Monday, June 30, 2008

Waitress (2007)

It was chick-flick Sunday night at our house. CinemaxHD has on the 2007 film Waitress starring Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion and Andy Griffith. My wife is a Russell fan from the days of Felicity, and I'm a huge fan of Fillion's from Firefly and other things. So, it was a good film compromise.

The story is about a young waitress/pie-maker (Russell) who is trapped in her marriage. As the film opens, she discovers that she is pregnant as well. Unhappy about it all, she visits her local OBGYN only to find that the regular doctor is now semi-retired and a new, male doctor (Fillion) is now filling in. This doctor is everything her arrogant, self-centered, abusive husband is not. The young woman is biding her time, and hiding her tip money, until she can get out of town and go to the national pie-baking festival (where her inventive recipes have a good chance to win). Griffith plays the old and quirky owner of the restaurant that the waitress works at.

While a good film, it is still very much a woman-empowerment film. The young waitress struggles to find an escape from her life and to avoid getting into an equally confusing situation with the doctor. In the end, she finds the right path for her to take.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Square Pegs

Last night I watched the first disk from Square Pegs: the Complete Series on DVD. For those not familiar with the show, it ran on CBS for a single season from Fall of 1982 to the Spring of 1983. It was created and produced by Ann Beats, one of the early Saturday Night Live writers, and many of the episodes were also worked on by SNL writers past and present. It also was the show that launched a number of young actors in their careers, including Sarah Jessica Parker, Jami Gertz and Tracy Nelson.

The show as about two girls - Patty (Parker) and Lauren (Amy Linker) starting high school and deciding it was time to move from the more geeky clique they were in before to a more popular one. Although they keep failing to join the popular group that included Jennifer (Nelson), Vinnie and LaDonna, they do end up befriending a couple of out-on-the-fringe guys - comedienne Marshall (John Fernia) and the new-waver Johnny "Slash" (the late Merritt Butrick). Gertz played the every peppy-preppy Muffy Tepperman.

Due to Ann Beats SNL connections, the show featured interesting guest stars. The Waitresses did the show's theme song as well as appeared in the first episode. New-wave band Devo appeared an episode as well. From the comedy end, folks like Father Guido Sarducci and Bill Murray appeared in episodes as well.

The show was different than most sitcoms. It was filmed with a single camera rather than the standard 3-camera approach. Also, it was not done in front of a studio audience, so there is no annoying laugh-track. The humor is subtle and smart, not slapstick. I had forgotten about all this in the 25 years since the show aired. I had not seen it since it went off the air back in the day.

The DVD set, three disks in all, contains all 19 original episodes. It also contains sections from the actors today talking about memories of doing the show, of working with fellow castmates, etc. I enjoyed that feature a lot.

So, why does Square Pegs resonate with me after all this time. A couple reasons really.

First, this was on during my senior year of high school. That was a big time in my life - a time of ending one chapter and preparing for a new one (going to college). I also had grown a lot that year, coming out of my own shell socially. In a lot of ways, I got what the characters of Patty and Lauren were trying to do - to find the right place that their "square pegs" would fit in the scheme of life while still remaining true to themselves. The writers got that high school was about cliques and that fitting in didn't always come easy. And that sometimes people who were even in the most popular cliques had their own issues too. It was a show that reflected reality to me in a number of aspects.

Second, I loved that the show reflected a lot of the new-wave trends in music at the time. From the bands who appeared to posters on the walls in scenes to topical references, this show hit on the music of the time - and it was music I was growing into due to listening to the local college radio station during my later high school years. People like Devo, the Waitresses, Madness, Laurie Anderson, Prince, the Thompson Twins, the Dead Kennedys, etc. - all of this I got from listening to the SUNY Fredonia radio station. This type of music was the soundtrack of my later high school years and early college years.

Finally, Marshall and Johnny were close buds in a way that I was with my best friend John Palmer. I'm not sure which of us was which. Maybe we had a little bit of both of them in each of us. John did an awesome Johnny impersonation with the catch-phrase "totally different head...totally" (the implication there that something was a different mind-set from something else - as in "Not punk. New-wave. Totally different head...totally."). John and I would totally chat about each episode after they aired. See...there I go. Those totally's dropping into my speech pattern. That's thanks to this show.

There you go. My thoughts and such on Square Pegs. Like many shows I enjoyed over the years that only lasted a single season, it was something that the networks didn't get but the fans did. I'm very pleased to have this show for posterity in my DVD collection.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


I did something in the past 24 hours that I don't normally do: I polished off from cover to cover a nearly 300 page book. The book would be Robert B. Parker's 2001 novel Potshot, the 28th book in the Spenser series. (Okay, we had a big thunderstorm roll through last night for about an hour, so I couldn't watch TV or be on the computer, etc. Reading was a good way to pass the time while the storm passed.)

In this one, Spenser is hired by a woman in California to investigate the murder of her husband. When Spenser goes out to the town of Potshot, CA, he finds that there is a seedy element on the edge of town that appears to be responsible. At least, that's what the woman and most of the townfolk claim.

