Saturday, February 28, 2009

MOVIES: My 20th-Century Favourites, ALL in March

February went reasonably well, so we are going to try another review month in March. My Favourite 20th-Century Movies. For those of you who can't remember last week, it might make a good starting list for visiting the video store. For other's, it might be possible to remember a different time, when watching movies meant going to movie theatres and enjoying movie magic, sitting in the dark, and without those annoying twits with telephones ruining the experience completely.

Here's a list of movies I love, but that DID NOT MAKE THE LIST, which will be run out, one a day:

The 500-Pound Jerk (TV), Against All Flags!, Airplane I, An American Werewolf in London, Back to the Future I, Back to the Future III, Bad News Bears I (The original), Bang the Drum Slowly, The Big Chill, Brian's Song (TV), Bull Durham, China Syndrome, Continental Divide, Creator, Crocodile Dundee I, Donovan's Reef.

Fame, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Father Goose, Five Weeks in a Balloon, The Flim-Flam Man, The Fugitive, Grease I, The Grifters, The Incredible Mr. Limpet, Irma La Douce, Jewel of the Nile, Klute, The Lion King, The Magnificent Seven Ride!, My Bodyguard, Mysterious Island.

The Never-Ending Story I, Night Shift, Presidio, The Princess Bride, Return of the Killer Tomatoes!, Ruthless People, Stalag 17, Stripes, The Three Muskateers (Raquel Welch's 1973 version), To Sir With Love, Used Cars, Way...Way Out!

Interesting group, don't you think. There's some pure schmaltz there. A hint, some of them have ladies I lusted after. But everyone of them are good movies worth watching if you fit the age recommendations. Of the 44 movies above, the one that came closest to making the list and should be the 32 most favourite movie on my list was Brian's Song, one of the two TV movies on the list.

Starting tomorrow, I'll be taking my list from #31 (Genghis Khan) right up to my favourite movie of all time on the last day of March.

TV: Review- Toronto Raptors' Broadcasts

The Toronto Raptors of the NBA have limited their broadcasts this year to just five networks, Raptors TV, CBC, The Score, TSN and TSN2.

In essence, the broadcasts break down thusly: Matt Devlin and Leo Rautins do the CBC and The Score broadcasts, Devlin and Jack Armstrong do the latter two. Armstrong pops up in the driver-seat commentating slot for Rautins' shows, Rautins for Armstrong's shows. Sherm Hamilton joins Devlin for the two Raptors TV games and, it seems likely, both Rautins and Armstrong can be counted on to be in the studio for them.

So, how's it going this year, after a decade of Chuck Swirsky dominating the Raptor broadcasts? Not so good.

Devlin's a pro with good credentials and a background in the NBA. He's certainly a change from the voluable Swirsky and isn't suffering from anything close to media overkill. Swirsky had his own weekday afternoons radio show on Canada's leading sportsradio station. To a certain extent, that's good. Devlin never seems to go overboard, getting neither too high nor too low with this chronically underachieving team this year. I THOUGHT that was what I wanted.

I miss The Swirsk. As I understand it, Devlin is quite the over-wrought guy BEHIND the mike. Tales are told of him almost assaulting his fell0w colour-man during games. But what ever physical convolutions he's putting himself through, the controlled meter of his voice never varies much. Add in his complete absence of Raptor history and catch-phrases, and you have, what SOUNDS, like a broadcasting robot. Three quarters of a season in, and I still don't know WHO Devlin is? Likes to eat, because his restaurant escapades are nightly fodder, but beyond that, nothing!

On the other hand, Armstrong is doing more games and, while Devlin dotes on turning Armstrong INTO the game's story during many runaway broadcasts, Armstrong still has enough of the ol' coach in him to at least TRY to make the game be about roundball than him. He's still presciently good at analysis and I put him in a class with guys like Al McGuire who can balance the blarney with good basketball insight. Rautins, a good guy, but a hectoring lecturer as an analyst, isn't anywhere near as entertaining. Less of him is a good thing. Sherm Hamilton still tends to mumble a bit, but he's usually pretty good and gives lucid explanations in the studio post-game shows on Raptors TV.

As for the rest of the studio host/analysts, all are pretty good, with the exception of the occasional appearance on The Score by Tim Micallef, who I loathe as a TV presence in everything he does. He can take his double entendres and stick them where Timmy Don't Shine.

Which brings me to another repugnant topic. TSN2.

Nobody is exactly innocent in the great Rogers/TSN2 screwup. The Raptors could have put language into its contract with TSN requiring main network coverage if TSN2 didn't get carriage on all of the major Canadian cable broadcast systems, of which Rogers is the biggest. And mine. The club didn't. TSN could have arranged carriage with Rogers BEFORE trying to force-feed them the necessity with things like the Raptor contract. On the other hand, TSN2 DOES appear everywhere in the country ... except on Rogers.

And it's ROGERS that is the true villain in this case. The #@(*$&)#*$& network enjoys a monopoly in Toronto and much of the surrounding countryside. It also has five stations of Sports programming of its own to protect against more splintering of the audience. Soooo, the (I'm tired of tying punctuation, YOU fill in the blank) at Rogers won't sign to carry TSN2. Then the (fill in the blank)'s at Rogers try to tell me they are looking after ME, not adding another 45 cents to my bill. I get 200 channels I don't want for my $150, but I need to be protected from the rapacious TSN.

My mother tells me name-calling is the sign of mental bankruptcy. If I could slide this by her, I would start by calling Rogers officials about seven different kinds of motherless cretins, but I can't. I hate that the unashamed same feel I'm too stupid to know when I'm being snowed. It really riles me to complain to the CRTC. I have. But nothing will come of it.

Ultimately, I'd feel madder about missing broadcasts (Yes, I catch the Game-In-An-Hour broadcast later in the night, or even tune into the odd rights-challenged broadcast of the games over the internet), if the Raptors were play-off bound. As it is, with not much to recommend in the broadcasts, save for Armstrong, less than stellar game-play by the team and no desire whatsoever to give the team numbers for its advertisers, I think I can miss more games from here on in.

Any by more, I mean more than the TSN2 ones Rogers doesn't want me to see.

BOOKS: To Be Continued ...

Are there three more innocuous words in the English language, that when strung together invite more violent spasms of anger, than "T0 be continued?"

I'm reminded of this because of the recent experience with the fourth book in Charles Stross' Merchant Princes series of books. In essence, this book was just a chapter of a much longer sequence. I was unhappy about it, but wasn't exactly murderous over it. Not like seeing that phrase in a Star Trek novel years go and in John Birmingham's opening volume of the Weapons of Choice. But I was angry to have built up increasing angst over how the book was going to end, only to discover it was coming to a stop, not an end.

Interestingly, this week, Stross talks over the issue, dovetailing his own difficulties getting it all done with the infamous troubles George R.R. Martin is having with the next book in his Song of Ice and Fire series. You can read about it here. Take the time to read the comments.

Now, let me tell you about THE BOOK. My book. The one I've been writing too long now. I actually have a series-length collection of notes, good enough for two books. Because the book HAS become two books. The first was the one I wrote with a co-author that I had to part ways with, with about a third of the book written. All of her contributions had to go out the door. I had to start with my basic premise, change all the characters around, especially the nationalities, and start from scratch. With the added problem of having certain ideas, dialog and story-lines ruled off-limits for having been in there before. In essence, I had to come up two stories to write one. I struggle on.

But the struggle gives me some sympathy for Martin (and yes, I have the first four books in the series, but wasn't daft enough to start them without having the full series) and Stross (got suckered into that one because I thought it was only a three-book series). My only complaint is more or less a truth-in-labelling one. I have NO problem buying a book and then shelving it, awaiting its companion volume(s). What I hate is being surprised. I think that when a book is NOT a standalone (and clearly at that), the book should advertise that status as such. For example, each of Lee Goldberg's Mr. Monk books is clearly a standalone. Details DO get referred to in subsequent books in the series, but always with some sort of explanation. Thus, no need to loudly proclaim ON GOING SERIES on the book cover. For Martin and Stross, that warning should be clearly visible.

