: among them are Parminder Nagra, Om Puri, and Anupam Kher.

Edge of Madness. A Canadian movie, set in the last half of the nineteenth century. A girl who is not yet a young woman is “placed” from an orphanage to be the wife of someone who is a settler in the mostly-deserted Western provinces. Someone who’s not all that good a settler, and not all that good a husband. Excellent dramatic performance in this murder mystery by Caroline Dhavernas (who gave excellent comedic performances in Wonderfalls), and one in which she doesn’t have to hide her natural French accent.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Not that kind of hardware store, alas.

Time for a trip to the hardware store, it seems. To make copies of my house keys, so I can give a set to the neighbor or hide one or something.

Out of the house I bounded this afternoon, all set to go to the UPS place to send off a package. (Christmas presents? Hah! Far too early for that. A birthday present. And no, it's probably not for you.) Got the package? Check. Got the Netflix envelope to drop off at the Post office? Check. Got my wallet? Check. Okay, we're ready to roll! Slam the door behind me, make sure it's good and locked, and away we go!

Got my keys?

Hmmm. This trip could be both much longer and much shorter than I had anticipated.

The choice seemed to be between calling a locksmith to open the door and finding a more direct method through a window or something. Which is likely to be cheaper? Okay, forget the locksmith.

Wander around the house to see whether I've inadvertently left a window open, unlikely as that might seem in the middle of winter. No such luck.

So I picked a basement window to be sacrificed. I found something to try to pry out all the putty around the window, in hopes of somehow being able to ease the window out of the frame without breaking it. Twenty minutes and a cracked-but-not-broken window later, I gave up on that scheme: putty that's dried into place over fifty years just wasn't going to be easily persuaded to give up its grip.

(Twenty minutes was long enough for me, too. I was afraid that the neighbors across my back-yard fence might wonder what was going on over there, with all that banging against the window and that shifty-looking person skulking around the back of the house. Any longer, and they might call 911 - and I really didn't want to be the day's entertainment for Richmond's Finest.)

The window was no match to the business end of a wrench, however.

So tomorrow's list includes a visit to the hardware store, for a set of spare keys. And, oh yes, a new window pane. And putty.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Christmas list.

On the off chance you are wondering what to get me for Christmas, and you have $600 burning a hole in your pocket, you could always get me a life-size Yoda Statue. Not that I'm exactly sure what "life-size" means in this particular context. Presumably something other than "two-dimensional."

And if you're especially thrifty and know someone else who would like a life-size Yoda for Christmas - perhaps yourself? - you'll be delighted to know that if you buy two at one time, the second is 20% off. (I suppose there's also the chance that people will consider you to be at least 20% off to spend $600 for a Yoda statue, but you're willing to take that risk for me, aren't you?)

No lard; just snow.

A fairly peaceful snowstorm, at least at my house. And early enough in the season that by afternoon, the top of the snow was covered with leaves that are only now deciding that it's time to fall.

It was a bit more exciting last night. Driving home from work, as I got within three miles of my home, I realized that the electricity was out - no traffic lights, no lights on the houses, and I'd bet no heat, if there was no electricity at my house. And about a mile and a half from my house, the police had blocked off the street. Not a good sign. As I circled around to approach my neighborhood from another direction, though, I got into an area where the electricity was still on, and it was on at my house when I got there.

And the other excitement came in the middle of the night, awakening to the crack of branches high in the tree in my front yard (and the subsequent thuds when they hit the ground). Sounded worse than it was, though, as I discovered only a couple of 15-foot branches had come down. Not on the electric wires, not through my roof. A good result.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Falls Like Lard.

Or, you know, maybe not.

There's a "Winter Storm Watch" for the area, starting tonight and lasting through Tuesday night. And if it really does snow, they're calling for as much as 2 to 4 inches - on grassy areas.

Doesn't stop the TV stations from going into their usual headless-chicken panic mode. Crawls across the bottom of the screen every half-hour or so, and occasionally breaking into coverage to show their forecast maps. And the 11:00 news shows trotted out their packaged clips of Department of Transportation trucks filling up with salt and sand to put on the roads and the "crowds" at the grocery stores. (In fact, to my surprise, the grocery store I typically go to had a normal amount of customers and plenty of bread and milk on the shelves at 7 p.m. this evening.)

My favorite part of the TV weather reports was the forecast map of what areas could expect in the way of precipitation over the next 48 hours. Probably too much information to fit into a single map, but Hey! they tried. They had the map of Virginia, split into about 5 different colored bands, from "All Rain" in the band closest to the ocean, through "Mixed Precipitation" and "Sleet" (these two seemed to cover the Richmond area), "Snow" and ending with "Heavy Snow" (in the mountains). The best parts of the map, though, were the other little comments on the map. Most were informative ("4 to 10 inches" near Charlottesville), but over the mountains was this odd little phrase: "Falls Like Lard".

No idea what it means. I can't imagine snow falling so heavily that one might mistake it for lard, and I've seen a lot of intense snowfalls. Even a thunder-snowstorm, once. But lard? Yuk. Although I suppose it would make for much more substantial snowmen.