Saturday, December 31, 2005

Myst, Riven, Exile in brief

Lately, Kaisa has been playing "Myst III: Exile" on her new iMac. We're both big Myst fans, starting back when Myst was new. I loved that game! We got Riven when it was new, too, only our computer wasnt' fast enough to run it properly so if I hadn't looked it up, I NEVER would of figured out how to open those domes around the islands because the video would freeze the computer. :\ Despite that, Riven is my very favorite of them all (so far) for its detailed luciousness and mysteriousness and plot. I even have an actual Moiety knife which I use as a letter opener. :D

Anyway, so I was chatting to Eric about Myst a bit and he said there was a fifth one out. We didn't even have the fourth! I needed to check the mail today, so Kais and I both went, and then went to Fred Meyers afterward, where they had both Myst IV and V. We just bought IV: Revalations, since it was only $20, and headed home.

Unfortunately, Kaisa has first dibs on it since she's already nearly done replaying Exile. Once she's done, I'm going to replay Exile, too, while she tackles the latest Myst incarnation. I'm muchly excited as Cyan is once again onboard for this game and it got better reviews than Exile (my least favorite of them all).

Besides the strange texture to everything due to the 3-D-ness of Exile, I think the lack of cultures is what makes it feel... empty. The only age that got me excited was the last one because people LIVED there, and you can't even explore it! Grr. I know Myst had no big civilizations, either, but you KNOW people lived there and that it had history. And it was new. The four main ages of Exile are just training grounds for learning how to write an Age. Or write TO one, I should say.

Friday, November 4, 2005

South of Nowhere, first episode

Watched the premiere of "South of Nowhere" and was glad to see the promise of young lesbians on tv. yay! I could actually relate to the main characters because I'm from a small town and I feel exactly like the three siblings do when I'm around big-city folk. I don't do any fancy handshake stuff - I just do a simple handshake. I don't do popularity contests and I don't do the dating/dance thing. I also don't do the beat up someone for looking at me weird/looking at my gf too much thing. And the parent saying anti-gay things around me when I think I might be gay is also a home-run hitter as well. I look forward to the next episode.

Thursday, September 29, 2005


Assuming you are all good at looking things up in Wikipedia, I will skip to my review of the series:

I've read it all over the 'net and I agree - I am amazed anyone continues to watch Noir after the first five episodes. They repeat so many scenes over and over, like a blacksmith pounding an anville, I just want to shout, "Enough already!" I suppose it might not of been so bad if I were watching it weekly as it aired on TV but that is not the case with watching it on DVD. Luckily I was prepared with the knowlege that the first eps were like this and so persevered, much to my delight.

The first few episodes are pretty standard as far as story goes. There is some mystery but it's mostly confusing - repetitious flashbacks and the usual Japanese storytelling element of just throwing the audience into the story and making the viewer figure stuff out over time. The story is kind of slow, developmentally, until the third main character, Chloe, shows up. Then the series really takes off: the action sequences are more interesting, the plot becomes more direct, and the characters are now a part of a giant story arc that takes them to the last episode, rather than living more episodically.

As of the first half of the series, I was thinking Noir was okay but not my favorite. After that last half Noir became one of my favorite anime. The limited animation is eased over with good music by Yuki Kajiura (some of the music, like that damn watch song and the opening theme I really don't like), and like Wikipedia says, the lack of blood kind of adds to the stylistic air of it all. I think if there HAD been blood, it might of felt too much like a gore-fest with plot and characters being secondary. Although it pissed me off when OUR characters got hurt and unrealistically nothing came of it except maybe some bandages or a hole in the shirt.

Noir seems pretty unique to me in the world of anime. It's definetly done in a film noir style - in framing, in dialogue, in story, and in action. It's amazing how much can be conveyed in the flinch of an eye rather than giant stretches of dialogue. Noir made me appreciate the subleties that can be achieved on a small budget with anime. Noir even holds up in re-watching and I find that when compared to other gunfighting anime, I like Noir the best - even beyond higher budgeted series like Ghost in the Shell. Noir excells in its simplicity.

I've seen a lot of anime since I originally watched Noir and this is still one of my favorites.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Mogwai is a "post-rock"/progressive band from Scotland, which is a really undescriptive description. It's rather gentle drawn out music based around a single theme for each song. Post rock is to rock what new-age is to folk -- some new age, particularly the more ambient stuff, is drawn out and rather gentle, changing in sound and pattern over time. That's what Mogwai's music is, only with electric guitars and the like - and instrumental. Nice background music.

For the most part Mogwai is made up of electric guitars and drums - little to no vocals (I have most of their songs and there's only a handful of songs with vocals). Even the fastest song is still quite slow by most standards. The songs tend to be very atmospheric and slowly evolve and progress, like trance music.

My favorite songs are those that have some kind of hook and those that build and build, slowly layering on the guitars until they burst.

Some key favorite songs:
New Paths to Helicon, part II (Government Commissions version)
Golden Porsche
Ratts of the Capital
Burn Girl Prom Queen
Dial: Revenge
You Don't Know Jesus
Waltz for Aidan
Stanley Kubrick

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito

Spoilers for the entire series: this is a rant. Consider yourself warned.
When I watched this, I was watching it for yuri content and little else. It wasn't the most painful thing I'd ever seen, and sadly I must admit the masturbation scenes (Hazuki) were unfortunatley the best part if you're going to be a loser fan-girl about it, because any scene involving Hatsuki (Eve) was just too painful to watch. Some of the episodes were dreadfully boring - like, most of the ones without Hazuki. Episodes with Gargantua were dull - and he just pissed me off. The only decent eps with him were of when he was a kid, and even then only the last episode of him with a kid was at all interesting to me because at that point they'd finally FOUND Eve and I was able to cheer Hazuki on in trying to talk Eve/Hatsumi into staying with her.

Which of course, didn't happen, and the whole thing being in Hazuki's head and she being the only one in her reality to remember Hazuki was ridiculous. How depressing is that?!? What is the POINT of an ending like that? I *almost* don't mind tragic endings if they have a greater purpose, but this one didn't. Eve is all powerful, she could choose to be with whomever she wanted to. I mean, its' not like she'd be missed at the library -- she'd already been GONE for hundreds of years, albeit in different worlds for 16 years at a time, but still, she never went BACK to the library or her real job in between those lives. So what DIFFERENCE would it make if she took one more little break and spent a life with Hazumi?

And Lilith's hat was UGLY and large and pointless. I hated it near as much as I hated that bloated little bird.

I liked the outer space episode, that was pretty good. The thing with the parents was CREEPY. I didn't see that coming at all.

Anyway. As much as I just complained, I don't regret watching it at all. I don't think I'll watch it AGAIN, but as far as shoujo-ai/yuri history goes, it is a well known example (unfortunately, heh) and to have a better frame of reference for yuri in anime, I feel more knowlegeable the more I watch. Like with lesbian films - I've watched a lot of them, and a lot of bad ones, too (like "Therese and Isabelle", this 60's French pulp black and white film that was SO terribly dubbed in the version I saw... it was laughably bad - to the point of where I'd actually watch it again just to make fun of it some more). So, yeah.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Birthday Massacre

This is one of those wonderful instances of happy accident. My boss was the one who stumbled upon The Birthday Massacre (TBM for short) while looking for a "happy birthday" song to send to someone for their birthday. He found the song "Happy Birthday" by TBM and was disturbed by it. I went and listened to it to see what he was talking about and liked what I heard. I made offsite backups of their songs to review before purchasing both their albums Nothing and Nowhere and Violet.

TBM's music is hard to describe. It has heavy synth-goth electric guitars remeniscent of APerfectCircle/Lacuna Coil/The Cure - with that warped echoey 80's sound. The chord progressions are not your typical metal/goth at all. Then there's all this 80's synth that sounds like something from an 80's cartoon film like Rainbow Brite except that the mood of the music overall kills any potential cheesyness usually associated with such synths. And that's the key to the music - the mood it captures. The lyrics themselves are dark; horror stuff - like a narration from the video game "Alice" or if you made depressing endings for 80's films like "Pretty in Pink" and "Sixteen Candles". TBM's name comes from one of the songs, about a literal birthday massacre where the birthday boy and his girl kill all the guests. But if you weren't paying attention to the lyrics of most of their songs you wouldn't guess that's what they were sinigng about because the music doesn't have that immediate sense of doom or horror that most pop-goth music does.