Would that cost authors sales? Yes. On the other hand, I'm sure knowing it was part of a series would convince other people to buy multiple books at a time. I think the trade-off would work out in the wash. And you wouldn't cost yourself future sales.

I have not bought a Star Trek book since the completion of that Dark Passions duology. I was given one (the Captain's Table omnibus, which I then went out and got an electronic version of, to save developing a hernia holding it up).

For the writers out there that want to spring surprising "To be continued ..." taglines on the readers: Good-bye. I know it's tough. And as heartless as it may seem, I don't care. Tell me up front ... or just don't do it!

Friday, February 27, 2009

BOOKS: Review- Mr. Monk in Outer Space

Back with yet another Mr. Monk review in the series authored by Lee Goldberg. It's the fifth book and it's right about this time in other series that a sort of ennui sets in. Same old characters, frequently just variations on the same old plots. Happy to say, Goldberg continues to stay ahead of the same old, same old problem and produces a good book. It's called Mr. Monk in Outer Space.

I have to admit, ever since Adrian Monk solved a murder COMMITTED by an astronaut, I was wondering if it were possible Monk might end up in outer space. Ahh, but Goldberg only plays with this reader's hopes. The outer space of this book refers to a fictional TV series called, "Beyond Earth," which is being feted in a local science fiction convention in San Francisco. During the convention, a costumed killer does in the creator of the show. Enter Monk. Times two.

The true pleasure in this book is that you get two Monks for the price of one. Adrian's agoraphobic brother Ambrose leaves the safety (everything's relative) of his home to join in with Adrian and our intrepid tale-teller, the assistant Natalie, to bring sanity to the some-time chaotic world of fandom. Especially fandom of a science fictional kind.

Goldberg has lots of fun at the expense of the typical SF convention-goer, but there seems be a respect deep down. His invention of the unluckily deadly taxi is fun and at the heart of the solution. But it's really almost an Ambrose book. It's Ambrose who provides the needed insight into the TV series, since he's an expert on the show. It's little insights into Ambrose that makes this something different rather than the same old, same old.

That's why this book gets a thumbs up. Goldberg continues to expand the tight little world that is Adrian Monk. As we head to the eighth and final TV season, it's going to get harder and harder to find new sides to the mystery that is Monk. But for the time being, Goldberg continues to deliver solid entertainment in new and surprising ways.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

TV: Review- Britannia High

Back in January, I made reference to the British Fame remake called Britannia High. In a year where there's actually a Fame, The Movie remake coming out and who knows how many dancing and singing shows to watch, I think Britannia High makes for an interesting watch. And a listen.

Two of the Britannia High songs, the theme song "Start of Something," and "Wake Up," are infectious to the point of being slightly over-used in the show. They are so good, you don't mind. Both feature Matthew Thomas, who is very good as the gay student, Jez.

Jez is one of six featured students in first year at the London equivalent of New York's famed School for the Performing Arts. All six have to master singing, dancing, acting and performing weekly for teachers and viewers at home. Nine weekly episodes with the first six allowing each of the main characters one hour in the solo spotlight. Then, all heck breaks loose.

I was troubled by some real writing slip-ups in those three extra episodes. In the seventh, Lola, played with winning charm by Rana Roy, gets into a one-sided relationship with a dance teacher. It becomes all too real, but gets broken off properly before anybody does anything untoward. It was a real good episode, much better than the Lola-focused episode earlier in the series. But all that good work gets undone, disturbingly, in the last episode, the fittingly-titled Finale. Not that anything gets consummated, but you just can't have students and teachers running off to Australia. Sorry, that won't do.

The last two episodes also took a shot at having good girl Lauren (Georgina Hagen) and bad girl Claudine (Sapphire Elia) fight over Danny (Mitch Hewer), the illiterate BMO. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Danny had to be brighter than the average kid to hide his illiteracy for as long as he did. For Danny then to turn into the village idiot dumping Lauren for Claudine in unbelievable fashion and then becoming a bone to be fought over by Lauren and Claudine was just laughably bad writing. I won't go into the analysis of who wins or loses the epic girl-fight, but suffice it to say, it isn't the viewer.

Marquelle Ward plays BB, the sixth student. Does a good job at it, too. But the similarities between his character and Gene Anthony Ray's Leroy Johnson in the original Fame are striking. Facially, there's little resemblance. But Ward effects the same attitude and hairdo as the late Ray, who passed away five years ago of a stroke at the too-young age of 41. Back in my newspaper days, I once wrote in a newspaper column about what constitutes sport that just being a great athlete didn't make it a sport. "Afterall," I wrote, "If that was true, then we'd be covering competitive ballet. Gene Anthony Ray would be a superstar" Funny how time makes you an idiot at times.

At any rate, writing aside, the performing on the show is pretty well all first rate. Elia almosts seems like a Posh Spice clone, with little in the way of singing talent. But she's plays the resident witch of the group with gleeful malevolence and deserves her spot accordingly. The rest are solid entertainers, although dancing prodigy R0y plays ditzy with glorious innocence. Delightful in small doses.

The teachers, except for school Principal Nugent, played by Mark Benton, and Adam Garcia as Lola's teaching object of obsession, are strictly background. And that's what separates this from the original. Without working hard, I can still name three teachers all these years later: Debbie Allen's Ms. Grant, Carol Mayo Jenkins' Miss Sherwood and of course, Albert Hague's Mr. Shorofsky.

Britannia High has caught the wave and if it appears on TV screens in America, it will be successful. The musical soundtrack will also score well with the kind of people who spend time on telephones phoning into American Idol competitions.

But, it wouldn't hurt to seek out the original Fame. If only to compare.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

BOOKS: Review- The Merchants' War

I have a nit to pick with Charles Stross, the British writer behind the brilliant Merchant Princes series, of which The Merchants' War is the fourth volume. Either write quicker or end your books somewhere far, far away from the cliff's edge. Your choice, I will accept either.

Oh, and can you start with a little more "what has gone on before" exposition at the start of the book? I have to admit, you hit the ground running in The Merchants' War, while I had been away from the series for awhile. It was the better part of a year since I finished Clan Corporate wondering who would survive the big bang in the book. Turns out fewer than I thought.

Nothing wrong with that. Wasn't that interested in seeing how our little heroine, Miriam would make out, making out with The Idiot. On the other hand, The Idiot's brother Egon has turned into a first-rate villain, seemingly taking over Gruinmarkt by being rather cleverer than our run of the mill SF despots. In essence, the transcendence of Egon into a horribly bad bad guy is the main reason for reading this book. It's a chapter of the greater epic, worthy on its own, if read in sequence.

Should you rush out and buy this book and read it tonight? No. The reading of the first three books, The Family Trade, The Hidden Families and Clan Corporate are mandatory. I might even suggest holding off for the next two books in the series. The fifth comes out in April and is called The Revolution Business. Stross claims he's 80 per cent done the concluding book of the series, The Trade of Queens, which will be due out in 2010. (My source is Charlie himself, in his blog)

The idea would be to savour the development of Stross' melding of three different realities, connected by the ability of some to walk the dimensional gaps between them. Each reality is an Earth gone skewed. Well except for our current Earth (which you might, or might not, believe is skewed enough). Miriam Beckstein has a humdrum existence in this world until she gets herself into a spot of trouble and wakes up with a headache on Gruinmarkt, an Earth still stuck in the feudal society level. A vaguely Germanic society, it is, apparently, Miriam's original birthplace.

