Monday, May 22, 2006

Go and see Richard III

You should go and see Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival's production of Richard III this weekend. It is a huge amount of fun. Yes, it is a history play, but its spirit hews closer to Macbeth than to, say, Henry V. There are curses, bizarre seductions, numerous executions, a really sweet battle scene in which heavy instruments are banged loudly into dented metal shields, and two child characters are put to death (offstage, alas). The company stages it in nifty period outfits so you don't have to worry about what kind of modern political spin they're trying to put on it. (Plus you can enjoy the Spotlight of Death special effect, which is used to get around all of the interesting deaths being offstage. The character being beheaded or whatever just goes and stands underneath it while appropriate sound effects play. Clarence even gets a gurgling malmsey sound!) It's a classic story of a hunchbacked villain that you can all hiss at and root against. It's like seeing a play about Count Olaf. And it's certainly much more fun than going to see The Da Vinci Code and watching Tom Hanks' brow furrow as he pretends to sort out anagrams.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

For a very specific fanbase

I am continuing to sort through my books - reference, essays and lit. crit. are all packed; novels, gardening, religion, humor and art are still all over the floor - and have found one of my first favorites, "Escape to Witch Mountain" by Alexander Key. It's a nicely constructed adventure story about two foster kids with supernatural abilities on the run from evil government officials, looking for their true home with the help of a kindly priest. I read it over & over as a kid and am always amazed at how well it holds up; I just sat down and read the first and last chapters. The part where Tony makes the phone call by the gift shop, oh my God, it gets me every time. And I love the vintage sci-fi optimism of the ending (there's even someone named Rael!), firmly grounded in a comforting midcentury paternal sort of Christianity.

Anyway, my copy has an ad for the inferior 1970s film on the back listing Donald Pleasence as its star, and I was just looking it up on IMDb to make sure he plays Lucas Deranian (he does) and discovered that the child actor who played Tony went on to make "The Blair Witch Mountain Project," a short mockumentary, in 2002. Part of the reason I didn't like the movie is that it stars two children, but in the book they're teenagers, and kids once they pass a certain age are much more interested in watching teenagers than other kids. But I guess I won't hold that against Tony.

I just can't believe this exists! Very peculiar. What will people think of next.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Old stuff

Am boxing up many old objects, including my entire VHS library -- well, not entire; my copies of the Evil Dead movies are too beloved to relinquish. Everything else has gone into the Goodwill box, though. I cannot help but wonder if I will ever feel compelled to replace some of these with DVDs; is "Blame It On The Bellboy" even available on DVD? Hmm.

A moment ago I stepped outside with some recycling, only to find that my neighbors think it reasonable to "recycle" a snow shovel by placing it across both our small green recycling bins. How they think it is going to reach the sidewalk is beyond my capacity. They have clearly done it on purpose, as other "recyclables," such as pizza boxes, have been perched on top of it. The rain has rendered it all quite a mess. It is very impressive. (I think the same neighbors are at it upstairs with a stair machine right now; at least I hope it is a stair machine. The windows are shaking.)

Today's book: Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. One of my favorite comic novels has been rereleased with a humorous new cover and an introduction by briefly-trendy author Lynne Truss. I could do without the cover but it is just good to see the book set out in a nice typeface. I bought a completely unnecessary copy of it two days ago; I already own the book, but it's an ancient yellowed paperback. The adventures of coolheaded Flora Poste, bringing order into her cousins' shambles of a Sussex farm, are a balm for the girl planning a cross-country move. This book is most highly recommended.

(Also on this rash bookstore trip I purchased a "definitive edition" of At the Mountains of Madness, with a lovely cover illustration and an introduction by China Mieville; a critical edition of both Henry IV plays with annotations by Harold Bloom; and something called The Shadow of the Wind that is written by a Spanish person and appears to be another of those book-fetish novels about Dusty Old Libraries. I thought it might be my last trip to Joseph-Beth, and I just sort of went mad. In my own defense I did manage not to buy a massive illustrated hardback edition of 'Salem's Lot.)

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


In preparation for my upcoming move across the country - alarmingly, less than a month away - I have just been outside yanking up all my flower bulbs. I moved here in late November 2001 and almost immediately set about digging daffodil and tulip bulbs into the back yard. It's just a nice way to feel at home in a new place, knowing that something you planted will bloom in the spring. They came up, most gratifyingly, year after year. This year was possibly their most splendid display ever. The daffodils covered the side yard and front flower beds, and the tulips, which have hardly bloomed at all some years, came out like gangbusters. They've all been dividing under the ground, so there are more of them. And today I went around pulling them all up. Most of them came out; maybe a third of them are still in the ground for the next tenant to enjoy. I couldn't believe how crappy the soil here is, though. In the front it had hardened around the bulbs like cement, and in the back it was more like modeling clay, sucking against my careful tugs. Did I really hack into this unyielding ground four years ago and make flowers come out of it? Damn. I'm good. And now it's time to uproot and move on.

