Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Colts/Kaylee/Katie the Beagle Haiku, Week 16...

... in which our faithful haiku correspondent reveals the true source of her holiday cheerfulness via the title:


Merry Kate-mas and
Kaylee New Year! Colts win at
Oakland spreads good cheer!

Mary Campbell-Droze

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Week 15 Haiku to Celebrate Beagle, Baby, and Brown (Donald)

Katie is famous,
Kaylee met Santa, and the
Colts got a key win.

--Mary Campbell-Droze

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Patio Boat's Annual Cruise to Christmas Island

Monique and I have watched several Christmas specials and movies over the last couple of weeks, so I thought I'd mention some of my all-time favorites; a few others that you might not have seen, but should look for; and a couple that we've come across this year that might not be worth your viewing time.

Television Specials -- The Best

A Charlie Brown Christmas
(1965) -- Simply the best.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) -- Sure, Santa comes across as a mean bigot in this one, but Herbie the Elf's dental obsession saves the day.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966) -- The original animated version, natch. I suppose one day I might see the Jim Carrey version, but I remain dubious.

Frosty the Snowman (1969) -- The best part? Jimmy Durante saying, "And being as Frosty was made out of snow, he was the greatest belly-whopper of them all."

A Great One You Might Not Have Seen

Emmett Otter's Jug-Band Christmas (1977) -- Emmett Otter and his Ma try to give each other a Christmas to remember in this early Muppet effort from Jim Henson's studios. Great music and a truly sweet story.

Movies -- The Best

It's a Wonderful Life
(1946) -- I've seen this movie dozens of times and it still always touches me. What an amazing commentary on the impact that we can all have on one another.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947) -- Maureen O'Hara ... Hubba! Hubba! Er, I mean, a heartful lesson on the true meaning of Christmas emerges from the heart of holiday commercialism.

White Christmas (1954) -- This one continues to grow on me. The sitcom-ish plot is dubious at times, but the amazing music and performances by Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera Ellen overcome all.

A Christmas Story (1983) -- Ralphie wants a Red Rider BB gun. It's episodic structure is perfect for that annual "24 Hours of A Christmas Story" marathons on TBS, since you can pick it up at any place and enjoy.

A few pretty good Christmas movies that you may not have seen:

Holiday Inn (1942) -- The first movie to feature Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas." It's structure is basically an excuse for Bing Crosby to sing and Fred Astaire to dance. That's a pretty good idea.

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) -- Kind of "A Christmas Story" for the World-War-II set, with several anecdotes from a family in St. Louis in 1904, the year the Gateway City hosted the World Fair. It hasn't quite held up as well as some other musicals of the era, but there are some real highlights, too -- especially Judy Garland singing "The Trolley Song (Clang! Clang! Clang! Goes the Trolley!)" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

Scrooged (1988) -- There are several good straightforward versions of "A Christmas Carol" out there. (I'm partial to the 1938 version with Reginald Owen as Scrooge and the 1984 version with George C. Scott as Scrooge.) But if you've never caught this 1988 take starring Bill Murray as a modern television executive, it's well worth the time. Great supporting performances abound (Karen Allen, John Forsythe, Bobcat Godthwait, Carol Kane, and Alfre Woodard, among others) and Murray turns in a great "Bill Murray playing Bill Murray" performance. Check it out.

Dubious at Best -- Fortify yourself with eggnog beforehand.

Celtic Thunder Christmas (2010) -- When I cued this one up on the DVR I thought it might be a cool collection of Celtic Winter songs or maybe some Celtic-music-styled versions of Christmas standards. Instead the first 20 minutes were all pretty straightforward and uninspired versions of Christmas standards, at which point I moved on. It wasn't horrible or anything ... just not all that interesting. At best, it's strictly background music as you trim your tree.

Comfort and Joy (2003) -- Nancy McKeon stars as a woman who suffers amnesia and can't remember the last ten years of her life; ten years during which she apparently stopped being a selfish corporate b**** and became a loving caring person with a husband and two kids. The unfortunate thing about this one is that it failed to capitalize on its good premise: "How did I get to be this middle-aged person that I am now when I'm not at all like who I thought I'd become?" Alas, the plotting becomes laughably bad after a while. It's a harmless two hours on the Crying Woman's Channel (aka Lifetime Movie Network) and everybody's likeable enough. But the plot becomes so sitcommy bad that it becomes a distraction. Kind of a cool idea to think about during this season, though.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Review Ragout: The Silver Bells and Mistletoe Edition

Yes, it's true. The blogging has been a bit sparse lately. You know how it is ... campaigning, election, work, job stuff, etc. Plus, I've been trying to get back to the gym a bit lately. All of that adds up to some sluffing off on the blogging.

Suck it up and be patient, gentle reader. Or go click on a few ads to incentivize me. Either way, I'll eventually get off my lazy butt and write up a few substantial posts. In the meantime, I thought I'd throw out a few quick reviews of some recent books and movies I've been reading and watching in the time that I could've spent writing long, thoughtful blog posts that would have changed the course of history.


Speaking of history, we start today's adventures in reviewing with a semi-autobiographical graphic novel set in Cuba during the Cuban Revolution: Cuba: My Revolution (2010) by Inverna Lockpez & Dean Haspiel.

The story follows Sonya, a young Cuban medical student who supports Fidel's revolution but runs afoul of Cuba's new government and eventually becomes disenchanted with the changes in her country. Telling this story as a graphic novel lends the whole thing an immediacy that it might not have had as a text piece, and the art is truly beautiful and evocative in places:

It's a great read, and especially interesting for its up-close view of the Cuban Revolution from inside Cuba. It's also a great example of the ways in which graphic novels can tell tales far from their comic-book roots.