The most impressive thing for me is the nostalgia of it. You probably had to of grown up as a kid in the 80's to really appreciate this: for me, my most treasured memories of being a kid in the 80's were of swords and sorcery, of riding horseback and defeating immesurable etherial magics. Stuff like "The Neverending Story", "Labyrinth", and Jim Henson's "the Storyteller" capture that dark mythology with creatures equally scary and creepy but fascinating and magical. TBM's music, for me, captures the sound of my memories, the way I felt back then, believing in this drama much larger than me. Their music is at once 80's but dark and mysterious and modern at the same time. I've never heard anything that FELT like a memory before; like I know it. It's like smelling something that you hadn't smelled since you were a kid and wondering how the hell it could be here, now, and being overtaken with memory at it.

So, yeah. Yay! I likey very much. Oh, and very cool - they recorded this as their previous incarnation "Imagica" - they did a remake of the Neverending Story theme song. :D Which is probably the most positive/bubbly thing they've done by far, but hey....

Edit to add: I always thought the lyrics and mood of their song "The Dream" described the main character Sarah of the film Labyrinth pretty well. Then one day I stumbled across a fan video for Labyrinth that uses this song! It's not half bad, either. :D

Sunday, June 5, 2005

Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith

Spoilers for Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith"

To be rather brief: I thought this film was much better than I and II, but still not as good as the original trilogy, which I grew up with.

What I did like: I liked that the digital effects got better. I liked that they started to make the ships look used; they had texture to them, made them look more real. Still looked digital but it's progress, I guess. I also liked that the ships were degenerating into the ships of the original trilogy -- it was cool to see the predecessors to the Star Destroyer class ships, and the ships that will eventually evolve into Tie Fighters and X-Wings. It was so cool to see the familiar ship of Bail Organa - and what a shock when we suddenly got to go INSIDE. One of the last ships we see inside of is the FIRST ship we see inside of in Star Wars IV: A New Hope. What a blast from the past that was.

The only planet I really liked was the Wookie homeworld - that place was cool; I'd actually like to go there. It was cool to see the Storm Trooper forest uniforms - to see how ALL storm trooper uniforms evolved. Really shows how the Empire in the future makes everything uniform and sterile. Corouscant was impressive but too much to look at when you get up close. The shots of it from space are astounding, to see an entire planet made of city... scary.

What I did not like: The digital stuff was just still too shiny for me. Yoda was still too shiny, the ships were still too shiny, the worlds were still too shiny... Much better than the last two films, yes, but still not as good as if they'd built sets, ships, and puppets. I don't know if thats just because I grew up with the look of the originals, but I'm sticking to my opinion.

The dialoge was some of the most trite, cheesy, and ridiculous stuff I've heard in a long time, barring the last two Star Wars films. The scenes between Padme and Anakin were some of the MOST painful, particularly because I KNOW these people can act and I've seen them do so but to see them hobbled by such terrible dialogue and direction literally made me cringe and shift in my seat.

The story itself: I liked how they showed Anakins evolution; it just felt too rushed in a lot of ways. The entire storyline felt like it was on the right track but just didn't go the whole mile. Kaisa informed me that Anakins shift to the Dark Side WAS quick once Palpatine got to him after Anakin killed Mace Windu - that once you start down the Dark Path, the change is pretty swift. So I guess this all would of felt more natural if you KNEW that ahead of time, but most folks don't and it still felt rushed to me. It really sucks that this film suffered so badly because George Lucas was so hell bent on covering his ass with his pulp story obsession - it didnt feel like a pulp at ALL to me; so why couldn't he let the creation be what it was supposed to BE? It could of been a really strong film with a powerful story, but instead it was laughable. Watching it, I didn't know whether to take pity on the poor film or laugh at it and turn it away.

In a morbid way I did like when Anakin finally fell - when Obi Wan cut off his legs and arm and left him to burn and die. When you see everything Anakin went through in this film, you almost wish the original trilogy had showed more of Vader's side of things to further help with his vindication at the end to be more powerful. It really goes to show that he was doing the wrong things for the sort of right reasons and that really he wasn't an evil guy, just twisted. We see so many stories of good people going bad and somehow they seem so irredeemable becuase of that. We forget that equally, you can take utterly evil people and turn them to good, too. You have to forget about 'tainting'; that's seeing things from only a 'good' standpoint.

One other thing that bugged me: there also seemed to be two kinds of shots - full shots and tight medium shots. Especially during the light sabre fights - you were so close you couldn't see what they were doing. It didn't serve to pull me into the fights at ALL - it felt cramped and the entire time I kept wishing they'd pull out so I could see what was going on.

Did you catch...
The Millenium Falcon in the lower right corner near the beginning, showing some kind of spaceport on some well-lit planet?

The guy who played that one "storm trooper" with the dark hair, whom Palpatine contacted and had attack Obi Wan? The guy played Jengo Fett in the last two films.

At the very end, Vader and Palpatine were on the bridge of a star Destroyer looking at the construction of the first Death Star. They were accompanied by General Tarkin (who would become Grand Moff Tarkin in the original Star Wars IV: A New Hope). Here, however, he was played by Wayne Pygram, the guy who played Scorpius in "Farscape". (I missed that part - Kaisa caught it).

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Garbage: Bleed Like Me

Am listening to Garbage's new album, Bleed Like Me.

If I were to rate the songs on each Garbage album, overall I'd give Version 2.0 the higher rating of the first three albums, just because I like the songs on that album more evenly. However, I like the feel, attitude, and sound of the first album the best.

Bleed Like Me is like a combination of the first two albums (thank goodness, because I really didn't like Beautiful Garbage). It's got more edge but the uniquely jarring 'garbage' sound of the first album is still non-existant. The overall sound of the album is more in a punk vein with driving beats and rhythm guitar. Vocally, Shirley seems to sing with moderation, so though the material is lyrically edgier, she doesn't quite have the dark, commanding tone she had on the first two albums.

That said, the album feels too short - it's only 45 minutes long with 11 songs. Either some of the songs need to be extended or they needed another two songs on here. This isn't to say it makes the album bad; it's kind of the same with Neko Case, whose songs usually average at a length of 3 minutes each, making her albums around a half hour in length each.

The album overall has a consistent feel, a strong theme. Not quite as catchy for singing along as Version 2.0.

Overall, I'm pleasantly suprised; it's different than I thought it would be - it talks about the dark places without dwelling in them, is how I'd put it. A nice recovery after their last album, at least for me, since I didn't like the last album. They kind of brought back the strong pulsing beat of the guitars and drums that was signature Garbage from the first two albums.

1) "Bad Boyfriend" has bite remeniscent of "Medication" and "I Think I'm Paranoid".

2) "Run Baby Run" is my favorite; sounds like a radio hit the way it is structured. Again, a blend of the lighter songs off the two first albums. Reminds me of some of the songs from Hole's Celebrity Skin album.

3) "Right Between the Eyes" is another lighter feeling song, also guitar driven, though. Goes with "Run Baby Run".

4) "Why Do You Love Me" seems to draw from punk music in its structure, particularly the guitar riffs. Probably has the most repetitive chorus ever written by Garbage; I don't know if I like it or if it'll annoy me.

5) "Bleed Like Me" is probably the darkest song they've ever written as far as content, about self abuse, hurt. From struggling with gender identity to cutting and suicide. This song has the closest feel to the first album, polished dysfunction. Now this is Garbage.

6) "Metal Heart" is another darker song, faster paced and very mechanical feeling; edgy.

7) "Sex is Not the Enemy" is a pro-sex song that for some reason brings to mind the B-52's on crack with lots of electric guitars.

8) "It's All Over But the Crying" is the first slower song, has a piano in it. Don't know what to say about it.

9) "Boys Wanna Fight"... 'but the girls are happy to dance all night'. Fuzzed out lyrics, moshing beat kinda. By this point the album has kept up such an even beat that it all feels like it blurrs together.

10) "Why Don't You Come Over" has this off-kilter chord progression and vocal melodies remeniscent of mid-career Suzanne Vega in the chorus, except with electric guitars.

11) "Happy Home" is the last mellowish song that has a slightly different sound structure, enough to stick with you at the end. It doesn't remind me of anything, which is probably good at this point. Original is good.

Overall the album isn't as innovative and interesting as either of Garbage's first two albums and I really don't find myself wanting to go out of my way to listen to Bleed Like Me. If you're a diehard fan, then you'll like the album but if you're growing out of the band then it's possible to do without this album.