In trying to solve the murder, a number of the town's business men and the mayor decide to hire Spenser to clear our the seedy element as well. Since it is forty against one, the Boston detective decides to balance the odds a bit. To do that, he assembles his own "magnificent seven" - and the author uses this to bring back six characters from past novels for another adventure. Of course, Hawk is first. Then Vinnie Morris who has helped in the past. From Nevada comes Bernard J. Fortunato, from California comes Chollo and Bobby Horse. And from the previous novel Hugger Mugger, Tedy Sapp makes a return appearance.

This novel was very gripping (as evidenced how I couldn't put it down really). The story has a good mystery, which Spenser solves in the end. And, like a number of the last few novels, things don't always end up in as tidy a little package as one would expect. It shows the author is finding more gray in the world, especially in writing in this new millennium.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Comics of the Week (6/25/08)

Final Crisis #2 (of 7) - I have to admit, I had to read this issue twice for a lot of it to make sense. I really wish Grant Morrison wouldn't write so confusing. I had problems with his stuff when he did Doom Patrol in the early 90's and then JLA in the late 90's. As for this issue, lots of stuff going on but waaaaay too many pages up front on the new Japanese heroes. I know they're his creations and he wants to spotlight them, but come on. This should be about the big guns. The final page of the issue helps, but I just hope that return is a permanent one.

Green Lantern #32 - continues "Secret Origin" with part 4. This is more than just the origin of Hal Jordan as GL, but also the origin of a lot of his foes too. A good issue, well-told and evenly paced. A nice breather of sorts before the next big epic.

Trinity #4 (of 52) - another good issue of this weekly. The story in both the main front and the backup continue to move nicely. If it were a monthly title, the pacing would be off - but for a weekly it rolls along fine. I love the 3-part poster covers so far. Nice touch. But three does not go into 52 evenly so something will give in the end.

Teen Titans #60 - the final chapter of the Terror Titans tale, and it was a great battle. As much as I love all these new villains, this new Clock King is very cool. I like that he's making himself a big villain for the Teen Titans. I'm also intrigued by the whole "Dark Side Club" subplot, which is really a side-tie-in to Final Crisis. The team of McKeever and Barrows make this a fun book each month.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Hugger Mugger

Hugger Mugger, written in 2000, is Robert B. Parker's 27th Spenser novel. It is also the name of a race horse owned by the Clive family whom employ the Boston detective to investigate some horse shootings at their Georgia stable. When Spenser makes a trek down south, he finds an odd mystery and an even odder family.

I really enjoyed this novel a lot. There was an interesting cast of characters introduced in the mystery - from daughters Penny, Stonie and SueSue, to the husbands Pud and Cord to the town sheriff and even the characters brought in during the brief vignette when Spenser is off the case and back in Boston (before he gets right back involved in it again).

Parker definitely groomed this novel well and kept the excitement racing down to the final post (see how I threw in those horse racing analogies there - grin). Just when I was starting to feel a little bored with the series after so many books, this one renewed my interest again. Can't wait to dive into the next one.

Monday, June 23, 2008

I Love the...

I have to admit that I am a huge fan of VH-1's I Love the... series. To date, they've done the 70's twice, the 80's three times and the 90's once. Well, this week (starting tonight) get ready for them to mock 2000-2007 with I Love the New Millennium.


Yeah, that's what'll start it all. Remember those Budwiser commercials? Was it really back in 2000? Yup.

I caught the sneak preview first episode yesterday and had to smile a number of times. Sure, they have some lame bits too, but not every hour can be 100% golden. Think of it like more recent days of Saturday Night Live, of the ninety minutes you really only get about 2/3rds of that as decent material.

The computer graphics that bumper between segments are again cool. Yup, we're now a society dominated by our hand-held devices (video games, cell phones, iPods - heck even the graphics for the show spell it iLove the New Millennium). It's all interactive, baby. And to tie-in, they even have extended video-blog entries on the website for more humorous bits from the commentators. Everyone seems to be back too - Hal Sparks, Michael Ian Black, Godfrey, and Wil Wheaton even. When "Wesley Crusher" can snark at stuff, you know it deserves snarkying. ;)

Check it out!

Rest in Peace, George Carlin

I just read the news this morning of the passing of George Carlin, master of comedy, at age 71 of heart failure. This is a sad way to start the week. Carlin always could make me smile with one of those "I never really looked at it that way" types of jokes. They didn't beat you over the head - they were just so funny in that they should have been such obvious observations. And his delivery - excellent.

He will be missed.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Applying A Second Coat...

Now, I have to admit that when the 2007 film of the Broadway musical version of Hairspray came that I was of the mindset that I wouldn't like it. After all, I fondly remember the John Water's film of 1988 - featuring fresh-face Ricki Lake and the unmatchable Divine. Surely, I felt, that this film based on a show based on a film would not stand up.

I was wrong.