Her family, the one alluded to in all the titles, is made of traders who have glommed onto power by becoming couriers of a sort. The members who can 'walk,' take in goods at specialized locales in our Earth. Crossing over to Gruinmarkt, they then move the goods to the desired end location, and then walk back. No borders or fussy governmental officers to contend with, although the travel through Gruinmarkt isn't all that safe. However, what is achieved is safe transfer of the goods from one point to the next on our Earth. The drug smugglers are very appreciative.

So, Miriam's family is rich in ways their fellow Gruinkind can't comprehend. But can get jealous of. The result is an internecine battle that forms one major plotting point for the series. Then there's Miriam, who is quite the walking talent. She finds a THIRD world to visit, New Britain. Think 19th-Century England with control over the USA in a Jules Verne-like world. Add on the worst aspects of 1950's paranoia and you have a lady-unfriendly world for Miriam to strive to find success in.

Miriam's interaction with current society and with trying to raise the level of living in both a feudal society and pre-suffragette England/USA using tools from 'back home.' are what make reading this series worthwhile. The overall picture is brilliant. The execution is mostly really, really well done.

Except that speed of production thing. And the ending of books on cliff-hangers. And not getting readers who HAVEN'T lived with the book for a decade up to speed quickly. And the knowledge the next two books are out in short enough order to wait.

IF you can overlook THOSE nits, than have at it. Go ahead and read the book. You're going to have to read it eventually, even if I have to come over and stand over you until you do.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

BOOKS: The EMail I Get ....

My niece by agreement, Angela, made my day today. Her mother emailed me with the news that one of my Christmas gifts had found favour when Angela finally found the time to read it. Despite being surrounded by a reading family and having me foisting books on her every birthday and Christmas, Angela didn't exactly take to reading for pleasure.

Harry Potter came, enraptured her dad, her brother and me ... and went right by her. Same thing with Eoin Colfer's books.The problem was, we were thinking like guys. Really, that was what we were doing. Dunnh!

On her own Angela discovered Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series. THAT was apparently the key to turning Angela onto reading. Not exactly something I would have anticipated, but I knew enough to mine the same territory and got her the first in the Dead series by Marlene Perez, Dead is the New Black.

She finally got to it on Sunday, starting and finishing it all in 48 hours. Then she asked her mother to get her the next two books in the series and was willing to spend her OWN money to get them.

I'm busting at the seams, and it's not due to a big supper.

Best was the quote passed along by Dawna. "Who knew that reading was so much fun - if I had known this before, I would have done this years ago."

TV: Review- How I Met Your Mother

What if you were a REALLY, REALLY funny ensemble comedy, reminiscent of the best days of Friends, and you were on right after or even right before, the actual best comedic show on broadcast TV? Don't know the answer, just ask any cast member of How I Met Your Mother.

I sat down to the write this review and came to an absolute stop. I really appreciate the good moments Jason Segel, Josh Radnor, Alyson Hannigan and the wonderfully-named Cobie Smulders bring to the show. But, just as The Big Bang Theory revolves around the omnipresent Jim Parsons as Sheldon, so does this show. Neil Patrick Harris' Barney is a tour de farce.

It's almost dismissive to push the rest of the cast aside to just discuss Harris (especially since the vivacious Smulders plays a Canadian), but bluntly, without Harris there is no show. And the key, after reflections, is that Harris' Barney is MORE than a leering innuendo machine, he's human. An overly self-involved human, but a guy who CAN get hurt. That quality, plus his quote-machine style, separates him from Parsons' Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory.

I'm old enough to remember Harris as little Doogie Howser, MD. I have fond memories of the show. But Doogie's all grown up and presents a weekly dose of what the outer limits of sex-crazed can look like. Part of the fun is that he's by far and away the most successful member of his little gang of five, forcing the others to continue putting up with his shenanigans. In essence, he's become the engine for the other's to live lives above their current stations. The voice-over of Radnor's character, done by Bob Saget, suggests the grow into their lives later on.

Which is simple enough reason to continue watching. The journey there will be, wait for it, AWESOME! (If you got that joke, why were you reading the review?)

Monday, February 23, 2009

BOOKS: Review- Strip for Murder

Max Allan Collins has written a LOT of books. According to Fantastic Fiction, a great site for literary completists, that total is currently 127. A lot of them are media tie-ins, including Deadly Beloved, his prose Ms. Tree novel from two years ago. I quite liked the Ms. Tree comic books Collins and artist Terry Beatty have done over the years. I really, and truly, hated Deadly Beloved.

So, it was some trepidation that I put Collins back on the Christmas Wishbooklist. And indeed, Strip for Murder showed up under the tree. And I couldn't be happier. THIS is a return to form of The Last Quarry. An historical fictionalizing of the throwdown feud waged in the mid-twentieth century between the creators of L'il Abner (Andy Capp) and Joe Palooka (Ham Fisher).

Collins changes the names (Tall Paul, Hal Rapp, Mug O'Malley, Sam Fizer) and mixes up locales and timelines intentionally to produce his pastiche. He quite happily admits to all of this in his afterward called, A Tip of the Fedora. He also introduces composite characters and others 'loosely/tightly' based on real-life characters and a murder. Or two.

It's all done lovingly with the utmost respect for an art that's not anything close to what it was, but remains a driving force in helping keep the newspaper alive. The comic pages always remain in the top five features of what people read in newspaper surveys.

I was never much of a fan of L'il Abner, and less of Joe Palooka. But our school DID put on L'il Abner as the school's play my final year at good 'ol Bramalea Secondary School. My most distinct memory of a pretty good version of the play was that a classmate sure looked good all dressed up as Daisy Mae. Made me have a thought or two, if you know what I mean. But I digress.

Collins recreates 1953 Broadway in pretty good detail. He actually spends a pre-amble introducing Broadway AS a character, a tight little community that isn't any wide swatch of New York at all. It's a bit of the street known as Broadway, with important theatres and restaurants running off little side alleys. Collins paints the place as almost cloistered. Then he starts the book in a confusing time-jumping chapter that should, in my mind, have run between chapters three and four. That is my only quibble with the book. Be warned.

Otherwise, he just paints this comic-strip-like picture of a time period long gone in America. With the exception of cartoonists Rapp and Fizer, EVERYBODY seems impossibly beautiful or handsome. Without going beyond the bounds of propriety, Collins paints lavish word pictures of the dames and damsels. If you recognize some of them from real life, so be it. And YES, that WAS Edie Adams as the girl with faith and principles under the other name. The gents get no less a nice treatment.

And if Collins is somehow lax in getting the picture across, there are copious spot illustrations AND a comic-like summation of the facts by Beatty. As it was, I figured out most of who and how about 100 pages before that, but I was very much enjoying the ride. Collins detailing of the cartooning industry at the time is just that fascinating.

I'm NOT a big comic strip fan, although I am, as I've stated before, a big comics fan. My tastes as a kid ran to Hal Foster's Prince Valiant. I liked Buck Roger's of the 25th Century and that's about it for adventure strips. Peanuts was usually good, but more of the weekend colour pages, rather than the daily black and whites. Loved Family Circus and Marmeduke, but didn't make any special efforts not to miss them. Add in Hagar the Horrible and you have my list of strips that I would read first if given the opportunity. I still save every Saturday Toronto Star's comics section. There's a foot-high stack ALWAYS available in my living room should a visitor need to occupy himself or herself for whatever reason. While I don't follow the funnies any more, I seem to be in the minority.

I read Strip for Murder in a single night and immediately put A Killing in Comics, the prequel to this book, on my next Wishbooklist. Collins is BACK!

MOVIES: The Oscars

Annnnnnd we have a WINNER!

A quick show that coincided with the hockey game well enough to check over there for scores during commercials. PLUS, whoever game up with the change in presentation format for the major acting awards gets a TV Emmy next year. Absolutely brilliant. Having five past winners congratulate each and every nominee and tell them they were special, win or lose, worked GREAT! Some more than others, but when friends, each of which had to have the cachet of being a past Oscar award winner in the category, told other friends, "Good job!," it was heart-felt and made the emotions rise.