Friday, May 6, 2005

Yuri in Anime

Brief descriptions in list format...

.hack//sign: Japan, series 2002. Unique in that this anime takes place almost entirely within a Massive Multiplayer Online Game in which Tsukasa is mysteriously trapped, unable to log out. He meets and befriends a wide variety of other players who team up to try and solve Tsukasa's problem, which only uncovers a much larger plot within the system. Specifying the yuri content here spoils the suprise.

"Kannazuki no Miko": Japan, 2004 series. In short: two girls (Chikane and Himeko), best friends, turn out to be the reincarnated Lunar and Solar priestesses who must battle the evil 8 Orochi to restore the world to balance. Chikane is in love with Himeko, who herself is torn between male childhood friend Oogami and her best friend Chikane.

Kasimasi: Japan, 2006 series. A boy, Hazumu, is hit by a stray alien ship and killed. The aliens, in apology, make a new body for him - unfortunately, he is now irreversably a girl. Hazumu has two best friends who are girls. One was falling for him when he was a boy but now struggles with her feelings now that Hazumu is a girl. The other girl Hazumu fell in love with as a boy but was rejected by her - but now that Hazumu is a girl, she wants him/her. Everyone around Hazumu has to adapt to Hazumu now being female - and oddly, Hazumu is the one person LEAST bothered by it. Lots of gender issues are brought up without being actually talked about. And there's a happy lesbian ending. :D

Maria-Sama ga Miteru: (Japan 2003-04) Anime series. One main character is DEFINETLY gay, and you can argue that most of the rest of the nearly all-girl cast is as well. TONS of subtext and maintext. This series has little in the way of plot as most people know it; it's all about character development, and this series has by FAR the best character development of any show I've ever seen. About a group of girls who attend a prestegious all-girls Christian school where elder students take on "petite soeurs" (underclassmen) and guide them through their lives while attending Lilian.

Noir: Japan, series 2001. Film noir style anime about two female assasins who have mysteriously linked pasts that are coming back to haunt them. The yuri content of this series isn't obvious - though it was way more obvious the second time I watched it.

Puni Puni Poemi - Japan, anime, subtitled. IMDB says: "This is a 2-part OAV spin off of the Japanese anime series "Excel Saga". Shinichi Watanabe returns to deliver some of the most outrageous, outlandish, series that parodies the magic girl anime (ie: Sailor Moon). However, this thing has a lot of perverted humor including 10-year old lesbians, incest, and lots more. You have been warned!". Yes. This is just one huge parody of all anime, and the lead character is a lesbian. It's not reeeely perverted at all, but you have to have a good and slightly off-beat sense of humour for it. I just HAD to put this on the list.

Revolutionary Girl Utena - Japan, anime (series 1997, film 1999). The mother of all current yuri anime. Also very bizarre, stylistic, symbolic, and difficult to watch, unfortunately. The film has nothing to do with the series, just reuses characters and motifs. Both feature tomboyish Utena, new to Ohtori Academy, who is thrust into a strange and dark world of sword dueling for the ultimate prize: Anthy, the Rose Bride, and the key to Eternity. In either version, Utena duels at first because she's dragged into it and second to protect Anthy's honor as a human being while everyone around her treats Anthy like a piece of meat. Both result in mutual respect and desire, though the point of the series is far more abstract than that.

Simoun: Japan, series, 2006. In short, this entire series is voiced by a female cast, even male characters. Everyone on this world is born female and at age 16 or so can choose their future permanent gender. The country of the main characters is in posession of strange, ancient technology that makes them the envy of the rest of the world and thus at war. The technology that drives their fighting aircraft, the Simoun, seems to require a spiritual element: it can only be flown by pre-gender-chosen girls. Before each flight, the girls must kiss the orb that powers the Simoun and before that, they ritualistically kiss one another. Tons of lesbian drama that somehow doesn't seem fanservicey at all.

Strawberry Panic: Japan, series, 2006. Awful, stereotypically, cheezy, whiney, schoolgirl drama-cutsey anime where EVERYONE is a frikkin' clueless lesbian or lesbian predator. Lots of inferred lesbian sex and lots of girl/girl relationships, although as far as kissing goes, nothing has the sheer volume of Simoun, on principle. Not a very deep series, though - it's a wannabe parody of Maria-Sama ga Miteru. Taken as a silly anime, Strawberry Panic is almost enjoyable.

Yami to Bōshi to Hon no Tabibito Japan, series, 200?. Psychotic. Hazuki and Hasumi are (adopted) sisters. On the eve of her 16th birthday, Hasumi disappears - turns out she is actually the demi-goddess Eve. Hazuki is in love with her sister and will stop at nothing to find her as she follows after a random trail of clues through dozens of bizarre worlds contained within books in the Library of Eternity or some such. Highly bizarre and difficult to watch, though not as difficult as ...Utena.

Lesbians on TV

Now we're starting to see television series' appear with lesbian characters and even lesbian casts. Here are the shows I have seen that have lesbian characters (because lesbians are still a minority on TV compared to gay men):

Ellen: (US 90's) not all of it, but I did get to see most of it, including the famous episode where Ellen comes out. HUGE impact on my life.

The L Word: US 200?. Don't make me describe this. You're silly if you don't know what it is. Wish they had a better array of lesbian character types. High drama that sucks you in.

Wonderfalls: (US 2004). Short lived series that went 13 eps, only four or five of which aired in the US. The main character's sister (who is one of the main supporting characters and thus in nearly every single episode) is a lesbian. And her relationship with another woman was given as much screen time as most straight supporting couples are given, if not more. The best part is that she's so far from the stereotype it's insane. Femme, chain-smoking, REPUBLICAN, SUV, money-hungry attorney. Hilarious - I think she would of become a famous lesbian TV character icon had the show not been erroneously cancelled by FOX.

Xena: Warrior Princess: (NZ/US) Everyone knows Xena, come on! This show inspired me to believe that there WASNT something wrong with me because I was attracted to women. It got me through high school and beyond without becoming suicidal and for that this show forever has my grattitude. Not a lot of outright lesbian content, but the subtext might as well of been maintext.

Films with Queer Characters in Them

Films that have gay characters in lead positions but the film isn't a "gay" film or where it's a gay situation comedy type thing but not totally exploitive... Minor reviews.

"Antonia's Line" - Dutch with English subtitles. "Chronicles the lives of four generations of a family of women, all strong and independent because of the matriarch, Antonia. Her daughter Danielle's lesbianism is treated very normally. Danielle's daughter Therese later has Sarah, who is the narrator of the story." Great film overall - very pro-womyn. :D

"Best in Show" - US. This film is so cool just for the fact that every single line of dialogue in it is improvised. A film without a script - that's frikkin' awesome acting. Follows several groups of dog owners at a dog show, where two unlikely women fall in love. Hilarious.

"Boys On the Side" - Three girls (Drew Barrymore, Whoopi Goldberg, and Mary Louise Parker) do a kind of running away road trip. Whoopi's character is gay, ML Parker has AIDS, and the Indigo Girls make a cameo apperance. There's a little bit between Whoopi and ML near the end but not much.

"The Closet" - French, subtitled. A quiet man who works at a condom factory is completely walked all over by his ex wife, his son, and his co-workers. Everyone thinks he's completely boring and dull until one day it "slips" that he's gay and suddenly he's the life of the party. Though the only gay character is the main character's gay neighbor who coaches him through being "gay", I love this film. Very pro-gay.

"The Color Purple" - I've only seen most of the film once. It's a very visceral and important film for black Americans but the book pushes the envelope much further. The film is famous for basically ignoring Celie and Shug's relationship, which is very important to Celie's growth in the book. Great acting though, still a powerful film.

"The Hours" - I don't consider this a queer film, really. I've not read the book, either. About three women in three different eras, one of whom IS a lesbian, dealing with depression. Not bad, but I have no desire to watch it again.

"The Object of My Affection" - Jennifer Aniston, Paul Rudd. This girl falls for her best friend, who is gay. Maybe a bit cliche in parts but it does go to show that you cannot change a persons orientation no matter how much you love eachother.