I just finished watching this musical, with its all-star cast, and I found my feet tapping many times. Newcomer Nikki Blonsky is a charmer as Tracy Turnblad. Michelle Pfeiffer chews up the scenery rather nicely as Velma Von Tussle. Queen Latifah is perfect as Motormouth Maybelle. James Marsden is smooth as Corny Collins. John Travolta in drag as Edna Turnblad wasn't a stellar performance for me, but it worked in the tradition of the "man in drag as the mom". Christopher Walkin and Amanda Bynes seemed to be under-utilized though, but what can you do? And Zac Efron as Link - well, seemed a bit too "high school musical" to me (boy is gonna need to break that mold to avoid the typecasting).

Really, the music was very much a huge factor for me. The songs were original but fun, and very much in the style of the 60's when the film is set. I've always been a musical fan (some of my favorite films are musicals) and that really helped move along a storyline I knew pretty well in a new, different and entertaining way.

Finally, I hope that the film's message, like the original Waters film as well, isn't lost on the new generation who went to the film for the likes of Efron and the other young talent. There was a time, not so long ago really - just prior to my own life, when segregation was very much a real thing we were struggling with. This country has come very far in the past 50 years, but we can't allow racism and differences create barriers. We really need to come together, and that's the hidden message in this film. As the final number goes, "You Can't Stop the Beat".

Small Vices

Jumping back to 1997 and Robert B. Parker's 24th Spenser novel, Small Vices involves a case where a law-firm hires the Boston detective to determine if a jailed man was wrongly convicted of murder. Spenser's digging stirs up trouble and puts him in the deadly line of fire.

There is also a subplot about Susan wanted them to adopt a child together, but reading the books out of order pretty much told me how this part would pan out. Just the luck of the draw when you have to wait on books at the library to get returned before you can check them out.

This book was okay but not one of the best of the series by any stretch of the imagination. It is another one of those cases where Spenser ends up choosing between two evils, and suprisingly he'd rather allow the greater of the evils go free. It just didn't sit that well with me.

Another thing clearly standing out - the supporting cast around Spenser, like Patricia Utley and Paul, seem to age but Spenser, Susan and Hawk for the most part remain unchanged. It's kind of comic-book like in some respects. That does tend to throw me off too. Clearly they talk about Spenser and Susan knowing each other for over 25 years, yet the characters don't act like they're in their late 40's/early 50's. They tend to remain a bit timeless. Again, I should be used to this - having read comics as long as I have. I guess when a book franchise runs this many decades that you have to do that if you want to keep using your same hero.


We did a family movie night last night, despite the interruption of a heavy thunderstorm in between, and watched one of the recorded films on our DVR: the 2007 Pixar film Ratatoullie. Gotta say that it got three thumbs up.

Now, we've been Pixar fans in our household since the first Toy Story film. We usually went as a family to see most of them in the theatres. That is until a few years ago when so much was coming out each summer that we had to pick and chose what we saw in theatre and what we saw at home. This one we planned to see on the big screen but never got around to it. Still, it worked well on the home-big screen TV just fine - especially with the HD.

The story, in case you don't know, is about a rat with a gift: a nose with a discriminating smell. Aspiring to be more than just the colony's poison-sniffer, he longs to explore the culinary world of food combinations. When a disaster seperates him from his kind, he winds up in Paris and on the doorstep of a once great restaurant. As fate would have it, his skills can benefit a young man who longs to be something but doesn't have the first clue on how to be a chef.

What I love about Pixar films is that the technology has come so far that you quickly forget you are watching a computer animated cartoon. You get lost in the world the programmers create - a rich world of details and style and substance. Any one who is a fan of the studios work can also see they are coming a lot further in how they animate their "human" characters too. For me, the people in this film are a step above animation-wise than those done in the Incredibles and Finding Nemo, two Pixar films I loved.

Well worth the time spent viewing, and one I'd happily watch again and again should I run across it. A great family film for kids of all ages - even 43 year old ones like myself.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Cult Classic Film...

All I have to do is mention a five word phrase and most of you will know what cult classic film I watched on the Universal HD channel last night. Ready to guess? Here's the phrase:

"I heard you were dead."

Got it?

Of course you do!

I'm talking about none other than John Carpenter's 1981 sci-fi flick Escape From New York. And, of course, the quote really goes "Snake Plissken? I heard you were dead."

For those who don't know the film (like my wife who came home from a work dinner last night and sat down with me for the final half - she'd never seen the film), the year is 1997 and the entire island of Manhattan has been convereted into a prison for the world's most brutal inmates. When the President of the United State (Donald Pleasence) crash lands inside, only one man can bring him back alive: Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell).

Now, back in the day this was a cool film. I mean, come on, it was 1981 and it was right in line with the sci-fi of the day (dark, brooding, that synthesizer soundtrack, etc.). And the cast was cool: Lee Van Cleef as Bob Hauk, Ernest Borgnine as Cabbie, Harry Dean Stanton as Brain, Adrienne Barbeau (and her magnificent assets) as Maggie, and Isaac Hayes as the Duke of New York.