Not one musical pull-off moment, no cringeworthy jokes, only the Ben Stiller bit to crassly pull attention away while nominations were being read, and plenty of international content to make it a sort of We Are the World Oscars. I'm even humming that damn Jai Ho ditty that I've never heard before.

Well done!

INTERNET: What If Teller Screamed and There Was No One to Hear?

I have long been a fan of magic. I taped Doug Henning regularly when he was in his era of dominance on TV. I even went to a filming session of The Magic Movie in Toronto and figured out one of the tricks, thus turning the dreary art of movie-making enjoyable for me. For the record, I didn't work on THAT movie, but have been bored silly when on set at every other movie I've been on.

Henning turned into David Copperfield and Lance Burton. But lately, I have had a growing affection for Penn & Teller, the Vegas act that crosses traditional magic with a dare-ya-to-catch-me brashness that rubbed me wrong originally. I am a fan of their Penn & Teller BS show and I've found myself in agreement with Penn Gillette an awful lot in various other forums. (radio show, occasional blogging, essays here and there, etc.). Knowing I align with the duo politically seems to make them more ... forgivable for their occasional grossness as magicians. Their bits that result in spurting blood or consuming insects or ... well you get the drift ... aren't the kind of magic I enjoy. But they do so many other bits that I've come around.

Now, as I said, Penn's the guy that gets the attention. The man's a man-mountain afterall. Teller's the mute one. But here's a story from the Las Vegas Weekly that will change all that. Go read it.

Not tell me you don't want to see that red ball trick. In person. I defy you.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

TV: Review- Life

The pilot of Life certainly led me down the wrong path. Damian Lewis, yet another Brit effecting an American accent, seemed the latest in a long-line of eagle-eyed detectives. First case and he's already calling attention to the dog and the clue it hides. Turns out Charlie Crews wasn't a super-sleuth, just a good detective with an intersting back-story. He'd been in jail, wrongly convicted. Now he was out, exonerated of the charges and back on a force, not completely happy to see his return.

There was nothing wrong with the intro of the peacefully blissed-out detective who chews fruits, quotes philosophers and solves crimes. Turned out though, the blissed-out guy was secretly hunting the true perps that landed him in jail for that crime he didn't commit. And thus, we had a pretty decent, strike-shortened first season of Life.

One of the big mysteries was how Life was going to continue on in this, its second season, given that Lewis' Crews basically solved the mystery of who did him the injustice of framing him. At least in broad strokes. Welllll, the producers solved the problem by basically slipping in a different show under the title banner this year.

For the better.

Last year was really all about Charlie. An interesting and complex character. He quips with the best, seems impervious to attacks of anger and has a steady turtle=like approach to solving crimes. He's still looking for all the answers to the conspiracy that sent him to jail for all those years. But he's REALLY not the sole focus of the show anymore. It's become an ensemble cop show.

Crews' partner, Dani Reese is played by stunner Sarah Shahi. And Reese is almost as complicated as Crews. Reese does more with less dialog than most actresses. She answers questions with a look that says it all in most circumstances. Fascinating really. Reese is a recovering alcoholic always skirting the edge of that problem. She's also co-habitating with the new captain of the Detective Squad, Captain Tidwell, played by Donal Logue. This is the same Donal Logue that starred as the womanizing lead in The Tao of Steve.

Donal Logue is everyman's hero. The tagline of The Tao of Steve was, "Why do women find this man irresistible?" How does HE end up winning the affection of the notorious hard-ass Reese? Have no idea, but it's fascinating to watch. And I really approve of the change over from the cliched captain-as-enemy character from the first year to this year's on-side Tidwell. Tidwell gets transplanted in from New York, ponytail and unshaven look and all. Let me tell, the scene where Reese saunters into the bedroom and proceeds to cut Tidwell's ponytail off, is as sexy as anything else I've seen on primetime TV this year.

And let me not forget Adam Arkin as Crews' friend and house mate, Ted Earley. At least when Earley isn't in prison. The prison scenes with Earley have been great this year. I'm not sad he's been sprung from the can on the bogus charge that put him back there. But it was fun while it lasted.

So, instead of a Crews-centric show, we now have a balanced look at an interesting life. Or four. And that makes for irresistable entertainment.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

SOFTWARE: One Trick, But WizMouse Masters It!

On a daily basis, I check a bunch of recommendation sites. Most don't pan out, but you occasionally find a gold nugget amongst the dross. Such a find is Antibody Software's WizMouse utility.

WizMouse does only one trick, but it is a neat one for anybody who has a big enough screen OR screens and occasionally finds the need for scrolling more than one window, and goes back and forth doing it. Say a listing of files in Explorer and a list of files on a web-page or an Excel spreadsheet. You know the drill. You click on one window, scroll to what you need. Then you click BACK to the other window, taking great care not to click on something randomly to activate the window that might lead to adverse reaction, where you can THEN scroll that window. It can be quite the balancing act.

Enter WizMouse. It simply changes the behaviour of the scrolling function of your mouse (or my trackball) to scroll THE WINDOW IT'S HOVERING OVER! Doesn't requiring clicking to select at all. You can even scroll a window that's partially hidden by another window!!!!!

This is just incredibly neat. And free. And useful.

Let me give you an example. I had my point of sale system running. I was on the page with the catalog of items for sale. I ALSO had an excel analysis of sales open in another window on my second monitor. I was scrolling the item catalog, then going over, clicking on a cell and scrolling the analysis so that it showed approximately the same items. Then I clicked back over to the POS software, scrolled again, went back to excel, clicked there ... well you get the drift. After installing WizMouse, I just hovered over either window and scrolled. NO clicking whatsoever. It seems such a tiny improvement, but you have NO idea just how handy NOT CLICKING is!

Give it a try.

BOOKS: Review- The Brass Verdict

The arrival of Michael Connelly's The Brass Verdict at Christmas, more or less forced my hand. I had to go and dig into the reading stack and tackle The Lincoln Lawyer before reading The Brass Verdict. I will tell you that I enjoyed The Lincoln Lawyer very much. The verdict on the sequel?


It's not that Connelly does a bad job with The Brass Verdict. Indeed, it's workmanlike. It's just that I truly liked lawyer Mickey Haller in The Lincoln Lawyer. The Haller that shows up in the sequel seems to be a shabbier replica of his first incarnation. (I guess I should mention that Haller appeared in an earlier Harry Bosch book, Connelly's main series. I'm drawing a blank on which, but it was one of the latter ones).

This time out, Haller is recovering from the concluding events of The Lincoln Lawyer and not doing too well at it. There's been some drug use and the looming reconnection with his ex-wife that seemed to bring light to The Lincoln Lawyer has disappeared along with most of his practice. He's litigating on borrowed time and he's closer to being an ex-lawyer than a practicing star attorney. Then, things change.

An associate who had a sharing agreement with him (each seconded the other for slop-over work and some legal protections) went and got himself murdered. Jerry Vincent wasn't a good lawyer. In fact, Haller cuffed his ears bad enough for the DA's office to suggest he enter the private sector back in the day. But he was a good salesman and that resulted in him attaining a decent stable of clients. Including one Walter Elliot. A big-time movie maker with a dead wife. And a murder charge.

A judge hands Elliot and Vincent's other cases over to Haller in a pretty high-handed manner. Haller's back in the game and legal hijinks and mysteries ensue. The Elliot case is the most baffling, since his client has more trust in Haller than Mickey does himself. Turns out, he's right to expect success and wrong, as Haller exposes the rotten core of that case in way that few people end up happy about. There's a further scene forcing one last person out of the shadows that almost turns the book into a good one. But, to me, it felt like a cheap add-on by an author who knew he hadn't delivered the goods to that point.