"Three to Tango" - Matthew Perry, Oliver Platt, and Neve Campbell. Peter (Platt) and Oscar (Perry) are partners in an architecht firm. Peter is gay, Oscar is not. This powerful guy is holding a competition for which architect firm is going to get the job designing a new building - due to a mix up, the boss thinks Oscar is gay and thus entrusts him with chaperoning his mistress, Amy (Campbell). Oscar has to keep up the pretense though he falls in love with Amy. I really like this film; while it does use 'gayness' as a humour factor, it has some poignant bits where Oscar finally "gets" what his friend Peter goes through some days, being gay. That and I love Neve Campbell.

Gay & Transgender Films

Gay and Transgender films I've seen - list with brief reviews.

"Bent" - in English; WWII. Clive Owen is a gay guy in France when the Nazis take over. Having to leave his partying lifestyle, he and his lover flee to the forests where they are eventually captured. It's worse to wear the pink triangle than the yellow star; this film gives the viewer a feeling of vertigo, a feeling of insanity and lost time, very much like what the main character goes through in order to survive as long as he can. Very visceral film. I liked it though I dont know how often I could watch it. Not a happy film.

"Big Eden" - US. 2000. White writer gay guy (Arye Gross) escapes to fictional Montana small town where he falls for the big, silent Native gay guy (Eric Schweig), whom everyone knows is gay but he doesn't talk about it. really sweet film; I wish more small towns were this open. I'd love to see it again. Kind of movie that makes you go "awwwww...".

"Boys Don't Cry" - US. The film that made Hillary Swank famous - and she does an awesome job playing Brandon Teena. Also not a happy film; I like to watch it to be amazed at how believeable Swank is as a young man.

"Cruising" - US. "A serial killer brutally slays and dismembers several gay men in New York's S&M and leather districts." Al Pacino plays the cop who goes undercover as a gay guy in the S&M scene to find the killer. Didn't do anything for me except make me view Pacino a little differently.

"Hedwig & the Angry Inch" - the film version. I'd never seen the show, and I was a tad bit shocked the first time I saw this, as I'm not into the camp scene. But the soundtrack grabbed me and now I likes it all a lot. :)

"Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" - Australia. Drag queens travel Australia in a bright pink school bus. I don't remember the plot. The ping pong ball scene obliterated anything valuable I would of remembered.

"The Wedding Banquet" [This] One was about this gay couple where one was Asian American and the other is white. The Asian guy ends up marrying a woman to keep her from being deported as well as to please his family, whom he is in the closet from. This comedic situation also puts stress on the men's relationship until it finally boils over.

Another was about two young boys who find love at the beach... Don't remember much else.

Another was an 80's film about a young skinny guy who slowly figures out he's gay but is totally taken advantage by every guy he turns to... I think Culture Club did like half the soundtrack - what was this one?

"Burnt Money" Really boring South American film about two robbers who are in love but on the run and can't expose their love for fear of being killed... There was a huge standoff with the police at the end? *shrugs*

Lesbian Film List

Films with L/B Female lead characters that I've seen - very brief reviews.

"Aimee & Jaguar" - German, subtitled. Possibly my very favorite of all - I have a thing for WWII, and what makes this one bettter is it is based on a true story - based on the book of the same name, which I also have.

"Bar Girls" - US. Indy. Cheese to the max. Possibly as unbearable as "Girls Can't Swim". Low budget, NO acting ability, boring plot, stereotypes, and LACK of representation of real butch lesbians, though they try to fit in everything else. HATE THIS FILM.

"Better than Chocolate" - in English. This seems to be a favorite, but I just didn't care for it. It falls into the 6-minutes til sex category - in that apparently, lesbians will sleep with eachother after knowing eachother for only 6 minutes. :P

"Bound" - U.S. I can't help it; I love this film, despite the swearing and violence. The hot-shot style of it is just like half the other straight mob films out there, with characters that always know what to say and are ultra suave when hitting on people. Noted sexpert Susie Bright advised all elements of the film regarding lesbian sex and culture for this film, too. And what hot characters we have in Corky and Violet! *purrs*

"But I'm a Cheerleader" - U.S. I wish I'd caught this in the theatre - the mixed reviews caught me off guard. I like the humour, how it makes fun of not only the anti-gay crowd but also makes fun of the LGBT community, too. I like that it can tackle serious and heavy issues without a heavy hand.

"Claire of the Moon" - 1992. At a women's writer workshop getaway in the northwest US, Claire struggles with her sexual identity after discovering her roomate is a lesbian. Bad acting, bad everything. Don't make me watch this again.

"D.E.B.S." - 2005ish. Indy spygirl spoof. You can definetly tell it's an ind film but as far as indy films go, it's very well done and very silly. The romance was good - creative and fresh; didn't feel like I was watching the same old lesbian film in new clothes at all. Also impressive is the mostly-female crew that MADE the whole film. Very light hearted and happy and edited so that the lesbian relationship is incidental, but not in a totally non-chalant/blazé way. Only thing that REALLY bothered me was that of all the characters, only Lucy seemed to know how to hold a handgun properly. Grr.

"Everything Relative" - U.S. Basically a lesbian "Big Chill", which I haven't seen. Old college lesbian pals reunite, opening old wounds and making new connections. Definetly for the generation before mine; I didn't care much for this film at all.

"Fingersmith" - U.K. 2005. 3-part mini series based on the Sarah Waters novel of the same name. I read the book first - - DEFINETLY read the book first! The film stays very true to the book and handles the plot twists quite well. The moments between the two female characters are really intense in their subtlety, but not near as good as in the book. This isn't to say the film isn't good - just that the book is SO good that no matter HOW good the film was it couldn't keep up with the book. It's about a theif, Susan, who teams with another theif, Gentleman, to insinuate themselves into a well-to-do household in order to get the rich man's niece, Maude, to fall in love with Gentleman so he can swindle her of her inheritance. But that's not quite what happens...

"French Twist" (Gazon Maudit) - French, subtitled. I almost forgot I'd even seen this film. Not very memorable. Soft butch falls for married "straight" woman. The husband isn't too keen on this... the wife wants both and tries to balance her life with a husband AND a girlfriend, including through a pregnancy. Come to think of it, I wouldnt mind watching this again as a refresher... I remember the struggles were poignant but sometimes painful to watch. And it was supposed to be humerous.

"Fried Green Tomatoes" - U.S. This really isn't categorized as a gay film, and there is no obvious gayness in it. But if you have any kind of gaydar at all, you KNOW that Ruth and Idgie are more than just "transcendant best friends". And if you have read the book, "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe" by Fannie Flagg, you know this for certain. If you get this on DVD, be sure to watch the Making Of and watch the film with the directors commentary for further proof these women are in a relationship. Luckily, because the book isn't explicit and the way the director filmed it, you don't feel like the film DIDNT go far enough with showing their relationship because it treats them like anyone else. One of my very favorite films/books.

"Fire" - India, in English. A rebellious young bride finds difficulty assimilating into her new, more traditional Indian family. Her husband gone often, distant, and philandering, she finds comfort in the company of her sister-in-law, an older woman in a sexless marriage. The young girl is kind of annoying but the story is good and it's interesting to see gay themes in other cultures. This film was banned in India. Overall, it's okay, but I do like it more than I dislike it.

"Gia" - U.S., HBO. Angelina Jolie plays Gia Marie Carangi in this film that losely follows the true and tragic story of the worlds first and most famous supermodel.... Who happens to be a lesbian.

"The Girl" - French, subtitled. Saw this once in the theatre. Noir ish type film. Almost too artsy; sex scenes were ultra close up and blurred, the dialogue was very stiffly given (it's noir...)... I liked the dyke character and hated the femme. Interesting story but I'm not sure how often I could stand to watch it.

"Girl Play" - US, 200?. It's meh.

"A Girl Thing" - US. I think this was made for TV. Stockard Channing is a psychologist who goes over the relationship woes of four different women (one of whom is a lesbian) while facing her own personal struggles. Don't remember much about it. Was okay, I guess.

"Girls Can't Swim" ("Les Filles ne savent pas nager") - French, subtitled. I don't think this is even IS a queer film at all. I don't remember - but for some reason we thought it was. Instead, it was THE worst film I'd ever seen. Two girls. One sleeps around with all these local boys while her best friend sleeps with her father. AWFUL.

"Girls In Prison" - U.S. I'm *pretty* sure I've seen this. Campy, stereotyped, guilty-pleasure type film. Anne Heche is in it.

"Go Fish" - US, indy. Some of the same characters from "Watermelon Woman" are in this. Our queer indy film culture is important but I didn't really care for this film.

