- is, of course, former Stargate Executive Producer and writer Carl Binder who called me this morning to catch up. Coincidentally, I was just thinking about him the other day and was meaning to give HIM a call after Akemi inquired: “How’s Binder-san?”. Well, Binder-san is doing great and keeping busy with several projects on the go. Like Paul and I, he’ll be hearing back on his various irons in the fire shortly. Yep, very soon we’re all going to finally get word. Rob, Carl, Paul and myself. With a half dozen projects between us, you’d figure the chances are good, right? How good?
I’d love to get back into production sooner than later if, for no other reason, than the opportunity to once again work with THIS guy -
THIS GUY -
Meanwhile, THIS gal -
- goes in for surgery tomorrow. Wish her luck!
And now, following yesterday’s entry on some of the March movie releases that caught my eye, here are some of the under-the-radar releases to look forward to next month. Or not.
Release Date: March 5, 2014
What it’s about: The launch of the Large Hadron Collider
What it’s got working for it: An inside look at one of history’s biggest and most expensive experiments.
What’s it’s got going against it: Science can be fun. But, sometimes, it can be boring.
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Release Date: March 7, 2014
What it’s about: A concierge and lobby boy contend with some coloful guests at the Grand Budapest Hotel.
What it’s got working for it: If you like Wes Anderson’s quirky sensibilities, this movie looks promising.
What’s it’s got going against it: On the other hand, if you find his sense of humor annoying, you might want to give this movie a pass.
THE GRAND PIANO
Release Date: March 7, 2014
What it’s about: A concert pianist performs under the watchful eye of a sniper, burdened by the treat scribbled on his sheet music: “Play one wrong note and you die.”.
What it’s got working for it: The premise sounds like Speed at a piano concerto.
What’s it’s got going against it: Actually, it sounds like an SNL parody of Speed – at a a piano concerto. When was Brian DePalma’s last good movie?
Release Date: March 7, 2014
What it’s about: A university lecturer tracks down his doppelgänger.
What it’s got working for it: Could be creepy.
What’s it’s got going against it: Or unintetionally silly.
Release Date: March 14, 2014
What it’s about: Two teenagers seek revenge against a murderer.
What it’s got working for it: Based on a true story.
What’s it’s got going against it: As always, there’s the danger of dramatic license trumping a satisfyingly straightforward dramatization of fact.
Release Date: March 14, 2014
What it’s about: Veronica Mars is back on the case when her ex-boyfriend is accused of murder.
What it’s got working for it: Three seasons of t.v. history and a rabid fan base.
What’s it’s got going against it: Television shows rarely make the successful leap to the big screen.
Release Date: March 21, 2014
What it’s about: In New York of the 1970′s, a cop must deal with the problems engendered by his ex-con brother.
What it’s got working for it: A solid cast.
What’s it’s got going against it: Ho hum, it feels like we’ve seen it all before.
Release Date: March 21, 2014
What it’s about: A mysterious couple engages two hard-luck friends in a series of increasingly dares for cash.
What it’s got working for it: Possibly a cutting social satire.
What’s it’s got going against it: Or, on the other hand, just a nasty piece of filmmaking.
Again, a big thank you to those who have taken the time to introduce (and reintroduce) themselves in the comments section of this blog. Not surprisingly, a lot of scifi fans among you. Somewhat surprisingly, A LOT of animal lovers as well! :)
It’s been great learning a little about the individuals who make up our extended blog family so, if you haven’t already, please take a moment to say hi.
A few of the upcoming releases that caught my eye…
300: Rise of an Empire
Release Date: February 7, 2014
What it’s about: The sequel to 300 pits Greek General Themistokles against an invading Persian army.
What it’s got working for it: The original 300 was an entertaining visual treat.
What’s it’s got going against it: Eight years later and audiences will be expecting more than a visual and narrative retread.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman
Release Date: February 7, 2014
What it’s about: The time-traveling adventures of a brilliant talking dog and his equally brilliant young owns.
What it’s got working for it: If it’s as clever as the original cartoon, viewers of all ages are in for a treat.
What’s it’s got going against it: The fact that no attempt was mad to recapture the spirit of the original voices bodes ill for this reboot.