Average Connelly is still pretty good writing compared to the norm out there. I wouldn't suggest reading the book without reading The Lincoln Lawyer. But I'd suggest letting some time pass between the two so that the memory of Mickey Haller fades just a tad.

Friday, February 20, 2009

INTERNET: The Email I Get ...

I'm stealing this title tag directly from Lee Goldberg. But it fits for this and I will continue to 'borrow' it on occasion.

The email I get is commonly business-related. Every now and then, I get something like the missive Judy Kay Wolff sent me today. I was touched and honoured that she took the time to comment on something she'd seen here. The commenting system defeated her ability to directly leave the comment but she persisted by directly emailing me and it brightened my day considerably.

In it, she mentioned that she mentioned THIS blog in HER blog. If you've come here from there, expecting more than the odd Bridge-related article, you might be a tad disappointed. You should look for a take on my last playdate with Alan Truscott and a hand that resulted in a mere 4600 being entered on the wrong side of the ledger. Other than that, I'm a little sparse on Bridge things, having dropped out of the regular scene a while ago. I explain partly in this posting. Judy's blog also refers to my review of The Lone Wolff, while I did explain my departure(s), in a way, from the ACBL in this one.

At this point, that's about it. I've been thinking about writing up my own adventures with having jump cue-bid in the opponents' suit twice in one hand and my own dissatisfaction with tie-breaking rules in one-day knockouts that don't have extra-hand overtime. But I can't promise when, or if, those stories will emerge. Otherwise, I spend time reading Judy's delightful blog and commenting when I have a story to tell about whoever she's telling stories about.

If you do want to peek in occasionally and read my ramblings on whatever, I will be very pleased and hopefully entertaining. If not, I understand.

But I appreciate the effort.

LIFE: One More Fish Story

As I mention below, I was pretty good friends with Mark Fisher back in my high school days and the years immediately after. I'd known Mark since I was taller than him (he ended up close to a foot taller than me). His dad, Hugh, had been with the Bramalea Blues since their inception and I was a fan, a reporter for, and later, part of the organization of that hockey team.

Mark went down to Clarkson College on a hockey scholarship after graduating Bramalea. Things didn't go right with Fish and the Golden Knights coaching staff and Mark opted to return to Canada and play goaltender for the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Major Junior Hockey League. It was there that he met the old Montreal Canadiens' goalie Gump Worsley. Worsley was, more or less, the Rangers' goalie coach.

Worsley was also an habitue of the racetrack. He loved the ponies. And the trotters. And anything else equine you could bet on. He passed along a tip to Fish about a sure winner in one of the races at, if memory serves correct, Mohawk. Fish was hot to go and cash in on the tip. But he hated going anywhere alone. I'm sure he ran through the various other options until he hit my name on the list. He sounded desperate and I hadn't ever gone to the track before. At least as a punter.

He picked me up in his old rattletrap of a car and we enjoyed a leisurely ride through the snowy country-side out to Mohawk. Our horse, the number four nag in the fourth race, (which is ALL that I can remember about the horse) was a lock. Racing people will know this for the sheer idiocy of the statement that it is. I didn't have a lot of money with me, but all but five dollars was dutifully placed on the horse to win. Fish probably doubled what I bet.

The horse finished sixth. Of six.

My racing experience having finished, I now wanted to go home. I had already discovered I wasn't much of a horse-racing fan. Maybe knowing NOTHING about the game coloured my opinion. But Fish wanted to stick it out for at least another race. I still had the fiver holding my down my pocket. In the next race, I put two dollars down on a place bet that didn't pan out. Fish wasn't going to leave without winning something. Anything.

Perusing the betting sheet for the sixth, I saw a name that stood out. Pass To Win was going off at 11-to-1 odds. Being a guard on the basketball team, the name shouted out to me, despite the odds. I even talked Fish into betting on the horse too. And the horse came in, sending me home with three bucks more than I had arrived with! Fish pocketed more than that.

And the decision was made to leave while we were 'ahead.' I have never placed another bet on a horse since then. Can't say the same for Mark, but that's his story to tell. The ride home was ebullient until we noticed Mark was running a little low on gas. In fact, it was officially out of gas as we pulled out of the parking lot at Mohawk. We kept looking for a gas station and didn't find any open at that time of the night. Fish kept the speed down as we crept home. We probably DID see a gas station about 20 minutes later, but by that point in time, Mark's competitive streak had set in. He was going to get ALL the way home on the gas fumes.

And we did. With money in hand. And thus, I retired from the horse racing game, a lifetime winner.

LIFE: Failing Memory Isn't New

As I get older, I notice my memory deteriorating. It's insidious and, thankfully, a slow process. I worry about Alzheimer's. But the one little thing that prevents me from completely freaking out, is that I've been drawing blanks at the memory banks since my late teens.

I was reading Earl Pomerantz's column today in which he describes a horrible lapse of memory when meeting a former colleague at a concert. It's funny and all-too close to home. My forgotten name story at least involved a stranger.

In the immediate post-days of my high school career, I ended up as a sports reporter. I still had strong ties back at the alma mater, Bramalea Secondary School. One of the first things I did was to organize a yearly basketball tournament at Bramalea, hooking local sponsors to donate trophies for the successful teams and for some individual awards. I got McDonald's to sponsor the MVP trophy. I also ended up doing the PA for all of the games, which ran all day Friday and Saturday. I was a little exhausted and a little mad by the time it came to do the trophy presentations.

Bramalea had won the tournament and Mark Fisher, a friend, had been spectacular in leading the Broncos to the title. That said, a kid from Oaville Blaylock had a pretty good tournament too. Tom Narbeshuber had been a scoring machine for them and I probably called his name out on the microphone a hundred times over the two days. If Fish hadn't had such a good tournament, he would have been a good choice as MVP. (Narbeshuber went on the university ball, playing on a good Victoria team that won the Canadian championship) As it was, the MVP committee, of which I was a member, voted Narbeshuber as MVP. The deciding vote was cast by a little weasel who coached Streetsville at the time. I won't even dignify him by naming him. But after watching Fish single-handedly destroy his team in the final, the weasel turned around and voted for Narbeshuber, justifying his vote as, "Because I can." Jerk.

So, minutes later, I had to stand at the scorer's table and do the announcing of the awards. I was still seething. It came time for the MVP award and all eyes were on Mark Fisher. Except mine. I was trying to figure out how I was going to explain the vote to Fish. Mechanically, I said, "And the winner of the McDonald's MVP is ... Tom..."

I couldn't remember Tom's last name.

Micro-seconds flashed by. Panic set in and grew. Finally, I turned around, motioned with my arm for Narbeshuber to come down and said, "Come on down," as if I was Bob Barker. The hooting and hollering for and against the pick allowed me cover to glance down at the scoresheets I still had in my hand. Suddenly, I was reading off Narbeshuber's scoring stats, trying publicly to give credence to the selection. In actuality, I was just relieved to have discovered his name on those sheets.

To this day, I have no idea whether anybody caught the mental fugue. I wasn't kidded by anybody, but then again, my memory wasn't something people kidded about back then. It was supposed to be pretty good.

And who'd have believed I would have forgotten a name I'd used more than 100 times over two days, anyway. Especially a name like Tom Narbeshuber.

TV: Review- Hustle

Michael Stone aka Mickey Stone aka Mickey Bricks is back on the Hustle. In a year of awful news, that might be the best news of the year so far ... TV Division. Don't want those Obama fans picketing this site [G].

Adrian Lester took series 4 of the British heist show, Hustle, off (He did the great first season of Bonecrackers, instead). And the program suffered considerably. I know more than a few championed Marc Warren as the new Doctor Who, but his inability to carry Hustle last year might have been a factor in him not getting the gig. Warren, who played Danny Blue through the first four series of Hustle is a fascinating second banana. Is he missed in series 5? Not at all.