"Heavenly Creatures" - NZ. Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet. Based on a true story. Two girls become obsessively best friends, lost in the make-believe world of their making. Warped and psycho is what this is. Nothing explicit, doesn't really give a good name necessarily to same sex love, but Kate Winslet is hilarious. I catch this on TV when I can. "Oh! MArio LANza!"

"High Art" - US. Very depressing, good story. Ally Sheedy like you've never seen her before. I've only seen it once and would like to watch it again. Journalist falls for strung out, once famous photographer (Sheedy).

"If These Walls Could Talk 2" - U.S., Showtime. Series of interconnected short stories that happen in different eras in the same house. Bring a box of Kleenex and someone to hold. Shows a great shift in social standing for lesbians though the different stories, from two elderly women who cannot say they're anything other than roomates, to Ellen and Sharon Stone trying to get pregnant via artificial insemination.

"Incredibly True Adventures of 2 Girls in Love" - US, indy. I don't know if this IS a true story or not - I think it's losely based on the lives of the writers, or something like that. VERY losely. About a highschool tomboy, white lesbian who lives with her lesbian aunt and works at a gas station/mechanics and her unlikely friendship and eventual relationship with a non-white girl of "proper" and high standing. Lighthearted. Pretty good for an indy film; I liked it. :"D BTW, "The L Word"'s Laurel Holloman plays the tomboy, Randy.

"It's In the Water" - U.S. This says it all: "In Azalea Springs, the country club still sets the rules. Here, being a member of "The League" is a must and only hair dressers and interior designers are supposed to be gay. A frenzy breaks out when a tipsy comment starts a rumor that the local drinking water turns you gay. This spark adds fuel to smoldering fires as the religious and socially righteous begin to join forces. The combination becomes the catalyst for residents who must now face or deny their own realities in this outrageous comedy with a queer little twist." - Cheesy. Don't care to see it again, but glad to of seen it at least once. Meh.

"Kissing Jessica Stein" - US. At first I didn't know what to think of this film. Some accuse it of straight people "trying out" being gay. It's not. Interestingly, what Jessica goes through in becoming more comfortable with being with a woman is VERY similar to what I went through. The film is ultimately about being comfortable with your sexuality and ignoring labels.

"Late Bloomers" - US. Two middle aged mom/teachers/coaches unexpectedly fall in love. I'm *pretty* sure I've seen this and wasn't impressed - I just don't relate.

"Lost and Delerious" - Canada (English). Tragic film. Folks either love or hate this and I'm kind of in between. It's very dramatic and tragic. Some days it's good, others, I just want to smack Paulie.

"Mulholland Drive" - US. "A sexy thriller as two beautiful women are caught up in a lethally twisted mystery – and ensnared in an equally dangerous web of erotic passion..." This is easily the most fucked up movie I've ever seen. It makes absolutely NO sense but I love it anyway. Each time I watch it, it traps my brain and I sit trying to figure it out... was the first half what happened or is it the blonde chick's memory of happier times? Better watch this with friends, especially if you like brain busters.

"Oranges Aren't the Only Fruit" - U.K., BBC. I've never read the book, but this was a good story in a disturbing sort of way. A lot of it hits you in the gut, so it's not one I like to watch a lot, but definetly one to see.

"Salmonberries" - US. This was filmed in AK! That's about the only good thing. K.d. Lang is Kotzebue, a very disturbed orphan girl trying to find meaning in existance when she meets a much older, lonely German librarian in the local library. The two form a kind of bond - it doesn't go very far. I almost didn't get through the whole thing. It wasn't all that great; but for some reason it sticks in my head. The story is weird but at least the acting is good.

"Saving Face" - U.S. 2004 film. From Wikipedia, "tells the story of Wilhemina, a young Chinese-American surgeon, her pregnant mother, and her dancer girlfriend. While Wil struggles with allocating her time between her mother, who, shunned by the Chinese-American community, has come to live with her, and her girlfriend, Vivian, whom she presents to her mother as only a friend, her mother must decide whether the demands of her father's reputations, or the demands of her own heart, are more important." Great film.

"Serving in Silence" - U.S. 1995 TV movie. Starring Glenn Close as Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer, "The true story of a decorated officer's legal challenge to her involuntary discharge when she admitted she was homosexual." Any scenes between Glenn Close and her character's love interest are pretty chaste, but this is an important story about acceptance in the workplace. Definetly a safe film to watch with your straight friends and family, and especially a must for Stargate slash writers, as it's a true story - the one that sparked the whole "Don't ask, don't tell".

"Set Me Free" (Emporte-Moi) - Canada. I barely remember this one. This school girl falls for her teacher, can't understand why the affection isn't returned, then some kind of strange three way relationship goes on with the girl, her brother, and a girl friend of theirs. I need to see this one again.

"Show Me Love" (Fucking Åmål) - Swedish, subtitled. This movie is kind of corny, but the characters are all perfectly flawed. It's hard to like any of the characters at first but that is part of its charm. And it's in SWEDISH! Heh. I like it.

"Therese & Isabelle" - German, dubbed in French, dubbed in English, black and white. You CAN get this subtitled, apparently. And unless you've seen this 60's film in the theatre, you're missing out on all the juicy scenes. This film is SO pulp and so corny - the sort of thing you watch with friends to make fun of.

"Tipping the Velvet" - U.K., BBC. Read the book before you see this. Might come off as corny if you don't. It's got some flaws but just the fact this AIRED on tv is astounding. The songs, the era (1880's), the costumes, Nan's struggles - all brought to life. I kind of think of it as seperate from the novel, but I love this miniseries. Definetly a must-have.

"Treading Water" - US.2001. I am pretty sure I've seen this, too. Don't remember anything about it except there was water and the girl lived on a boat and was the black sheep of the family.

"The Watermelon Woman" - US, indy. I even had to watch this for a film class in college. It's got some good info to think about but it's not something I'd watch a lot. VERY indy.

"When Night is Falling" - CAN (English). Not to be confused with the gay film "Before Night Falls". This movie I've only seen once. It's got some highly unlikely plot points and some very unusual characters, but it wasnt' the most horrible thing I've seen and I wouldnt' mind watching it again.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Fallout [short film]

This has nothing to do with the game "Fallout", though I found this article and series of links on the No Mutants Allowed Fallout site:

Fallout, a PA movie short
Posted by Kharn - at 2:12

Here's something we missed; in 2003, William Joines did a short entitled "Fallout" for his junior thesis project. After watching it, I can only conclude that the 15-minute $650 dollar short is an excellent piece of work, with some really impressive acting and set-building.

The basic premise is that of a little girl waking up in an empty and damaged fallout shelter with her memory gone and we watch her as she tries to survive and regain her memories, locked in the shelter. The short was shown on the Riverrun Film Festival and was a Student Academy Award Nominee.

Be sure to check it out as you can see the whole thing on Will Joines' website

Link: Fallout page on Will Joines' website

Link: in case any of you ever want to build a bunker set, here's how to do it; John Steckley set-building page

After checking with the director, we can verify that there's no relation the the Fallout game. Spotted on


If you're into short films, post-apocalyptic/sci-fi/survival stories, or just want to see a neat and well done story about a little girl with lost memories, check it out. Very very cool - I wish I'd put more time into the film projects I had to do as electives at my college. ;) Very atmospheric.

Files are .mov format, the large file took me around an hour to download on DSL.

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Tipping the Velvet [film]

So these are just my impressions of the mini-series version of "Tipping the Velvet" and my comparison between it and the original novel. Spoilers Abound for the film and the novel!

First Impression
At first I wasn't too sure about the score choice - but I hadn't seen what the tone of the series was yet. The music seems typical of what I've seen of other BBC series', but I just assumed since TtV is a period story that it would have period music. But by the end of the show, the music had grown on me and I kinda like it now. Heh.

Another first impression: Nan's hair. I don't know what it is with me, but in most books I read, I always somehow miss the part where the author says what color the protagonist's hair is. When I read TtV, I pictured Nan's hair as blonde. Off the top of anyone's head, do you know what color it was in the book?

Series style versus the book mood
At first I wasn't sure how to feel about the fact that the series is SO much lighter than the book. The novel is so dark, brooding, and erotic whereas the series shows these dark things but makes dark humour out of it with the music and Nan's narrative and expressions. (Ok, it's not as dark and erotic as Kushiel's Dart or either of Sarah Waters' other two books, but I just mean in comparision to the series...)After seeing the whole thing I realised that if they HAD done the series with the same mood as the book, with the same drama, it probably would never of made it to television - at least not with more cut out and an NC-17 rating. And this was more or less referred to by Sarah Waters as well, at least in her suprise that TtV was going to be made into a series on the BBC.