The Art of the Steal
Release Date: February 14, 2014
What it’s about: A former art thief must get his old gang back together for one last heist.
What it’s got working for it: Who doesn’t like a good heist movie?
What’s it’s got going against it: Covers some well worn – one might even say cliched – territory.
Release Date: February 14, 2014
What it’s about: A 40 year old man exploits a loophole in the rules and takes a run at the hitherto “children only” Golden Quill national spelling bee.
What it’s got working for it: A pretty funny premise.
What’s it’s got going against it: At some point its sure to take that heartwarming, redemptive turn. And, when it inevitably does, it will hopefully be more cutting than cloying.
MUPPETS MOST WANTED
Release Date: February 21, 2014
What it’s about: The Muppets become embroiled in an international caper.
What it’s got working for it: Come on! It’s the Muppets!
What’s it’s got going against it: That shot of Kermit doing the Dr. Evil impression feels dangerously dated.
In my bid to beat 2013′s paltry 70-something “books read” total, I’ve re-established this blog’s Book of the Month Club and redoubled my own reading efforts. Now I’m sure that, next to reading a good book, there’s nothing many of you bibliophiles appreciate more than a good recommendation. A nd so, in keeping with yet another tradition, I’m going to offer a monthly round-up of the books I’ve read accompanied by mini capsule reviews (or simply thoughts, let’s call them thoughts) for those of you seeking a little literary direction.
My January reads, eleven in all…
RED COUNTRY- Joe Abercrombie
Joe Abercrombie has distinguished himself in a fairly crowded field, delivering gritty, visceral, yet darkly humorous tales that fly in the face of established high fantasy conventions. His world-building is as unique and richly textured as the colorful characters who battle and banter their way through his stories, and I list him among my very favorite authors. Period. Beginning with his first book, The Blade Itself, and continuing through five subsequent novels, I can honestly say “I’ve never read an Abercrombie book I haven’t loved.”. Red Country is his latest and Joe at his consistent best, a story about a young girl, Shy South, who sets off to rescue her younger siblings from a group of murderous outlaws. She is aided in her quest by Lamb, her (seemingly) spineless soft-spoken stepfather, and the unlikeliest of allies in a group of risk-averse mercenaries. A hell of a lot of fun.
PERFECT- Rachel Joyce
An accident changes the lives of a young boy and his mother, setting off a bewildering, tragic chain of events. The story unfolds in the past and present: 1972, in the immediate aftermath of the triggering incident, and decades later following its destructive repercussions. The protagonists of the twin narratives are engaging and the premise is interesting, but the secondary characters are weak: the distant husband and father, the low class opportunist, the shallow fellow wives. James, the childhood friend, offers a suggestion of intrigue that is hinted at but never fully realized.Perhaps more frustrating are the two female main characters who, while possessed of great depth, demonstrate behavior that leave the reader questioning their motivations. There’s the mother who is so affected by an unfortunate turn of events that she completely loses all sense of logic. And then there’s the woman who befriends a co-worker with mental issues and, mysteriously, falls in love with him. I say “mysteriously” because, despite the development’s effectiveness in pushing the story toward a satisfying emotional resolve, I simply didn’t buy it. In both cases, despite the great writing, there’s a disconnect between the set up and pay off. Equally detached are the twin narratives that, while linked, don’t ultimately dovetail in satisfactory fashion.
THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE- Neil Gaiman
“Write what you know,”they say, and while Neil Gaiman may not actually know magic and monsters and otherworldly spirits, you’d be forgiven for suspecting otherwise. His stories are fiercely creative and, at time same time, underpinned with an elegiac beauty that resonates with readers. Here, its the power of memories and the force of nostalgia that drive the narrative as our unnamed protagonist revisits his hometown, rediscovering long-forgotten secrets and friendship. While it may lack the depth and dark complexity of Gaiman’s other works (Sandman and American Gods come readily to mind), this short novel is no less stirring.