Warren and Jaime Murray, who played Stacie Monroe, were replaced by Kelly Adams and Matt Di Angelo, who play sister and brother con-wannabes Emma and Sean Kennedy. The replacement was almost seamless. Sean Kennedy took on Danny's job of being in Mickey's face most of the time. And Emma became something Stacie wasn't ... a potential love interest for Mickey. They Sam-and-Diane'd their way through the whole series. Emma had the same chameleon role Stacie had and did a good job with it, being the only girl in the group. Kelly Adams is a real find.

The rest of the gang was back and I think Robert Vaughn did his best turn in the series so far. He did more with less this year. Robert Glenister isn't as over-the-top as his brother Philip (Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes, Demons). He plays brilliant, with a rough edge, utterly believably. He anchored last year's shows, but retreats before the return of the crew's headman this year. And you know, Eddie the Barman (Rob Jarvis) continues to be a key comic foil and occasional dupe.

As for the villains this year, they were all nasty nobs who had to be taken down a peg or three. Even the finale, which featured a try by one of the nasties to bring about turnabout no fair play, the ditz being used by all was just too stupid NOT to be taken for a ride (or the lack of same, by the red-headed Emma).

This is a DVD set to grab when it comes available. My guess is that it will show up on BBC Canada or even ONTV sooner rather than later.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

BOOKS: Review- McCown's Law: The 100 Greatest Hockey Arguments

I have finished my most recent 'Reading Room' book, McCown's Law: The 100 Greatest Hockey Arguments by Bob McCown and Dave Naylor, and I have an arguement to make. I don't think I got 100 individual arguements, even counting the extras in the revised paperback edition.

That's the problem with setting out to do some mystical number of anything. There are occasions where you just have to stop and say, The 87 Greatest Hockey Arguements. Afterall, there's nothing wrong with having a whole bunch of well-thought out arguements and deciding which side is best. Re-phrasing and re-stating arguements dealing with fighting and violence in hockey at least a half-dozen ways takes away a bit. But, since I'm in agreement with McCown on the fighting issue, it's more like singing to the choir than it's like being told untruths time and time again. He rails on Gary Bettman a bit too much. And some of his lists really peter out before they get to the fifth entry.

That said, this book makes for fine dipping and reading. Perfect for the reading room. And McCown and Naylor make very compelling debate for a vast majority of their arguements to some of the most contentious issues pertaining to the sport of hockey. I disagree with McCown on some. For example, the shootout. On the other, we agree somewhat on Eric Lindros. I'm not a fan of Eric Lindros the person (more his family, but you are known by the company you keep). But I do think he's a Hall of Famer and was THE most valuable player for a lot longer than most people remember. What Lindros did with his hulking presence, was make surrounding teammates braver and better. He combined that with his own bulldozer-level playing abilities to become, I believe, the most terrifying force in the league for five, maybe six years. Sure, Scott Stevens ended that reign of terror. Until that hit, I would have taken Lindros first in any expansion draft he might have been made available for.

On the other hand, I come completely down on McCown's side on who the greatest hockey player was during our lifetime (I'm in my early 50's). The answer is Bobby Orr. I saw Orr starting when he was a junior when he was 17 and watched his whole career unfold. I didn't see ALL of his games, but I saw what was available. As good as Orr's stats and highlight reels were, due to injury, selflessness or just plain boredom on occasion, Orr didn't rack up the numbers he COULD have. Don't judge Orr by the numbers, try to watch full games on any of the classic channels that show NHL games. Try to watch Orr and see if he does anything wrong. Other than getting caught, famously, with his head down a couple of times, you won't find anything. He was technically perfect as well as achieving a level of artistry that only one player can match.

That man, of course, is Wayne Gretzky. I first saw Gretzky play as a nine-year old. Of that, I am sure. I might have caught him as an eight-year old at the Brampton Lions Atom Hockey Tournament, a yearly spring staple here in my home town. Gretzky first played in the event, I believe, as a six year old with the Brantford Steelers. I then watched Gretzky periodically through the rest of his minor days until he started playing Junior B with the Toronto Nats. Then, I saw plenty of him, as he personally sidelined the Bramalea Blues' all-Ontario championship hopes two years running. I distinctly remember a game that first year, when the stated goal by a half-dozen Blues was to "knock that little $#(*$)(* out of the game." Three goals and five points later, we grudgingly admitted the little stick-thin kid was tougher than he looked and REALLY, REALLY hard to hit. Waaaay good too. A LOT of players over the years came to the same conclusion. Gretzky was a dominant offensive force, every bit the artist Orr was from the blue-line in. He wasn't a horrible defensive player, mainly because HE had the puck most of the time. But it is in the defensive zone that the decision is made to support Orr's nomination as the greatest ever.

Any book that can start an internal debate, as this one does, has to be a recommended read. Just don't get too upset by the misleading title.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

TV: Review- CSI, CSI: Miami and CSI: NY

The populace at large has spoken. The original, CSI (Las Vegas) is a consistent top ten show in the Nielsen ratings while its offspring, CSI: Miami and CSI: New York are both solid top 20 shows.

In my house, the ratings are upside down.

About 10 years ago, one of the top-rated cable shows was a program that just showed operations up close. People are apparently quite intrigued by blood, guts and gore. Me, I'm a tad squeamish, thank you very much. I'm not the kind that faints at the drop of a bit of blood, but neither do I find it endless entertaining. Nor do I think car wrecks and other wrecks of equally deadly nature are interesting. Seeing bodies turned into bloody pretzels interests me not.

Still, like MILLIONS of others, I tuned into CSI. I appreciated William Petersen's performance and thought the surrounding crew was interesting. The visuals were spectacular and the computer professional in me marveled at them. I can remember doing computer special effects for movies back in the 1980's. Times had changed.

However, I found CSI getting less and less compelling as they stretched the boundaries of what could pass for TV at 9pm, as the show went along. Sometimes, the subject matter was too stomach-stressing for my own liking. I found I could start watching a CSI show and decide, minutes into it, that I could do without watching it to the conclusion. In fact, if there was a single show that prompted me to go to disk watching all the time, it was CSI. Well, that and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. Kid abuse isn't something I find interesting.

By now, I have become inured to a certain degree to CSI. Catch it, miss it, doesn't effect me all that much. On the other hand, I find both New York and Miami entertaining regularly. New York is closer to its parent in terms of gross-out factors, but it seems bizarrely more considerate of the watchers' feelings that does the LV version. Who'da thought New Yorkers cared!!

Petersen's detached scientist/cop remained interesting until the end. Laurence Fishburne is a BIG catch to replace Petersen, while trying to maintain the scientist-centric approach. To me, it hasn't worked. On the other hand, Gary Sinise, who seems equal parts scientist and cop works great in New York and the much-dismissed David Caruso is a cop/scientist in Miami. And it works for me.

Sinise's supporting crew still seems fresh. Melina Kanakaredes is getting better as she ages. Might be the prototypical brainy beauty. But I think the real trick to the show are the native New Yorkers, Eddie Cahill and Carmine Giovinazzo who play detective Detective Flack and CSI Danny respectively. Both REALLY ARE native New Yorkers and it helps. A lot.

I miss Sofia Milos, who could play Kanakaredes' sister, in Miami. But Emily Procter's still around. And we viewers all hope her character will finally hook up with Adam Rodriguez' Delko before one or the other gets offed somehow. In the meantime, I have absolutely no issue with Caruso's Horatio Caine. Sure, you'd think Caruso would eventually get a doctor to look at the crick in his neck, but it adds to the quiet man's menace in a silly way.