I liked the gal who played Nan (I'm bad with names, I don't remember who it was). I thought she had good body language and was into the role - maybe I'm just jaded by American TV mini series' and the crappy acting they can have, but I was warmly suprised. She also had a good voice to play Nan - she could convincingly lower it to sound more masculine. Combined with the way she carried herself, she made a good pair with Kitty like in the book... How Nan looked TOO convincing as a male, way better than Kitty, so they had to tone her down.

My only small gripe with Nan was that she was still too feminine - her arched eyebrows, her very feminine eyes and shapely lips. I don't think they could of done a WHOLE ton to change that to make her like the Nan in the book, who was NOT distinctly female. I know women who look like boys and she was not it. The only thing that really saved it from totally pissing me off is the fact that the way a lot of things were portrayed in the film were symbolic - the cartoonish special effects, the obviously plastic roses, the music.

One thing they had NO excuse for, though, was putting Nan back in a dress at the end! In the book, she decides what is comfortable for HER. This time it's not her boss's decision, it's not her empty stomach demanding, and it's not her mistress's command -- it's Nan's decision to wear men's clothes. I found this element of the book significant because it represents Nan's coming to terms with herself and her past and how she represents herself thus in the real world. And there was no reason at all that they'd NOT do that in the series at all - I mean, they were halfway there when Nan narrates the part where she gets mens clothes in which to do housework and she gets her hair trimmed. After that I fully expected her to stay in men's clothes from then on like in the book.

This is just me, I always pictured Kitty as a bit less feminine in apperance, but I thought she was striking in the role, particularly when she would prepare for the tossing of her rose. And combined with Nan in their double act... wow.

Perfect. Although I don't remember Diana ever saying anything about love in the novel - it was all about control and power, not about love. I think they changed it up a little in the series for two reasons - one, to lighten the doom/gloomness of how it really was living with Diana Lethaby. Secondly, to make Nan's leaving more of a triumph rather than the skidding of a street sex junkie hitting bottom like it was in the book. Because in the series, the story was more about Nan's eventual and gradual triumph over life's shit. More on that later.

whoops, forgot him. Of course, his role was really minimized, but he was too old! Eeeewww! Although, Kitty was older in the series, too, so it wasn't so bad. ;) he was good, though - just the right parts of nice and a bit sleazy.

Florence was the only person I really had a problem with, but it has to do with the way they totally flipped her part around in order to highlight Nan's triumph in the series. In the book, Flo was much more standoffish and rigid toward Nan. In the film she came off as inexperienced - which she was. But in the book, she knew MORE than Nan did about the REAL world. Nan had only ever experienced life through the fantasy worlds of the stage, of the underbelly of the street, and of the slavery of living under Diana Lethaby's thumb. None of these places were like the real world and none of them had REAL people in them either. In the book, it is almost a shock when the reader and Nan hit this straight stretch of normality. Housework. Politics. Regular social activities. Family life. Nan had forgotten how to behave in that kind of world, and she especially had never been queer in the real world, either, which was the biggest change, I think.

I think they changed Flo because of what the series was going for. If they had totally copied the book, it wouldn't of worked. Novels can get away with things, with the lengthy descriptions and emotions that just don't work with the limited time frame of television. So the pacing was changed considerably - it picks up the pace, which also picks up the mood. And so the end result of the story had to hit a higher note than the novel.

The pacing, the plot changes
In the novel, Nan is rarely an instigator; she's a follower. She didn't really have big dreams. She had a boyfriend because that's what you're supposed to do. Then she saw Kitty and the obsession began - and she followed Kitty to London. She followed Kitty's advice and the instruction of Walter in becoming Nan King, the performer, and when her heart was broken, Nan ran chaotically to the streets. Without any guidance, she simply roamed until, once again, upon the 'invitation' of another person, she was persuaded into a new occupation, a sex worker. Then she was basically kidnapped by Diana, held hostage by her desire to BE desired, to run away from the memory of Kitty by spending all her time in another woman's arms. And when Nan finally stands up for herself she's thrown out in the street where she wretchedly hits absolute bottom until she finds Florence. Struggle after struggle...

It's funny how she ended up staying with Florence - kind of the same way she ended up with Kitty, by constantly being around until the other person simply can't do without you, and KNOWING this is what you're doing.

and then the final big responsibility of choosing where to be, where to live, who to be friends with and then confronting the people from her past who changed her the most. Confronting and triumphing in spirit and destiny. This is how the novel works.

And it would of been rather boring as a mini series, if you think about it.

So in the series, Nan is a bit more proactive in her destiny. Nan wasn't bitter about being kicked out by Diana - not like in the book. And it's Nan who is wise about the world in the end, not Flo. And the end - the end was perfect. With the single toss of a rose, Nan cuts off her past completely to start life anew.

I'm always a larger fan of the book than of the film as far as these things go, because it seems no matter how they do it, the characters in the books, the emotions, are much more personal and intimate. But they did a really good job with TtV. It usually seems there are three possible results with tv movies made from books. They either come out EXACTLY like it, and thus dull; they come out SO different that there's not much relation between the two and thus the book-fans are completely alienated; or it just comes out cheesy. And luckily, TtV is none of those.

The stage performances
Oh! I forgot to say - another great thing I liked about the series, another thing Sarah Waters mentioned in the interview. The singing and dancing! I'm normally not a musical fan, but it's like Sarah said - in the book, the performances are spoken of, but you don't get to see it, to hear it, to see the reaction of the crowd. Its a totally different experience that was great to be able to see. I got a much better idea of what that kind of performance would of been to an audience back then.

I also loved how the WAY the songs were performed changed to kind of fit the story and mood... In the beginning we have the lone Kitty Butler, and she's good. Light, sleek and charming. A strong first impression. Then we get the duo of Kitty and Nan, the teamwork, the connection, the DANCE, the lighthearted joy. Next we get the utter bottom-feeder performance between Kitty and Walter with Kitty portraying Walter's son. It was just WRONG in the book and it was just wrong in the series. In both formats, you could feel Nan cringe upon seeing it and I did, too. Ugh - where is life going to?

And finally, we have Nan's comeback performance. She was SO timid in the beginning and every single ounce of strength she'd gained through all she'd been through came out in that performance. Compare it to the first performance by Kitty and Nan just blows it out of the water. She's far more confident and bold. I'm not sure if this was intentional, if they toned down the past performances, or if the gal who played Nan was seriously just better than the gal who played Kitty, but I think it really clinched the ending.

The sex
I was pleasantly suprised by the quality of the sex scenes. I'm so tired of halfhearted lesbian performances that come off like straight male fantasies. I'm tired of over-the-top "oooh, I'm so into you" acting that just ruins the humanity of what is going on between the characters. Yay for sex! :D

The flashbacks
I also really liked the useage of the flashbacks Nan would have of Kitty. It really helped highlight Nan's perpetual heartache and keep it emotionally true, like in the book. I could relate to that. So that when we got to the end and Nan makes her choice between Kitty and Flo, the choice is that much more dramatic. I actually found myself wondering over who she'd choose, though I knew damn well that Nan chooses Flo in the novel. ;) So that's a mark of good storytelling in my book. :D

Monday, March 28, 2005

Jarhead [novel]

I finished Jarhead: A Marine's Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles by Anthony Swafford. It's very from-the-gut, dark, and doesn't pull any punches. It tells of the author's unwavering drive to become a Marine and of the reality of the hell of actually BEING one and living through a war that wasn't a war out in the desert.

The book doesn't offer up any excuses, it doesn't really give you any trivial information, and it doesn't really give up any deep insights. It simply tells of what it was like, what the other Marines were like, some things he thought of during the things he went through and tells factually the things he saw and did, letting the reader take everything for what it is. War. Meaningless war. Neither pro nor anti anything. Gives you a lot to think about.

I liked the matter-of-factness of the book - makes it a balanced read for people both pro and anti war. War is what it is and this was one man's experience of it. Kind of makes my stomach lurch whenever I read a "Semper Fi" bumper sticker, though. Urgh.