TENTH OF DECEMBER- George Saunders
A diverse selection of short stories ranging from soberly subversive to wickedly weird. There’s no denying Saunders’ talent or his ability to craft stories that engender a powerful reader response, in my case ranging from mild irritation to utter delight. One of my favorite entries is “The Semplica Girl Diaries” which focuses on a middle-class father’s attempts to keep up with his wealthier neighbors by gifting his young daughter a group of living human lawn ornaments for her birthday. The narrative unfolds in darkly humorous – and horrifying – fashion, its bizarre developments a pointed critique of consumerism and third world labor. Other stories prove equally clever and elegantly acerbic. ”Escape from Spiderhead” offers a glimpse at a savage and deadly but efficiently-run pharmaceutical experiment. In “Sticks”, a boy charts his father’s emotional descent through the decorative evolution of the very special pole standing in their front yard. ”Al Roosten”, meanwhile, is a modern day Walter Mitty leached by despair. Provocative.
SNOWBLIND- Christopher Golden
In man ways reminiscent of Stephen King’s small town horror, this novel pales in comparison. Whereas King’s characters transcend their literary commonalities, the characters in Snowblind don’t really offer much beyond their simple introductions, ultimately undone by predictable developments and stock dialogue. It’s a great, creepy set-up that, like a lot of horror, fails to follow-through on its effective start. The ominous threat become decidedly less frightening as the story moves along, hampered by some confusing rules surrounding the abilities and motivations of the snow entities’ former victims. More frosty than chilling.
THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES- Scott Lynch
Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamorra ranks among my Top 5 All-Time Fantasy Reads so I was greatly looking forward to this book, the third in the series. Events pick up where they left off in Red Seas Under Red Skies, with Locke poisoned and near death. His best friend and partner in crime, Jean, must find a way to save his life – but the solution will involve a sketchy deal, political intrigue, and a surprising someone from our hero’s past. The narrative shifts back and forth between two timelines, the first involving Locke and Jean’s efforts to rig a local election, the second a flashback to a younger Locke and his relationship with fellow rogue, Sabetha. Each book in the series is distinct, this latest entry surprisingly somber in comparison to the light-hearted tone of the first. On the one hand, a little more straight-forward and less “fun” than the previous instalments; on the other hand, certainly more nuanced in its exploration of our protagonist and his complicated love life.
THE SANDMAN OMNIBUS, volume 1- Neil Gaiman
At some 1040 pages long, this massive hardcover tome is just the first half of Neil Gaiman’s award-winning opus which tells the story (stories) of Dream, the rulers of Dreams. It has the feel of a musical score,the narrative lulling and swelling, rising and falling, building to crescendos and then quietly fading. The tales are diverse but equally inspired. In one, Dream travels to Hell to free a long-abandoned love only to find the place shuttered as Lucifer closes up shop. In another, we discover the true origins of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. An enormous creative accomplishment.
THE EXPLORER- James Smythe
What starts off as a grounded, impressive SF tale takes an interesting time-travel twist – but then is undone by irritating implausibilities that stand out in contrast to a hitherto engaging and believable narrative. As a reader, I can accept the fictional parameters set down by the book – the near future space journey, even the rules of the time travel itself – but I have to draw the line when forced to accept the fact that a future version of our hero is able to make his way through the small ship, hiding within its walls, completely unnoticed by the rest of the crew.
ANCILLARY JUSTICE- Anne Leckie
The mysterious Breq is much more (and less!) than she appears. Once a military starship possessed of Artificial Intelligence, she now exists as merely one of the thousands of former ancillaries (a.k.a. corpse soldiers) that existed as extensions of her former self. Reduced to a single fragile human body, fueled by the memories of her powerful past, she sets out on a seemingly impossible mission of vengeance. Sound cool? Well, it is. And smart. I haven’t read an SF novel this engrossing in quite a while. And, for this very reason, I haven’t been so frustrated by an ending in even longer. Admittedly, Breq’s “plan” isn’t much of one and the fact that this book is the first in a series should have prepared me, but I found the conclusion highly unsatisfying nevertheless.
GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS- Ryan Brown
“I don’t want to oversell what Ryan has accomplished here, but I gave God Hates Astronauts to a blind man and he regained his sight.” - Jonathan Hickman (The Avengers, Fantastic Four, The Manhattan Projects)
Okay, it may not cure blindness but this book will definitely cure boredom – and re-energize jaded comic book readers. Without a doubt, the most outrageous graphic novel I’ve ever read, God Hates Astronauts focuses on the adventures of The Power Persons Five who, under orders from NASA, are tasked with keeping farmers from firing their home made rockets into space. And then it gets really weird. I mean REALLY. Crazy, at times laugh out loud funny.
WORK DONE FOR HIRE- Joe Haldeman
Following an enormous stage weight in which we are introduced to a writer working on the novelization of an upcoming movie, alternating between his life and the cheesy book he is writing, the story actually begins – approximately 100 pages into this novel – when the writer receives a rifle and some mysterious instructions. What follows is a conspiracy-laden (or “leaden”) adventure as our hero tries to figure out what is going on and who is pulling the strings. The answer is both underwhelming and ridiculous.
P.S. To everyone wondering about the orange oatmeal – it’s papaya.
Upon watching this again after so many years, I still find the Weir-Sheppard confrontation bizarre – but enjoyed the episode much more as a whole. Akemi, for her part, was much less enthusiastic because she had trouble following the last half. Nanites and EMP’s are about as familiar to her as natto and the songs of AKB48 are to me and so, despite multiple attempted explanations, she still didn’t know what the hell was going on. ”Very difficult episode, have to say,”she told me as those end credits rolled.
As always, she had nice things to say about Rodney McKay: “He’s not just geek. He’s super geek!”
But continues to have somewhat more conflicted feelings when it comes to Sheppard (“Why his name is Sheppard? Like dog?”). She found him arrogant and annoying in his clash with Weir, who turned out to be right by the way, and his 11th hour solution didn’t redeem him in her eyes. Ultimately, her problem with the character stems from his role as dashing hero. In her words: “He is ideal main character. Too perfect.” As opposed to: “Eli more humanish.”
So, what do you all think? Is Sheppard too perfectly heroic? What did you think of Hot Zone? Chime in!
Alas, it was a herculean task and despite my best efforts, I came up short. In the end, I sampled only 47 of the some 60 varieties of hot chocolate offered for this year’s Hot Chocolate Festival. Still, 47 hot chocolates in 24 days aint bad, especially considering I took those four days off to visit mom in Montreal. This year, I doubled last year’s score. And, next year, I vow to do even better!
So, what were the standouts? Well, what follows is my list of the Top 5 Hot Chocolates of this year’s Hot Chocolate Festival!
When all was said and done, six hot chocolates actually made by top 5 list. After much consideration, I decided to offer a Top 5 +1 for good luck!
Honorable mention goes to…
A Snowball’s Chance in Hell:Single origin Mexican chocolate with Mexican chili poured over house made chocolate ice cream. Accompanied by a flourless chocolate cookie.
Available at: Chocolate Arts 1620 West 3rd Ave., Vancouver (Kitsilano).
Ah, now this is more like it! Akemi was on the edge of her seat (or, actually, her side of the bed) throughout this episode. She loved it. Action! Suspense! Humor! And, best of all, those dazzling visual effects! She was blown away by the the sequence of Atlantis shielding itself within seconds of the giant wave crashing down on the city (“Always very last minute your show!”) and also had high praise for the Teyla-Sora showdown (compliments of our former SGA stunt coordinator James Bam Bam Bamford). She continues to enjoy McKay, greatly appreciated seeing her favorite Dr. Beckett, and is even warming up to Sheppard. She had one big bump = McKay dressing his arm wound OVER his sleeve.
Overall: “I liked it a lot. I’m getting used to this city. At first I thought not as good as SGU’s ship but now pretty cool.” And then: “I’m beginning to like SGA too!”
A couple of years ago, I offered some thoughts on this episode (and the next one) in one of my Trip Down Memory Lane entries:
Hmmm. It would appear Akemi is fast losing interest in this show. I keep thinking that if we can just make it to the mid-season two-parter, The Storm/The Eye, we should be okay. Those two episodes, in my estimation the high point of SGA’s first season, should revitalize her interest in the series and keep her focused through to the season one finale. Apparently, Carson Beckett’s charming eyes will only get the series so far.