But, looking at it now, it is very dated. First, seeing the Twin Towers brings back thoughts of 9/11 and how the New York skyline changed forever that day. Next, a vital speech carried by the President on a cassette. Seriously? Yeah, tech evolved so much. LOL. And then seeing Hauk use one of those huge SAT Phone or Snake having to use a walkie-talkie with a pull out antennae. Hello? So much for forward thinking. All of that stuff kind of went the way of the 8-track player, eh?

Still, a fun piece of sci-fi classic filmdom. I respect it. I have it on DVD (been ages since I watched it - but thanks to Universal HD I can wait awhile longer to do so again).

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Comics of the Week (6/18/08) part 2

Turns out the shop got the books in today after all. Here's the rest of this week's items:

Showcase Presents: the Flash volume 2 - this one includes b/w reprints of the Flash #120 (from 1961) all the way through #140 (from late 1963). This includes the famous "Flash of Two Worlds" from #123 which is the first Earth-1/Earth-2 crossover tale. Given how much I love the Flash's Rogues Gallery, this is a must have for my reprint library collection. Glad to see it.

Tangent: Superman's Reign #4 (of 12) - the story unfolds still slowly as more of the JLA from "new Earth" are brought over to the Tangent Earth. That world's Superman gains an upperhand, and all hell is about to break loose. I am enjoying it though I wish the pace would pick up a little bit.

the Brave and the Bold #14 - teaming up Green Arrow with Deadman is a perfect concept. Mark Waid shows why this works so well too. This is part 1 of a multi-part tale, and it ends on a shocking note! Where are we going now? I trust Mark Waid to take us for a good ride. As long as the book continues with interesting pairings, I'm sticking around.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Comics of the Week (6/18/08) part 1

A short listing this week - shorter than expected. Why? Diamond screwed up the local comic shops order, and the shop got two boxes meant for another shop (and the other shop got two of their boxes). What was in those two boxes? Stuff I would get like the Brave and the Bold, Tangent Superman's Reign and Showcase Presents: the Flash volume 2. Grumble grumble grumble. They said the books could be in as soon as tomorrow. I'm not holding my breath. That other shop is looking better and better. Strike two.

Meanwhile, on with the reviews of what I did get:

Batman and the Outsiders #8 - the mission to Russia comes to a head as the rescue team comes to save the day. Another good, solid issue. Enjoyed it a lot. Then I got the bad news from the Internet: Chuck Dixon is no longer writing for DC so the 12th issue of BATO will be his last on the title. Damn! I enjoyed his work here and he's going to be going? Looks like another book possibly I might be dropping. Really depends upon who comes onboard afterwards. If the change in creative team is too jarring, I'm out!

Justice League of America #22 - McDuffie picks up plot threads left over from Brad Meltzer's run like the fallout of Vixen's power-siphoning and Red Tornado getting back a body. Still, a solid issue with a lot of character dynamics. Enjoyed it a lot. Glad we're back to full length tales again.

Trinity #3 - picking up where last week ended, GL is downed by Konvict but the cavalry arrives! Wahooo! This shows the cohesiveness of the DCU nicely but even the cavalry needs a cavalry (aka - the Trinity - it is their weekly after all). Nice last panel of the lead story too. Dang. Kplow indeed! As for the back-up, some interesting new character plus the surprise and welcome return of an old face (someone from the Superman books from the late 80's and early 90's). This weekly is really taking advantage of the vastness of the DCU and that's a good thing. Solid stories by Busiek and Nicieza, and nice pacing in artwork by Bagley and Ordway.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Gotham Underground

I just finished, with last week's release of the final issue, the 9-part mini series called Gotham Underground. Written by Frank Tieri and illustrated by J. Calafiore with Jack Purcell, this tale is about the gang wars in Gotham city and how the Penguin needs to rise up when Tobias Whale moves from Metropolis to Gotham to establish a foot-hold.

First off, I must applaud the covers. Nine covers, nine parts of a single image that, when put together, makes a huge poster shot by Calafiore. How cool! I really like the way that worked out. And the image as a whole is a great look at the heroes and villains of Gotham City. These covers really got me curious about the book in general.

Next, the art inside. Again, Calafiore and Purcell have a clean style that I enjoy a lot. The characters are all easily identifiable and consistently drawn through out the story. And believe me, there are a lot of characters involved. From classic Bat-foes like the Joker, Penguin and Riddler to newcomers like Johnny Stiches, the villains are well represented. Oh, and the heroes are here too - Batman, Robin, Nightwing, Oracle and the rest of the Gotham gang.

That brings me to the story. Wow! I had never heard of this writer but I enjoyed his tale a lot. And that says something since I haven't read any regular Batman titles in a couple decades. Now I've always like Batman for his villains and this book delivered that. In fact, it is as much of the villains' story as it is the heroes. And I really enjoy a good story where the villains are portrayed well.

Lastly, it tied in nicely to the events going on in Salvation Run as well. Kind of another side of the coin.

All in all, two big thumbs up for me for Gotham Underground.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Hush Money

In 1999, Robert B. Parker's 26th Spenser novel - Hush Money - was published. Once again, Spenser's friends get him involved in cases. But this time, not only is it a friend of Hawk's needing help investigating why he was turned down for tenure, amid some speculation of sexual encounters with a student who appears to have committed suicide, but also Susan asks him to help a friend of hers who is being stalked. Both cases, in typical Parker fashion, turn out to be more than what they appear on the surface.