Friday, March 18, 2005

The Radioactive Boy Scout

The Radioactive Boy Scout - The True Story of a Boy and His Backyard Nuclear Reactor by Ken Silverstein

I just read this book yesterday, got it out of the library and finished it the same day, which is something for me, as I usually take my time with books. But I HAD to know what happened to David Hahn, the teen who attempted to build a model nuclear breeder reactor in a potting shed in his backyard in Detroit in the 90's.

I've always had a strange fascination with radioactivity, both the facts and the fantasy of it. I don't know why; in reality it scares the bejeebers out of me yet I find information and stories about it really interesting. The history of Chernobyl, the Bikini Atol, the tests in Nevada. Post-apocalyptic fiction, particulary post nuclear-apocalyptic stories, I can't get enough of - like Z for Zachariah. The "Fallout" RPG games - getting to BE a character in this neo-retro post apocalyptic nuclear world. Films, no matter how cheesy - "The Postman", "Mad Max", the one realistic film that was made to scare people about nuclear destruction that follows some individuals trying to survive after a nuclear attack whose name I always forget...

And what makes this book even better/scarier is that it really HAPPENED.

The book was written by an investigative reporter and doesn't just tell David Hahn's story, how he managed to build something that generated extremely large amounts of radiation levels measurable from several blocks away - it also tells us the history of radioactive materials and their scientific discoveries and uses and the history of the damaging effects various radioactive materials have caused. It tells us about how the government put a happy face on atomic energy and how it was this very out-of-date information that under-informed David enough to go through with much of his experimenting. Lastly, the book details David's family life and how he was able to get away with so much with so little supervision. It's absolutely stunning and really amazing. This teenager was a chemistry genius who was figured out how to procure all kinds of highly restricted radioactive material -- and it's not an evil genius story, just a kid obsessed with a project whose consequences he never really thought about or informed himself about.

Anyway. Good read - I'm not a chemistry buff and the technical stuff was written so I could understand it but without talking down to its audience. And you really feel for David - if only his parents were more supportive, etc.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

How the Sun Works in Alaska

It isn't dark here all the time, just to get that out of the way. ;) But it DOES get dark in the winter.

It's just like anywhere else in the world that is a significant distance from the equator. As winter approaches in the northern hemisphere, the earth tilts AWAY from the sun on its axis. This makes the sun appear lower on the horizon. The further from the equator you go in the winter, the shorter the days will be. The opposite is true for summer, though, and people tend to forget that. As summer approaches, the earth tilts toward the sun and we get more sunlight; the sun appears higher in the sky, and the days grow longer.

But it's not just a half-and-half jump. (You wouldn't BELIEVE how many people think this). It's a gradual thing.

Ok. Anchorage is the closest place to me on this sunlight chart - the daylight hours are a bit different for Palmer because we're surrounded by mountains. Fairbanks is a little less than halfway up the body of the state heading north, and Barrow is the farthest town North in the US. But you get the idea of the angle affecting hours of light from this chart:

Maximum Daylight Hrs. at Summer Solstice (June 20 or 21)
Sunrise - 3:21am
Sunset - 10:42pm
Hrs. of daylight - 19:21hrs

Sunrise - 1:59am
Sunset - 11:48pm
Hrs. of daylight - 21:49

Sunrise - May 10
Sunset - Aug 2
Hrs. of daylight - continuous

Yes. So the sun literally goes in circles around the sky in Barrow. You can get photos of this, timelapse. Now for the darker days..

Minimum Daylight Hours at Winter Solstice (Dec. 21 or 22)
Sunrise - 10:14am
Sunset - 3:42pm
Hrs. of daylight - 5:28

Sunrise - 10:59am
Sunset - 2:41pm
Hrs. daylight - 3:42

The sun sets November 18th and does not rise until January 24 for a period of 67 days in which there is NO daylight in Barrow.

The boundary for this is the Arctic Circle. Starting at this level of lattitude, there is one day where the sun does not set in the summer. From there north, the amount of days with Midnight Sun increases. Fairbanks isn't far from the Arctic Circle, so they get a lot of daylight.

And even though the sun goes below the horizon in the summer, it doesn't get DARK. It's kind of dusky. In some places, it's still bright enough to read without straining your eyes or anything. Geography has a lot to do with it - mountains to the north of you will make it darker out, but for the most part, anyplace north of Anchorage doesn't ever get DARK out in the middle of summer.

As for winter, that's another thing. The sun doesn't technically RISE in Palmer til even later because the mountains are so tall and they're RIGHT there. And closer to Solstice, the sun barely scrapes along the tops of the mountains to the south, even going behind Pioneer Peak if you're in town. Today I noticed that the sun is about a hand's width above the same mountains in the middle of the day now. Certainly seems cheerier with the increased amount of light.

Funny, because it used to not really bother me. Or maybe I just never noticed. Or maybe I've been too busy in the past to let the lack of light depress me or something. One thing's for sure, in the winter with the sun so low on the horizon, you get KILLER sunsets and sunrises ALL the time. :D

This may all seem completely fascinating to folks who have never thought about it before. Equally it might seem totally logial and not that interesting. I choose to enjoy and relish the little things like this that are around me daily - it enriches my surroundings and makes the universe seem that much more special and interesting. It's fun to mark how much daylight we've got and it adds to the uniqueness of each season. Some people complain about the amount of darkness in the winter but personally I find it cozy and magical, just as I find the summer daylight envigorating.

Just my three bingles' worth.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

The Aviator [film]

No spoilers.

We saw the Aviator in the theatre yesterday. I love aviation and aviation history, so yay! Of course, you should know ahead of time that it's not simply about Howard Huges, but also about his OCD and other mental problems he suffered from, which I think are a testiment to what he went through to still create the things he did. Not to condone any of the iffier things he did, but you gotta feel for the guy in some way. The whole film makes you squirm because of that, but soar whenever Huges gets into a plane - which I'm sure is how HE felt, as well.

And I couldn't wipe the grin off my face at the Spruce Goose parts - I've seen the real Goose all rebuilt down in McMinville and it is something to see at 5 stories high with the widest wingspan of any aircraft EVER built - you could use ONE of the wings as an airstrip for a Piper Cub.

And Cate Blanchette as Katherine Hepburn? Wow, she was fantastic - what a remarkable actress.

So, not necessarily a film you HAVE to see in the theatre, although it looked like it was filmed in cinemascope (the widest ratio they generally film at). Any part showing flying aircraft was much better on the big screen, I'm sure - especially parts with the HK-1 (alternately H-4 or Spruce Goose) because of it's size - it was meant for the big screen.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Affinity [novel]

In short, if you haven't read it, you should. Get it from the library, borrow it - something. You will be amazed, whether you like it or not (this falling into the 'mindfuck' category).

From Wikipedia: Margaret Prior (also called "Peggy" and "Aurora"), an unmarried woman from an upper class family, visits the Millbank Prison in the 1870s Victorian era England. The protagonist is an overall unhappy person, recovering from her father's death and her subsequent failed suicide attempt, and struggling with her lack of power living at home with her overinvolved mother despite being almost 30. She becomes a "Lady Visitor" of the prison, hoping to escape her troubles and be a guiding figure in the lives of the female prisoners. As she peers through a flap in the door, entranced by the sight of a girl with a flower — she is reminded of a Carlo Crivelli painting. Of all her friendships with prisoners, she is most fascinated by this girl, who she learns to be Selina Dawes, medium of spirits.

It is a Sarah Water's book, so you know that there is a woman/woman relationship involved in the character development. This story slowly unfolds, teasing the reader along. The setting is wonderful, you feel like you're going behind the scenes of a Jane Austen story to see what life was REALLY like beneath the frills and pomp - gritty and real.

DO NOT READ THE REST OF THIS POST unless you have read the book. I'm serious - you'd be so spoiled, it wouldn't be worth reading. It'd be like knowing the entire mystery and how it works BEFORE you read the mystery. In other words, there'd be no suspense, no wonderment - it'd be ruined. This means YOU.

Ok. I hope if you are reading this, you have read the book.

Hope, you were, by the way, correct in that I want to stab the author. And hug her at the same time, though, for writing so craftily what she wrote.