When it comes to picking which one to look at first, if given a choice, I lean towards New York by a hair over Miami. I'll watch Las Vegas if it's convenient, if for no other reason.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

SOFTWARE: Here Today, Comodo Gone Forever

I prefer ZoneAlarm to Comodo purely for familiarity of use reasons. I've tried both and Comodo, which is rated by a LOT of people I respect as being better, just isn't as easy to use for me as ZoneAlarm. So, when I ran the trial of Comodo back on Nuklon last year, I wasn't compelled to make the switch permanent. I went back to ZA.

Didn't think much about it until Popeye came along and, all of a sudden, I wanted to talk TO Nuklon from Popeye and do the reverse. The reverse wasn't an issue. Talking TO Nuklon was. I changed routers twice and then went to a switch, figuring it was a hardware problem. ALL software guys think ALL computer problems are hardware. What do the hardware guys think? Do you really think it matters to me?

Finally, Patrick was the one that noticed Nuklon was claiming to be running TWO firewalls. Okay, so I must have re-activated Windows Firewall during an update somewhere along the line. Stupid, but I've done worse. Nope. It wasn't WF and ZA teaming up to make Nuklon an orphan. It was my old buddy Comodo Firewall Pro doing it. And NOTHING I could do could exorcise this demon. Nothing!

I eventually emailed Comodo support. Well, THAT was just plain useless, a waste of electrons. No reply. Thinking back, it was Scot Finnie who convinced me to, at least, test Comodo. It was HIS fault. See how easy it is for software writers to create blame flowcharts? So, off to his site I went. Scot's not much into Windows these days. He's a mainly a Mac guy now with a sideline interest in fuel-efficient cars. He's still a good read at his blog, and despite the Comodo hiccup, I basically trust anything he writes. It's usually the result of some in-depth research. And besides, he has a forum that is just FILLED with smart people willing to help out chumps like me.

I registered and gained the right to post entries in the forum. Toughest part was picking out which section to detail my plight. I went for Security & Networking. Good guess. Within a day, I had help from a handful of people, including a detailed message from Striker. He or she (shouldn't be sexist now) spent two of her or his hours researching my problem. He or she went further into the Comodo help forums than I did. The first link I checked wasn't the solution, although it DID affirm what I found out earlier in the day. You CAN delete LEGACY keys in the registry by right clicking on the key, choosing PERMISSIONS and changing them there, before trying to delete them. NOTE: You have to have Admininstrator rights to do this.

Although I had already gotten rid of any OTHER key containing Comodo, I was able to find a CFPLog entry to deep six too. Doing it, and then rebooting, STILL didn't leave me Comodo-free.

Fortunately, Striker had NOT just stopped there. Another link to an entry by pandlouk in the Comodo forum was the solution to the nightmare.

This is a problem of Xp and not of the Comodo Firewall.
For resolving it:
  1. At the command line of windows XP "Start" ->"Run" enter the command "CMD.EXE" and press Enter.
  2. At the new window (Command Prompt window), type "NET STOP WINMGMT /Y" and press Enter. Then type "exit" end press Enter again.
  3. Then go at the folder C:\windows\system32\wbem and delete the folder "Repository".
  4. Reboot windows. The folder will be recreated by the Security Center and will display the correct information.
Comodo is now no longer a factor on my computer. References to it still exist in an interesting bunch of places. But as for the residual ghostly presence in my firewall defence ... not so much.

It's really wonderful when a perfect stranger like Striker reaches out to help a befuddled old coot like me. Makes me believe there's some worth in this internet thingie.

BOOKS: Review- Karma Girl

I am not quite the audience Jennifer Estep had in mind when she wrote Karma Girl. I am a product of reading comic books in the sixties, which is one prerequisite for enjoying the book to the maximum. But I'm not exactly the average romance-book reader. That's pretty tight focusing, since there were not a lot of girls reading Superman comics back in those days.

Still, I managed to stumble upon the book and found it was a hoot to read. The 'romance' in it, is teen-rated, nothing too graphic. And, if you are an old coot like me, you can read right through it, rather than stopping and savouring the juicy bits as, I assume, most distaff readers would.

What I find enjoyable about the book was its wholesale transplanting of the silliness that was Lois Lane in the early sixties, into somewhat contemporary society. Back before Lois Lane burst out in her title as an independent woman and ace reporter (issue #80 of Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane, if you were interested), Lois was hell-bent on discovering Superman's secret identity. That and marrying the big lug, but the identity seemed to be her main focus in life.

Estep probably has a complete set of the comics, judging from the book. Carmen Cole is a mild-mannered reporter who's engaged to Matt Marion (warning ... sixties level of alliteration alert). Her wedding day is marred by that most contemporary of all calamities, finding her future husband having sex with her best friend and maid of honour, Karen Crush. Oh, and Marion and Crush are the super-hero and super-villain respectively of the remote little hamlet all three call a hometown.

Carmen's crushed (ahhhh, I had to type it). She puts the wedding disaster behind her and moves about the country, taking on the job of unmasking the local heroes and villains. She becomes successful and famous and eventually ends up in Bigtime City (Yes, made-up names, just like the sixties DC Comics). There, she succeeds too well and one of the heroes she unmasks commits suicide.

Well THAT didn't happen in Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane. But it happens in this book. And it's a repentant Carmen who is trying to gather the shattered remnants of her career together when the book hits its stride. She, more or less, ends up in a pinch. One of the baddies, Malefica, has decided she needs to do her best to unmask the Bigtime equivalent of Batman, who leads a Justice League of America-like group of super-heroes. Naturally she succeeds in defrocking the Fearless Five's leader, Striker. Just as naturally, sparks fly. And I'm not talking about the kind of heat Fiera flings around. Fiera being another Fearless Five member and ex-fiancee of the hero previously unmasked to his apparent ever-lasting sorrow.

Things DO happen in the last third of the book that are as predictable as any comic from the era being so thoroughly mined by Estep. Some things happen that weren't predictable. But the good guys do win in the end, Carmen achieves bliss in a number of ways, and I'm left thinking I might want to venture closer to the romance aisles again.


Monday, February 16, 2009

TV: Review- Leverage

Back in October I raved about what I thought was a failed pilot. It was for Leverage, America's latest attempt to capture the success that is Hustle over in England. (And all such shows owe at least a little to It Takes a Thief). I said at the time that I was happy to find that TNT was going to run the series at the end of the year.

And so, how did the series turn out? Was it a latter day Tenspeed and Brownshoe (a famously fabulous pilot that turned into an abysmal show) or was it, in fact, the American response to the Hustle challenge? I am pleased to announce that the show is very much the latter. I couldn't be happier with the show, at all.

Heist caper shows are difficult. If you run them devoid of humour, seeking the all-encompassing 'edgy' atmosphere of some movies, you run the risk of the audience waking up to the fact that they are supposed to be cheering for the bad guys. That's the approach that killed Thief (starring Andre Braugher) and Smith (starring Ray Liotta) in the last couple of years. Contrast Simon Baker in The Mentalist with his performance in Smith. Chuckles count.

The mould these shows SHOULD have been made out of, was Hustle, now finishing its fifth series over on the other side of the ocean. Besides a heaping load of humour, the British series also has the advantage of only trying to run six episodes in any year. That helps a lot. And Leverage is smartly only going 13 episodes rather than the 22 shows a year that is roughly U.S. standard these days.

So far, we've had more than six pretty good shows out of Leverage. Timothy Hutton as the conflicted good guy turned heist gang leader continues to be good. He started the operation as revenge for the handling of a case involving his terminal son. He's been convinced to stay with the rest of his gang, all for the better. Beth Riesgraf, Christian Kane, Gina Bellman and Aldis Hodge make for a varied group with different backgrounds, talents and desires to walk the right side of the straight and narrow. And that's key, since you DO really have to root for them, even when avarice is, in fact, the driving factor.

Leverage works. It's entertaining and brings the grins just enough. Do I prefer it to Hustle? Well, Mickey Stone (played by Adrian Lester) came back for the fifth Hustle series, halting the slide his absence caused in the fourth series. It's close. Too close to call.