It was interesting to see Spenser juggle two cases as once. However, it felt as though Parker really was trying to use two ideas to fill out a single novel - with one that might possibly been not enough to support a book of its own. Still the stories move along nicely and drive along to their seperate, unconnected conclusions.

Parker really has a good approach to understanding different natures of people. His characters reflect diverse individuals and very few are cookie-cutter versions of people you've seen before. That helps too to make his books a pleasure to read.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

June 2008 vacation - part 4

Saturday we had hoped to start our day with some trail hiking in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. There is a lot of gorgeous natural wonders in the Gatlinburg area. However, the weather wasn't so co-operative. So, after some driving about, we moved on to our back-up plan: Ripley's Aquarium.

This downtown Gatlinburg attraction was a lot of fun and a great way to spend a rainy day inside. Everything is centered around this moving walkway that takes you through a tank filled with sharks and other exotic fish. There are dive shows in the stingray tank and the tropical fish tank. There are places where you can actual touch rays and horse-shoe crabs. We really enjoyed ourselves there.

Before a final dinner out at Alamo Steakhouse (which serves an awesome prime rib, by the way), we went to the plaza right across from our hotel for a little last minute shopping. There, we found a wonderful shop that makes and jars their own jams, jellies and preserves. We brought home with us some pints of strawberry preserves, apple butter and pumpkin butter.

One other thing - you'll notice when you visit this area of Tennessee that there are pancake restaurants every where you turn. No, seriously. It might be hard to find a Starbucks or two in the twenty mile area, but pancake places aren't a problem at all. They love 'em, and they do them well. We checked out of our hotel this morning at 7:15am, crossed the street and had a great breakfast at Flapjacks. Good food, large portions and quick service. We had eaten and were ready for hitting the road by 8am. Gotta love that.

I strongly endorse the Gatlinburg/Pidgeon Forge areas of Tennessee as a vacation spot, especially if you are looking for a variety of fun and adventure. I can tell you for a fact we plan to go back again some time in the coming years as it is a perfect long weekend trip for us.

June 2008 vacation - part 3

Friday was going to be our best weather day on our trip, thus that is the day we earmarked for our trek to Splash Country.

Now, I have to tell you that my family loves water parks. We've been to them in Virginia, Florida and even Palm Springs. It is a great way to have fun in the sun and keep cool. And Dolly's Splash Country ranks as good as any we've been to.

We spent a good while in the Mountain Waves, a 25,000 square foot wave pool. My son and I would get inflatable rings and have races to see who could ride the waves to the shallow end the fastest.

As a family, we enjoyed both the Big Bear Plunge and Raging River Rapids, two twisting and turning white water rafting rides. Even when you end up riding down backwards as I often found myself doing, it was a blast. The Mountain Scream body slide was a lot of fun as well - shooting straight down a wild ride with just you and the slide.

Our favorite though had to be the Downbound Float Trip, a lazy river floating experience where you just have to hop on a tube and let the river do the rest. Very relaxing and just what I needed on a vacation - time to unwind. I can't tell you how many circuits we made on that.

Only downside - I think it is time I move from SPF15 to SPF30 sunscreen. Come Saturday morning, I had the signs of a wicked sunburn on my back. Ouch. Ah well. You play, you pay.

After the water park, we hit a local place called the Blue Moose for some wings and burgers. A wonderful, low-key restaurant in Pidgeon Forge that has a marvelous waitstaff. Definitely a winner with us.

June 2008 vacation - part 2

So, Thursday night we had dinner at the Dixie Stampede in Pigeon Forge. Now, this is dinner theatre, southern style.

Before you get to the main event, about 50 minutes or so before show time, you are escorted to the Carriage Room. Here, an opening act consisting of four musicians - a fiddle player, a bass player, a guitar player and a mandolin player - do a few rousing numbers with some humor and a lot of down-home charm. The performers there on the night we went were outstanding. A lot of fun.

After that, you're all escorted to the main area which is a huge tiered arena with a large dirt field in the center. The sides are broken up into the "North" and the "South", where a number of friendly competitions both by the regular performers and some of the patrons are done while supper is served.

What's for supper? How about some creamy vegetable soup for a start, with a delicious biscuit? Then, a whole rotisserie chicken, a slice of barbequed pork, some corn on the cob and an herb potatoe. Finish it off with a delicious apple turnover - and all the tea or soda you can drink out of a Mason jar. Oh, forgot to mention - all this meal is without eating utensils. Yup, you eat with your fingers. And it is finger licking good.

The competitons include horse riding, pig racing, chicken chasing (this with the kids helping out), ring catching, horse-shoes with toliet seats, ostrich racing and more. A lot of fun and the two hour show and dinner goes by very quickly. All in all, a whole lot of fun. We really enjoyed ourselves.

Oh, and who won? Well, we (the South) were ahead until the final round. Then the North pulled out the victory. Ah well.