All Clear (2010) by Connie Willis -- This and Blackout, which came out earlier this year, are really Part 1 and Part 2 of the same 1200-page book. (You can find my brief review of Blackout here.) The premise is that time-travelling historians find themselves stuck in London during the Blitz, and fear that they may have accidentally caused the allies to lose World War II. The entirety gives a great up-close look at everyday Londoners during the darkest days of World War II, and serve up a moving portrait of the heroism that can emerge from regular people in extraordinary times. Willis's prose gives a great immediacy to the many scenes set during the air raids of the Blitz and during the later V1 and V2 attacks, and the time-travel plot provides great framing and narrative impetus.

These two books really exceeded my expectations, and I suspect that I'll go back to re-read them -- together, this time -- sooner instead of later.

The Red Box (1937) by Rex Stout; And Four to Go (1956) by Rex Stout -- Just wanted to mention a couple more Nero Wolfe mysteries as I work my way back through them all in more-or-less chronological order.

The Red Box was one of the earlier ones that I didn't have on my shelves, and that took me a while to dig up. It's a good read ... not one of the best in the series, but a fun ride with pre-World War II Archie and Nero, and a good look at them before they had quite settled comfortably as settled characters. Archie is a bit rougher than his later version while Wolfe is a bit more unpredictably eccentric. The plot itself involves poisoned candies and models and ... well, heck, it hardly matters. What matters is that you can rest assured that Wolfe and Archie will get to the bottom of it.

And Four to Go contains four Nero Wolfe novellas, three of which are set around a holiday. My favorite of the batch is "Christmas Party" which contains one of Wolfe's most remarkable out-of-office expeditions, and which really has a few nice commentaries on Archie's and Wolfe's regard for one another. I'm generally more fond of the full novels because of the twists and turns they contain, but all four of these present an interesting puzzle with a clever solution.


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (2010) -- This hardly needs a plug from me, but I wanted to mention that I enjoyed it quite a bit because I was a bit concerned that Deathly Hallows wouldn't translate as well to the big screen as some of the other books. Splitting the final Potter book into two parts seems to have worked well here, and in some ways the pacing of the movie works quite well. The whole thing is essentially a long second act, but it's a really good long second act and it gives me confidence that the finale has a chance to live up to expectations. There's also a particularly lovely animated telling of the fable of the Deathly Hallows that's as striking a bit of short animation as I've seen in a while.

I suppose that somebody who had never seen a Harry Potter movie or read a Harry Potter book would be confused by the whole thing. But really, is anybody going to this film as their first Harry Potter experience?

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010) -- I can't for the life of me figure out how this was a box-office bomb because I enjoyed the hell out of it. I picked up the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels this summer during the pre-film hype, and enjoyed them greatly. But I couldn't for the life of me figure out how they were going to get them on film. But this movie did a great job of capturing a lot of what made those books such a fun read. Michael Cera makes a great Scott Pilgrim; Mary Elizabeth Winstead is charismatic and beautiful as the enigmatic Ramona Flowers; the supporting cast sparkles; the music, much of it by Beck, rocks; and the video-game-style fights are action packed; there are lots of nice little touches; and the whole movie is a lot of fun to watch. Heck, don't take my word for it: it scored a nifty 80% on the TomatoMeter.

So why did this thing bomb at the box office?

I dunno ... maybe it's my fault. I was really busy when this came out in mid-August. I expected I'd get to one weekend ... and then it was gone before I knew it. Was everybody just really busy this Summer? I doubt it. The Expendables with its flock of over-the-hill action stars came out the same weekend and racked up more than $100 million in ticket sales -- more than three times Scott Pilgrim's final take.

Maybe the real problem is that there just hasn't been another movie quite like this, so audiences didn't quite know to make of it. I dunno: popular young stars, lots of Internet buzz, good reviews, big-money marketing campaign ... and then a big ol' egg at the box office. Okay, maybe $31.5 million isn't a total disaster, but it also wasn't anywhere close to expectations for a big-budget flick like this.

In any case this movie is a lot of fun to watch. I could be wrong, but I think this movie is going to rise in esteem as the years go by. Check it out and let me know what you think.

(BTW, you can find my review of Vols. 1-4 of the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels here. I don't seem to have written up a review of #5 and #6, so I'll have to add that in somewhere. Oh, heck, how about here: they were good. You should read them all. In order. Now.)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Haiku in which Katie the Beagle Returns from Her Spokesdog Duties to Review the Colts' Thursday-night performance

Those who may have been confused by the previous haiku* will be relieved to know that Katie the Beagle has returned from her spokesdog work to resume her NFL-commenting duties:

Peyton sets more re-
cords. Career MVP 5?
Kaylee: "Yaaaaa!" Kate: "Arf!"

-- Mary Campbell-Droze

*Follow the link on "Woof!" Then look closely at the draft of this year's poster. It's a bit like "Where's Waldo."

The Haiku in which Katie the Beagle Finally Sells Out

Katie the Beagle --
Spokesdog for the MSU
Comics Forum. Woof!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Week 13: Colts/Kaylee/Katie Haiku (Plus a Bonus Lions Update Haiku!)

The Cooked, Strained, and Mashed Approach to the AFC South

Getting Colts to win?
Like getting Kaylee to eat
Carrots! (Kate: "Food?? Where?!!")

--Mary Campbell-Droze

How Has This Season Gone for the Lions?

With the first pick in
The Two Thousand and Eleven
Draft, Detroit selects....

--John Magee