Alas, Underground didn’t rate that highly for her because she had a hard time following what was going on. But once the episode moved past people the various people-sitting-at-tables-talking scenes (about two-thirds of the way through), her interested picked up. Still…
On the story: “Chotto difficult to understand this episode. A little bit complicated. Seems very odd from the beginning.”
On Teyla: “Too much make-up this episode.”
On Teyla informing the Genii that team Atlantis had awakened the wraith: “She is stupid!”
On McKay: “I like arrogant guy!”
And overall: “Surprisingly not so much episodes of the actual Atlantis. I’m looking for more inside of Atlantis.” Crap! She’s beginning to sound like YOU guys!
Yes, our Book of the Month Club is back and we’re kicking things off with a March 3rd discussion of Matthew Kloos’s Terms of Enlistment, the book YOU selected in our January poll. Aint democracy grand? With February upon is, it’s time for another round of voting as we choose our April Book of the Month Club pick. Like last month, I made use of SF Signal’s handy monthly rundown of genre book releases complete with covers and links to synopses:
I refined the process, selecting only those books available in paperback so that everyone can participate. As a result, some of my hardcover nominees failed to make the cut (The Martian, The Winter People, Influx, Strange Bodies, and The Waking Engine) but, for those of you nevertheless intrigued, I’ll be reading and reviewing them as part of my new “Monthly Reads and Capsule Reviews” which will also include all of the nominated titles in our monthly poll – so that I can inform you whether you made the right choice or not.
Anyway, here are the nominees for our April Book of the Month Club discussion…
SKYLIGHT (Kevin R. Hopkins) Paperback, 400 pages.
One October night, millions died when the air suddenly became unbreathable. Miraculously left alive, Martin Fall journeys home to Los Angeles and watches as society collapses all around him, leaving him to pick up the pieces. But when he’s recruited for a dangerous mission, he must confront his tragic past to rescue a technology that could save the earth from destroying itself.
NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (Davis Grubb) Paperback, 198 pages
Inspired by serial killer Harry Powers, “The Bluebeard of Quiet Dell,” who was hung in 1932 for his murders of two widows and three children. This best-selling novel, first published in 1953 to wide acclaim by author Grubb, (who like Powers lived in Clarksburg, West Virginia), served as the basis for Charles Laughton’s noir classic . Renamed “Harry Powell,” the lead character in this book, with LOVE and HATE tattooed on his fingers, is remembered as one of the creepiest men in book and cinema history.
[This one is, obviously, a re-release of the original book. But I've heard mixed reviews of the new edition so feel free to grab any copy if this one wins out].
Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.
This is the twelfth expedition.
Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.
They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.
[Jeff is a past Book of the Month Club participant who was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions - included here because I enjoy his work:
THE SUN WARRIORS (Robert Mills) Paperback, 288 pages.
This captivating combination of science fiction and political satire draws the reader into an alternative present, where the threat of alien life destroying our beloved planet is all too real. It’s raining salt-water in the Sahara desert. In Thailand it’s snowing. All over the world, strange phenomena are beginning to occur and the young Thai climatologist, Dr. Thongchai Pakpoom, concludes that there is only one possible explanation: intervention by extraterrestrial beings. He is soon to be proved correct. Fugitives from the unstable Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy have decided to settle on Mars. In order to make it suitable for their needs, they decide to fire missiles carrying warheads into the sun, which proves to be effective for them but disastrous for Earth. Meanwhile, Thongchai is one of four humans who are ‘collected’ by alien scientists as part of their research. As the national leaders of Earth are unable to reach an agreement with their new neighbours, it’s up to the captives to persuade their abductors to change their policy before it’s too late.
[Political satire. Hmmm. It's all in the execution.]
HER HUSBAND’S HANDS AND OTHER STORIES (Adam-Troy Castro) Paperback, 336 pages
A utopia where the most privileged get to do whatever they want to do with their lives, indulging their slightest whims via the bodies whose wombs they occupy; a soldier’s wife tries to love a husband who is little more than backup memory; a society in which the citizens all make merry for nine remarkable days, and on the tenth get a taste of hell; the last ragged survivors of an expedition to a savage backwater world hunt down an infamous war criminal; a divorcing couple confront their myriad troubles to gain resolution, reason, respect – but not without sacrifice.