June 2008 vacation - part 1

Where have I been since the middle of last week? Tennessee!

Two weeks ago, my wife and I were looking at our calendars and trying to find a time we could take time off from work this summer for some family vacation. What we decided we could do was a long weekend (Wednesday night depart and Sunday return home) - right around Father's Day weekend. Given the price of gasoline, we wanted something relatively close but still somewhere we hadn't gone as a family.

What we decided upon was Gatlinburg, TN. Nestled just on the other side of the North Carolina border, in the heart of the mountains, it was a perfect fit. Just three hours drive (150 miles), we could get there on Wednesday after work and have three full days of fun before coming home again. So, we did just that - left work on Wednesday and got to the Brookside Resort around 9:30pm.

Our room was nicely sized for our family of three - two queensized beds, a little fridge and bar area, and a back porch that overlooked a running brook (thus the name of the place). It was very nice. The place had two pools as well.

Thursday morning we took a hike down the hill into the heart of the tourist center of town. Gatlinburg is pretty much a huge tourist town, with lots of places to eat, things to do, etc. Our morning hike took us down and around a couple miles so we could get a bearing of what was there and what to do for the rest of our time. After that, we took a trolley-bus back to the hotel and got the car. Since the weather was looking stormy, we decided to dive the five plus miles over to Pidgeon Forge, to check out what was there and to do some shopping.

Pidgeon Forge, if you don't know, is also a huge tourist town. It mostly sprung up around Dollywood - the amusement park funded by Dolly Parton and her investors. There is also Splash Country, Dolly's water park, and of course the Dixie Stampede, a dinner show also connected to Dolly.

While we ate lunch, we called the Dixie Stampede and made dinner reservations for Thursday night at 8pm. Figured it would perfect to go on a non-weekend night. We got in just fine. After our lunch, we shopped at one of the outlet malls. I got some things to wear to my 25th reunion picnic next month. We then drove back to the hotel, showered and prepared for our evening out.

Comics of the Week (6/11/08)

Legion of Super-Heroes In the 31st Century #15 - Impulse comes to the animated LSH comic (at least for an issue). It was a nice introduction to the character for new readers, and a nice-way to tie him into the book.

Salvation Run #7 (of 7) - final issue, which really should have come out prior to Final Crisis beginning. It was an okay ending. We see the villains united against a common foe (Parademons). We see how the villains get home. We see how some of them survived while others did not. I liked the series well enough, though it could have used a bit more punch.

Trinity #2 - the second weekly issue was okay. The up-front part with the big three was just sort of slow, while the back-up tale with John Stewart (the GL, not the comedienne) was pretty good. I'm going to like this book if it keeps spotlighting other folks in the second half. Let the big three carry the sales. That's really what a weekly needs.

Gotham Underground #9 (of 9) - full mini series review coming later in the week!

Booster Gold #10 - "Blue and Gold" takes an interesting turn as the truth behind Booster's father is revealed. Plus, Ted Kord makes a fateful decision! This is clearly one of my favorite titles every month, so I am glad it is keeping up the magic as the first year nears an end. I'm hoping it continues the quality for another year.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Sudden Mischief

I just finished Robert B. Parker's 25th Spenser novel, 1998's Sudden Mischief. In this one, Susan Silverman, Spenser's girlfriend, comes to him and asks that he help out her ex-husband Brad who is facing some sexual harrassment charges. In typical fashion, the Boston detective quickly finds there is more going on than appears on the surface. His investigation stirs up trouble with some local heavy hitters in the organized crime.

The other aspect of this book is that we learn more about Susan and her past, her relationships with other men in her life and, by extension, her relationship with Spenser. How she and Spenser interact is realistic, complicated and mature. Parker has a good ear for dialogue and a feel for human interaction. That's one thing that makes his books so enjoyable.

While not as fast paced as other Spenser novels, this one is still very good. I'd put it in the middle of the pack when stacked up against others.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Happy 50th Birthday to Prince!

June 7th 2008 marks the 50th birthday of Prince Rogers Nelson, the musical maestro who has been sharing his love of music with the world for over 30 years. To say that I am a fan of his library of releases is an understatement. My iPod contains 349 songs from over 28 albums of his and his various bands (the Revolution, the New Power Generation, etc.). And that does not include the songs he's penned for other artists like the Family, Sinead O'Connor, the Bangle, Paula Abdul, Sheena Easton, Stevie Nicks, Sheila E., Tevin Campbell, George Clinton, Appolonia, Vanity 6, the Time, etc.

Shop Around

I've mentioned in previous postings about the times when my local comic shop has come up short on orders for items - either they got shorted or they didn't order something I put on my subscription list, etc. We'll it happened again this week.

Two books came up missing from this week's pull: The Rann/Thanagar Holy War #2 and the War That Time Forgot #2. I mentioned last month how I enjoyed both first issues and was looking forward to continuing these mini's. Come last Wednesday, no second issues despite the books coming out. I was annoyed. If both had been shorted on the orders, they'd show up next week. But if the shop didn't order enough and my copies weren't pulled, I was going to be out of luck and pretty much dead in the water on the titles.