I don't think you can go wrong with either show.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

BOOKS: Review- Kris Longknife Intrepid

Technically speaking, this is actually a review of the whole Kris Longknife series by Mike Moscoe, of which Intrepid is the most recent one. It was proceeded by Deserter, Mutineer, Defiant, Resolute and Audacious. All published in the last five years, the first two coming out in 2004. I should also note that Moscoe uses the pseudonym Mike Shepherd for these books.

If you've read my review of Elizabeth Moon's Vatta or Serrano books, you have the review for the Longknife books already in mind. This is military science fiction with a soap opera-ish bent. The main character, Kris Longknife, starts the series off as a low-level sailor in the United Sentient Planets' marine corps. She's a bit more than that. Her dad's a planetary prime minister and one of her grandfathers becomes an interstellar emperor along the way. She's got connections.

And because she's got connections, she's dismissed for being a woman, young, and obviously enjoying nepotism at its best. Turns out that although she's a woman and young, she's doing her darndest to get out from under the occasional self-serving thumb of her relatives. They keep shipping her out to crappier and crappier assignments with every intention of busting her out of the Marines and into civilian life. She keeps succeeding in her missions and coming back with a bump in title. The scene where she receives her promotion is a highlight in each book.

The first book in the series details the fracturing of the long-time status quo of the United Sentients Alliance. Old Earth, is tired and can no longer maintain its grip on the outer planets. Earth opts to condense its sphere of control and the outer rim planets break into two main groups and a bunch of unaligned planets who can't make up their mind as to which of the new groups to join. The Longknifes are the good guys and there's a bigger portion of the planets under their sway. But the Peterwald-controlled planets are awfully aggressive about the undecideds joining up with them. The Peterwalds wear the black hats in this series and if you conflate them with the old Prussion ideals, you are bang on.

Through the series, Longknife tangles with one Peterwald scion or another. She cozies up with Hank Peterwald, who seems the white sheep of the family. Unfortunately, when she does in the dire plans of the elder, Hank is called home and told to man-up or be cast from the family. The relatively pleasant frenemy of the second book turns into a snarling martinet, too stupid to know when he's in over his head. That leads to death. A not uncommon factor in this series, as Longknife loses more than a few characters that readers would assume were in the series for the long haul.

And with Hank gone and buried, his sister steps into the fray to become the latest in a long line of people who attempt to kill Longknife or have her killed by proxy. The sister does the opposite of her brother and becomes a frenemy by the conclusion of this book, which is about all I'm going to say about Intrepid.

Here's a line you won't see in this blog often. DON'T READ THIS BOOK. Well, not until you've read the first five books in the series. I see no reason to start here and miss the buildup that explains why the events of Intrepid are so extraordinary.

If you like military science fiction from the likes of Moon or David Weber, you owe it to yourself to take in all six gems in this series. It's a simple as that. But please don't start with Intrepid.

You've been warned!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

TV: Review- Fringe

I can't think of any actor on Fringe I don't think is doing a good job. The show's a JJ Abrams production that runs longer than average for episodic TV shows today. And we can ALL use a break from commercials to some extent. I'm a SF fan, so the program hits the sweet spot in the interest spectrum.

And yet it doesn't quite work. It's actually less than the sum of its parts.

Basic premise of the show marries an updating of the X-Files with Without a Trace, both decent parents. You have the investigation of the weird and usually not-so-wonderful by a backed-up (mostly) FBI team led by Anna Torv, playing agent Olivia Dunham, the suit-wearing lead. Torv looks like Cate Blanchett's younger sister (both are Australians) but she's ... handsome ... in this role. It could have been written for a man for all I know, except for the love affair with fellow agent (and partner) John Scott, played by Mark Valley. Must have worked for Torv and Valley. They got married recently.

Torv fits MY idea of what an FBI agent looks like and talks like. Bit of a rod up the spine, if you know what I mean. Yet Dunham's interesting enough, what with her seeing Scott's ghost everywhere. Scott got killed while on the run FROM Dunham after she discovered he was a rogue. Torv's actions in that case got her noticed and she ended up on a weirdo projects squad with the rest of the misfit society, bad boy Peter Bishop and his wacko father, Dr. Walter Bishop, the resident mad scientist.

Canadian Joshua Jackson plays Peter and exhibits almost all of the interesting traits that drew viewers to Dawson Creek. He makes intelligence work on screen. And John Noble gives Walter a trace of whimsy overlaying a backstory that could have been stolen from Dr. Joseph Mengele. That's a tough combo to pull off, and Noble does it. He seems at least partially responsible for most of the badness the team comes across, yet a 20-year stay in a mental institution has him almost child-like.

Even the background players, Jasika Nicole, Kirk Acevedo and Lance Reddick are good. Blair Brown drops by to add some occasional smiley-face time as a probably bad lady.

So how come the darn thing doesn't gel into a really good show?

Some feelings. The puzzles are rarely engaging. Almost all of them require Walter to come up with some faux-science explanation. None of those explanations REALLY feel real. And that's despite knowing that Whedon and the writers START with something similar that's really real, when developing each script. It just FEELS too much like fantasy and bad fantasy at that. Torv's almost mannish presence doesn't help, although it's perfectly understandable. Still, it wouldn't hurt to get her into a skirt and have her smile. The Scott's ghost story-line absolutely doesn't work. And the hints of a global conspiracy behind the wackiness just doesn't work. The observer guy in the third or fourth episode was interesting. But we haven't seen him since.

This series REALLY needs it's own 'THRUSH' or somesuch organization (the Republican Party?) to act as the identifiable enemy in this show. That would give the seemingly random events some coalescence that's missing right now. Until then, this is just X-Files without the catchphrase and WITH FBI acceptance.

SPORTS: I Missed Humphries

In listing the 2009-10 Toronto Raptor squad yesterday, I missed listing Kris Humphries the third man in the big rotation. I DID account for him in my total salary computation. The 14-man roster, if all healthy, would see Banks and Jawai looking good in suits on the bench.

Let's go over this again. O'Neal's $21M is NOT completely available for signing free agents. Banks burns some of it. That leaves a bit better than half of that total to attract a free agent wing. Remember, there are two caps. The soft 'salary cap' is BELOW the luxury threshold, but exists only for interfering with trades and as a starting point. The REAL cap the NBA teams pay attention to is the Luxury Tax threshold. At least most teams do. Toronto is one of them.

You can waive good-bye to Solomon, Voskuhl and whatever outstanding cap consideration was owed former players. It doesn't amount to much, but it's there.

A week or two after the draft, the teams will start signing players to bring to camp in the fall.

AFTER signing the new wing, whether it's Artest, Hamilton, Marion or an as-yet unthought of player, the Raptors can THEN go over the salary cap to resign (Bird rights players) Parker, Graham and Delfino, repatriating the latter from Russia. Parker comes back for slightly less, spurning European overtures for more. Graham gets a little raise. There MIGHT be some renouncing player rules I haven't considered completely, but I don't think that comes into play unless you sign more than one free agent from another team. But I could be wrong. I think the mid-level exception is also there for Toronto to play with.

Then they sign their backup/future shooting guard from the draft conducted before the signing period. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE let it be Gerald Henderson. He's no Grant Hill, but even Grant Hill wasn't 'Rookie of the Year Grant Hill' this time many moons ago. (And yes, I KNOW Duke lost to hated North Carolina Wednesday night. Helluva ballgame though).

Finally, we bring back Rasho Nesterovic, signing him on a veteran's minimum deal that the NBA pays partly for and reduces the cap hit appropriately. He will be the last player signed.

GM Bryan Colangelo can then turn to the question of coaching the team and accepting kudos for the miraculous turnaround on the once team of the future, turned disaster.