I feel so... gullible and tricked. It's so amazing - right at the beginning of the book, we see signs of why Selina Dawes isn't to be trusted. I was hesitant to believe her, but as surely and slowly as Miss Prior fell for her, so did I. It was SO slow and so elegant, the way the reader is drawn in - it takes over half the book before anything huge happens. Very realistic to the end in how we think everything is as it appears to be, right up to the moment the mirror is shattered, the curtains taken away and we see the world for how it really is. And in that split moment, everything seems foriegn - everything we were doing just a moment before seems like it's from another life completely - a life lived in a dream world that never counted for anything. We're left so stunned we don't know what to even THINK. We want to believe in the illusion so badly because what we felt for it was so genuine... What Margaret felt for Selina was so beautiful and true, how could it of been for nothing?

Now I feel like I'm pointing out the obvious - how unbelieveably crafty Selina was. What an actress... It was even hinted at in the beginning, but I chose to believe... like Margaret, with each movement of the spirits, I chose to believe rather than try hunting down an obvious answer. It was too easy.

Even right up to the night Margaret stayed up til dawn waiting for Selina to appear - I was right there with her. I had my inner doubts - maybe she won't come. Maybe Selina was indeed delusional from her stay in the prison. Maybe the spirits simply won't be able to do it and the two will kill themselves rather than be apart. Maybe maybe maybe... But never that maybe Selina would have other plans alltogether. Even once Mrs Jelf arrived at the house and began telling of her part in Selina's escape, I thought maybe the concentration on the spirit was just a way of distracting Margaret from negative thoughts til Selina could arrive and explain everything. Then I thought, as Mrs Jelf was revealing what SHE felt of Selina - that maybe Selina really was in love with JELF and that Selina was going to arrive and there'd be a confrontation and the two would go off together.... But in the end, I really thought that Selina was going to appear and go off with Margaret. So I was just as shocked AS Margaret with each revelation of every piece to the puzzle.

And the whole time it was RUTH VIGERS?!? I couldn't even make a sound, couldn't shake my heads. I wasn't anything yet I was everything all at once, I was so stunned. Because I should of known. Somehow, I should of seen it all along.

And I feel SO gullible. Gullible. I mean, I like to be suprised in stories - books and movies and TV shows. I try NOT to guess at what is going on. Of course, often, TV and movies are easier to guess at than books. And I think, maybe I COULD of remained objective... maybe I wouldn't of fallen for it. But Selina was too good; I was drawn in and I fell for it, too.

Now I don't know what to do with the book itself. Laugh at it, glare at it? Put it on my bookshelf with my collection? I do re-read books, but this... this isn't a story to be re-read, a world to be re-visited. This book WAS an experience. And like most life experiences, things one cannot repeat. Something one cannot go back in time and recapture. It's one of those "first time" things - the first time is always the best, full of wonder and suprise. And once that's over with, even the anticipation of the end result in subsequent experiences cannot capture that naive suprise.

Anyway. Like I said, I'm a book collector - I love my books. But I honestly dont think I'd ever be able to re-read this one. Who to pass it to, then?

I'm serious... I was just BUZZING during the chapters leading up to Selina's escape.... When she got put in the darks... I was just fluttering inside. I HAD to see what happened. I couldn't stop reading. And it built and built and built -- then... It was like jumping into a glacial lake. Solid cold came over me, slowly dripping, coating me, like a giant egg cracked over my head. And all time stopped as I found out the truth to Selina's plans.

In the end, as much as I want to throttle Sarah Waters, I want to praise her as well for such a good job. To write something like that, that can DO this to a reader - that's just amazing. *shakes Sarah's hand and thanks her for holding my heart to the light, warming it, then quickly lacerating it and stomping upon it before handing it back*. I almost feel BAD for appreciating the book - like a dominatrix who suddenly realized she liked being a bottom, liked being abused all a long.

Ok, weird analogy, but it's what came to mind. :P

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Strangers in Paradise

The Official Strangers in Paradise website

The best thing about SiP is that it isn't necessarily a comicbook-readers book. It's the book for people who DON'T read comics.

SiP is about the not-quite average lives of three people (to start with). It's got everything from humour to pages black with blood. Love, angst, drama, fun-times, art, gangs, murders, cops, Texas, lesbians!, snipers, mafia, drugs, and characters we CARE about. Hell, we even want to know more about the antagonists to the point of liking THEM, too.

Terry Moore, the author, used to work in TV as an editor, and he sets up each storyline like a storyboard with text so it reads like you're watching a really great TV show. And of course, if you've never read an independant title, the series HAS an ending we're heading toward. So everything is serving a purpose and WON'T be repeated again the way that regular superhero titles do.

Also, Terry Moore has a beautiful line style (the books are in black and white), very art-nouveau inspired (think Quinton Hoover, if you know who he is). And lastly, it's totally queer/queer friendly. The way it deals with issues, it just makes them part of the story the way if YOU actually stumbled across it in real life. In so many TV shows, they deal with things like, say, AIDS in a one-time episode or story arc and then you never hear about it again. But the way they show it, they're FOCUSING on it which makes it surreal. "She's dying of AIDS... let's show all the minutae of what that's like". There's a time and place for that, but in a larger story it comes off like a lesson rather than part of the story.

Queer themes are like that as well in the story in a lable-defying sort of way. Thus the more main character of the three - Katchoo. "Everyone calls her a lesbian. But she's been with guys. Is she bi? But she HATES men, she prefers women. (But she still says there might be guys out there who are still bad). So she's bi?" - Katchoo doesn't lable herself and refuses to be political about it. I think that'd be the ideal place for our society to be and I know some individuals who ARE like this. So in a way it's kind of refreshing - we don't need to see Katchoo pushing LGBTI issues. Just her being who she is is somehow enough. And no, it's not a half-assed gay-character thing. I've read solidly GAY comics and I just don't like being drowned in my own issues all the time.

It's hard to describe Strangers in Paradise without giving everything away. Every issue is full of suprises and you never know how Terry is going to twist it all with the unveiling of each TPB. You just have to sit there and read and trust that he knows what he's doing since he's already had this thing planned out for years. :D -- go here. This shows the covers of all the trade paperbacks to date. The first volume is only three comics long - Terry did them for fun, not expecting SiP to take off so it FEELS really short and not so permanent. So I highly HIGHLY reccomend you try out SiP somehow (they had them at our library in Portland) -- but get the first two TPB's - volume 1 and 2. ( sells them used, by the way). :D

By far one of my favorite stories of all time in any medium (books, films, anime, graphic novels, etc).

Sunday, January 16, 2005

The House of Sand and Fog [film]

The House of Sand and Fog starrs Jennifer Connelly and Sir Ben Kingsley ("Gandhi"), primarily. I've always kind of tip-toed around Jenniffer Connelly films due to the whole stigma she carries from earlier 80's films. But she was very good in this movie. The entire cast of the five main characters are just phenominal in their acting. The cinematography alone makes it one of the top three most beautifully filmed movies I've seen lately, and the story...

The imagery, the story, the characters are all so filled and entwined in symbolism, nothing is left un-thought of but it feels so natural. Apparently they filmed the whole thing without storyboards and just went with the flow, which is amazing because you'd think just the opposite - but it does feel very natural and organic.

Without giving anything away, it is a drama that kind of rips you open, stomps on you, but doesn't come off as trite at all, definetly not a rehash of anything I've seen before. And after, you don't necessarily feel DOWN. It's definetly more... "down" than, say, Eternal Sunshine... but I felt better about life after watching this film than I did ES. Strange.

And just to give a hint of how good the cinematography was, I've never been so compelled to rip a DVD out of the player and immediately go cap it. ;) Go watch it!

The Well of Lonliness [novel]

I guess a lot of folks disregard The Well of Lonliness because it's the "stereotypical lesbian life ending in tradgedy". But I think they forget that this book was written in the 1920's and was the first of its kind. It hits home in so many ways - I kept writing down page numbers to take notes from but the entire book is just so smart. Once you get past the [older] style of writing and remember the era it reflects, and really look into the metaphors and descriptions, boiling it down this novel is saying the same thing the queer community is saying today.

I want everyone to read it to know how I felt growing up as a kid - not just what I was like, but what I thought, how I felt -- THIS is what this book gets to the heart of. Not WHY we're gay, not why it's such a difficult topic for much of society. It goes beyond the superficial and the arguments and really digs down to personal things I've never been able to put into words. And to SEE everything actually written down, and written WELL. It's stunning. If anything, I think this book is just as valuable today if not more, as I've yet to read another novel that better cuts down to how a lot of us feel deep inside.

I warn you that it isn't a happy novel. I really felt lonely and depressed after reading it (doesn't help that I am single) so be prepared.