While working I was also meditating on Richard III, which I'm reading today in between chores to prepare for tonight's Canon Club discussion at the Mercantile. Was not Richard also carefully "rooting out" his enemies and "planting" conflicts where it suited him? Gardening: metaphor for the people.

Anyway, if you want some bulbs, let me know. I've got lots.

Monday, May 15, 2006

New stuff

Added a couple local blogs to the list at right, including the fair Tavern Wench (thanks, Kelly!) and Overheard in Cincinnati, which is just such a great idea. One of these days I will replace the picture of Mitterand with something a little less weird.

Today's book: Something called "Vampire Kisses" by Ellen Schreiber. I've had the proof copy in my desk for a couple of years - it was a gift from someone who knew I liked going dancing on goth nights - but had only read a couple chapters. Today in the tub I finished the whole thing. It's extremely silly and written at about a third-grade level, but I suppose if you are a third-grader interested in teen goth romance, it would be just the thing.

Other books: I just finished Sarah Vowell's "Assassination Vacation," finally, and am periodically reading bits of Steve Martin's "The Pleasure of My Company." It's excellent but I am at a bit of a ... transition right now and am not finding Martin's melancholy prose to be quite the thing. I picked up "How Right You Are, Jeeves" the other day and read it mostly in one sitting. It's all about the light reading just now (hence the teen goth romance).

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Never take a stranger's advice

Herewith, a quick and overdue post on the Cincinnati Music Theatre's production of Chess. (There's still time to see it tonight - half an hour! run! run! - and Sunday afternoon. I might actually see about seeing the Sunday show. That would be my third. I am a geek.) It's certainly not perfect. The American touring book is just godawful; the ending pretty much ruins the entire show. Nobody can possibly care about Freddie, even after "Pity the Child," and that leaves the Russian as protagonist, but he's too slight of a character to carry the show. Florence can't carry it either because she's obsessed with both of these men (it's not correct to say they're obsessed with her) and we have no idea why. So the whole thing ends up feeling a little pointless. But! These are problems with the book. The songs rock, and the woman playing Florence (one Allison Collins-Elfline) is amazing. Svetlana is pretty amazing too, but unfortunately, most of her singing lines have been omitted. Freddie and Anatoly are sung quite capably (by Michael Shawn Starks and Brian Anderson), but unfortunately, someone in the orchestra has been off-key pretty much the entire show on both the nights I've been. It wrecked Anthem and Endgame. Collins-Elfline's voice carries all her songs, though. I got goosebumps during the first-act "Florence Quits" scene. Oh, nobody knows what I'm talking about. I feel so alone. Anyway, the performers get an A for effort from me, and the orchestra gets a kick in the pants.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Plus et plus de sangre. C'est magnifique!

In my ongoing channeling of the Countess of Bathory, I sat down this evening to watch Haute Tension, Alexandre Aja's 2003 French chicks-in-the-woods horror flick that preceded his American remake of The Hills Have Eyes. I am told animals are tortured and killed in THHE, so I will not see it, but damn, I must recommend Haute Tension! C'est magnifique! It is bloody, violent, extremely mean-spirited and beautifully crafted. Aja ratchets up the tension almost at once and keeps turning the screw until the tiniest squeak makes you jump ten feet. I cannot imagine what it must have been like seeing this movie in the theater. As for the big plot twist at the end, I found it very obvious and natural. So there, Roger Ebert. A dog does get killed at the beginning, but it's fairly quick. (Killer comes to door, dog barks, you've seen "Halloween" - you know what happens. I can deal with that OK.) Oh, and the soundtrack is pretty good, too.

For a serial-killer movie, this is also a charmingly French film. The killer comes seeking our protagonist in the guest room at her friend's house. As he approaches, she hides all her things, smooths the bedspread and wipes out the sink before diving under the bed. Wipes out the sink! What kind of serial killer is going to check the sink? But he walks in the room and first thing he does is put his hand on the radiator, to see if it's been used. These are things only French people would think of, I tell you. It's very cute.

Interestingly, and I did not know this, Aja appears to be working on "Halloween: Retribution." Let's hope he dedicates it to the memory of Moustapha Akkad. RIP...