Last night, my wife and I were having a dinner date out (our son spending the night at a friend's house to celebrate the last day of school) and we decided to go to the Tap Room downtown. She likes their fish and chips. I like their wings and pub chips with beer cheese dipping sauce. Due to a live event going on in the square nearby, we had to park down further and walk. What did I spy?

Another comic shop in town - a place called Sidekick Comics and Magazines. We had a few minutes before they closed so we stopped in. I figured maybe they might have the two missing books. They did. They also had the first eight issues of Gotham Underground which I was thinking of picking up. I had seen issue five in the local shop three months, liked the art and was going to buy the back issues. However, they didn't have #1 so I bagged it - figuring why start a fixed story arc without the opening chapter. Sidekick had all eight. Guess who got the sale? Yup.

Turns out they also do discounts, comparible to the other shop in town. The store is clean, family friendly, and with attentive employees. The store is also less out of the way for me. I'm considering the switch.

Now, don't get me wrong - I'm usually very loyal to my retailers. The comic shop I went to in Raleigh was one I visited every week regularly for 17 1/2 years. Capital Comics has a pleasant staff and friendly owner, all who took the time to get to know their customers and time to have a brief personal talk with them during sales time each week. They'd special order anything you wanted and even went out of the way to reward long time, loyal customers. I never would have left going to that shop if I had stayed in the area. Only my move led to my change.

And Time Tunnel here was good at the beginning. They came out of the box with my subscription titles first week I was in town (I brought them a list on a house hunting trip prior to my job started to set things up). The owner and his son are great. The former manager who since left to open a sister shop up near Appalachian State was great. It is only in the past year or so that the customer service level has slipped. This is what is prompting me to consider changing over to this other shop.

We'll see.


Rann/Thanager Holy War #2 (of 8) - Starlin and Lim continue to unfold this cosmic epic with good pacing, allowing each of the varied cast members to have shining moments again. I'm enjoying the ride so far.

The War That Time Forgot #2 (of 12) - a nice Brian Bolland cover to start. The inside art not as good but servicable for the story being told. More time-lost DC characters showing up as Colonel Jape finds himself in an arena fighting for his life.

Funny thing about both books - the covers each have a dinosaur. Julius Schwartz, renowned DC silver age editor, always used to say that dinosaurs and apes on the cover of books often boosted sales. I guess guys like seeing the heroes fight dinosaurs and apes. Must be something wired into guys like that.

Friday, June 6, 2008

You, Me, and Dupree

I was just flipping around the guide last night on the tv and happened to see the 2006 film You, Me, and Dupree was starting on one of the HD movie channels. I flipped it over and got instantly sucked into this comedy starring Owen Wilson, Matt Dillon, Kate Hudson and Michael Douglas. In case you hadn't heard of it, a newlywed couple back from their honeymoon (Dillon and Hudson) soon learn their best man from the wedding (Wilson) is homeless. They take him in for "a few days" but we all know how that goes. If the pressures at home weren't bad enough, the husband has issues starting with his employer/father-in-law (Douglas).

It was an okay film - not best of the best but certainly not lousy. Would I have enjoyed it as much if I paid to see it in a theatre? Probably not. Was it worth the 110 minutes I spent watching it? I think so. I laughed out loud a number of times. The humor was not so vulgar that I was embarrassed to be watching it (like some recent comedies I've seen). It had its charming moments too.

I'd give it three stars out of five. Nice middle of the road.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Comics of the Week (6/4/08)

Justice League Unlimited #46 - the final issue of the comic based on the animated series that Cartoon Network stopped showing a few years back. Sad to see it go, but it has been kind of disappointing the last few months anyway. Take this issue - it is really a Green Lantern Corps tale, not a JLU tale. Sad when the final issue of your book can't even star the stars. Ah well. That's another $2.25 a month I won't be spending any more.

the All-New Atom #24 - second to last issue. Was going to drop this early, but the cover with Lady Chronos intrigued me. Sort of a good issue and the last page is a nice surprise, but how much farther can this go with one more issue next month? I'll get it just to have the complete run, then I'll be saving another $2.99 a month. I see a trend here.

Justice Society of America #16 - wow, another issue already! They're trying to catch up, which is good. "One World Under Gog" begins this issue and it is a good one. What happens when a god comes to Earth and wants to spread peace and healing? The JSA finds out. A very good issue.

Trinity #1 - this new weekly series has a lot of pluses. First, the stars - Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. We're talking the big hitters. Second, the reunited team of Busiek and Bagley, whose work over on Marvel's Thunderbolts I had loved for years. Third, there is also going to be a back-up feature with other stars that ties into the main arc. This first issue was a nice start - so hopefully this year-long mini will be more in line with 52 rather than Countdown. Know all that money I was saving? Here is goes - into another weekly. Then again, this isn't so much of a budget hit as I've done the weekly series now for two years already.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

My New Wheels

On the last day of April, we traded in my red Ford Explorer for a 2008 Honda Odyssey EX-L. Now, I've always felt more comfortable driving a bigger, higher up vehicle - ever since my Dodge Neon got wrecked in rush hour traffic back in Raleigh in 1996. And I have no qualms about driving the family vehicle, especially one designed for long car trips and such.

My Odyssey has gray interior and silver pearl exterior. For all you technical folks, it has: 241hp 3.5-Liter SOHC 24-Valve i-VTEC V6 engine with variable cylinder management (VCM), 5 speed automatic transmission with grade logic control, 4-wheel disc brakes, electronic brake distribution (EBD), front MacPherson strut suspension and rear double-wishbone suspension. Whatever all that means. I'm not into the technicals.

What I enjoy are the features: the power moonroof with tilt feature, the heated power door mirrors, the leather trimmed interior, the heated front seats, the folding 3rd row seating, etc.

The built in XM satellite radio was a bonus as now I can listen to commerical free music of specific styles and genres without having to hunt for radio stations on long trips. My son is a big fan of the rear DVD entertainment system with 9" display and wireless headsets. There are even ports for him to plug in a game system for long car trips (I forsee the Playstation2 coming on long trips).

I also really like the rearview camera for backing up. The must-have for me was the MP3/auxiliary input jack - that and an automatic transmission were my two must haves. The other really nice feature is the built-in navigation that can store addresses and compute travel routes quickly. The pleasant voice also reminds you when turns are coming up, etc. For guys, it is perfect - since we never like asking for directions and would prefer a computer to tell us where to go rather than having our spouses/significant others to do so. :)

So this weekend we finally got everything rearranged in the garage so I can park my van inside. It's a tight squeeze as the van is a bit longer and wider than the Explorer, but it fits fine.

As my brother said to me over the phone after I got it - "so, you're a soccer Mom now?". Yeah, I guess so (okay, not the Mom part...). I'm okay with that. A comfy functional ride is important to me, and it allows us to take a lot of stuff for trips or for camping with relative ease. I'm happy with it.

Monday, June 2, 2008


Robert B. Parker's 23rd Spenser novel, published in 1996, is called Chance. In it, the famous Boston private eye is hired by a local mobster and his daughter to help find the daughter's missing husband Anthony. Anthony, it turns out, works for the family business and he has a few vices like women and gambling. With the help of his good friend Hawk, Spenser tracks across the country and back to find the man and, in doing so, ends up uncovering a web of lies and criminal activity that leads to a murder.

What I liked about Chance is that Parker uses some established characters and history from earlier books to build upon this one's main plot points. This tight continuity again helps ground the books into an established growing and changing universe for the Spenser novels. It also rewards long-time readers with some appearances of characters from earlier novels. I like that.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer

Another movie we had on the DVR from a few weeks back that we watched list night was 2007's Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer. After such a great viewing experience with Ghost Rider, I was hoping for a double-play.

Um...well...not so much.

Don't get me wrong - I am a huge fan of the Fantastic 4. It was one of the first comic books from Marvel that I had a subscription to back in the late 70's. I always loved the dynamic of the team - the close nit family (with best friend Ben) using powers that cosmic rays gave them to fight super-villains and cosmic threats as if they were just part of the normal daily routine. And the appearance of the Silver Surfer, herald of Galactus, was always a sign of something huge.

This film, despite some nice special effects, sort of fell short for me. I think it felt a little too campy. Sure, the FF comics had some fun and a little humor to them, but on film it sort of didn't work for me.

Or maybe it was too many characters. You have the four, then add the Surfer, bring back Dr. Doom and then throw in Galactus. What? Wait. You didn't see Galactus per se? Neither did I. And that sort of stank too. The "Coming of Galactus" storyline in the comics from which this film was loosely based was a classic FF tale - so how can you do it and not show Galactus? Too much for the budget? Probably. So, let's go with a nebulous planet eating cloud instead. Yeah, that's scary. NOT.

Two pluses out of this whole thing for me.

One: GIT Corp did put out a revised Fantastic 4 set of comics on DVD-ROM when the film came out last year, and that set included the complete run of Silver Surfer comics. I loved that.

Two: I didn't take my family to see this clunker of a film in the theatres (despite my son's request to do so). That saved me at least $30 to $40 (between tickets and snacks for the three of us). Watching it home, on cable, for free was just about what it was worth for me.

Rest In Peace, Robert Aspirin

I just learned today that author Robert Aspirin passed away last week. Among his many published works was the series of Myth Adventures books, humorous fantasy tales that often used puns and wordplay to enhance the tales.

The first book in that series came out in 1979 and I remember picking it up at the Book Nook in my hometown of Dunkirk, NY. I found it to be similar in style to another author I had discovered at the time - Piers Anthony - similar yet different as well. Aspirin's books had a different kind of edge to them. I remember picking up the first half dozen or so as they came out during my high school and college years.

Along the way, I stopped following the author. I thinned out my book collection a number of times across the years as we moved, and I am sure I donated those paperbacks to a local library. Last year, I saw in the bookstore two huge volumes that collected most of those early books in the series. I picked them both up and have them on to-read pile.