[Another familiar name - Adam is also a past Book of the Month club author who took the time to answer our questions. Also included because I enjoyed his past work:
THE 400lb. GORILLA (DC Farmer) Paperback, 232 pages.
Matt Danmor thinks he’s lucky. Not many people survive a near death accident with nothing more than a bout of amnesia, a touch of clumsiness and the conviction that the technician who did the MRI had grey skin and hooves. Still, it takes time to recover from trauma like that, especially when the girl who was in the accident with you disappears into thin air. Especially when the shrinks keep telling you she’s just a figment of your imagination. So when the girl turns up months later looking ravishing, and wanting to carry on where they left off, Matt’s troubled life starts looking up. But he hasn’t bargained for the baggage that comes with Silvy, like the fact she isn’t really an English language student, or even a girl. Underneath her traffic stopping exterior is something else altogether, something involving raving fanatics bent on human sacrifice, dimensionally challenged baked bean tins, a vulture with a penchant for profanity, and a security agent for the Dept of Fimmigration (that’s Fae immigration for those of you not in the know) called Kylah with the most amazing gold-flecked eyes.
[Sounds crazy. Crazy-good or just crazy? That's for you to decide!]
Start voting! Polls close on Tuesday!
Continuing our Stargate: Atlantis rewatch with…Poisoning the Well!
I offered some insight into this episode a couple of years ago. In the blog entry, I discuss Steve, pro-wraithers, and perhaps the unwieldiest line in Stargate history:
Well, right off the bat with the opening scene: “So many humans on these planets. I don’t believe it.” And: “And everyone speak English! And no Asian!”
On Beckett: “He’s so handsome.”
She was impressed with wraith-Steve’s patience in approaching his offered meal: “He was waiting for feeding time politely even though he is super hungry.”
Still, she couldn’t help but notice a certain wistfulness on the part of Sheppard on Steve’s demise: “Maybe Sheppard a little attached to him.”
But then, when he doubled-over and fell to the ground in obvious pain: “Caca?” Probably.
On the bittersweet ending: “Too bad for Scottish guy. Not happy ending. He has such beautiful eyes, don’t you think?”
Overall, a solid episode: “I liked the idea of the underground city. I found pretty smart.”
Our Stargate: Atlantis rewatch takes the long weekend off and resumes on Monday when we watch…Underground!
Randomness writes: “Do you think team Atlantis ever returned to the planet to check on how things were going there? It seems like a whole new chapter unfolding on that planet what with the suicide pact not being needed, do you think they will progress a bit as a society now?”
Answer: Actually, we did revisit the planet – albeit off-screen – in a later episode. Remember? The one where Zelenka returns to Atlantis covered in warpaint? Come on you, SGA-xperts. Which episode was it?
gforce writes: “Also why, after getting an arrow in the chest, did Keras then have his arm in a sling in the scene after?”
Never let it be said I don’t make sacrifices for you blog readers. For the past several weeks, I’ve made the ultimate sacrifice – sampling and reporting on the various (60+) flavors being offered as part of this year’s Vancouver Hot Chocolate festival…so that you can sip and experience vicariously through me. You’re welcome! Today, it’s a David and Goliath battle pitting two new flavors from two previously visited location: Thierry, which served up one of my early festival favorites (The Chocolate Trio), and Bel Cafe that definitely did not (Peppermint Patty). So, how did the two new offerings fair in our head to head taste-off?
The Ampamakia: The base of this hot chocolate is Ampamakia 68% chocolate – a premium chocolate from a special plantation of Valrhona and only available at Thierry. Served with a marshmallow dipped in 80% chocolate.
Available at: Thierry Chocolaterie Patisserie Cafe,1059 Alberni Street
I have marshmallow-averse (Also allergic to feathers apparently) so the chocolate-covered sweet sponges didn’t sway me – although Akemi is a fan and loved them. It was all about the hot chocolate and, once again, Thierry delivers a wonderful cup. Very good – but not as good as their Trio of Chocolate.
Banana Split: Made from 36% Valrhona Caramelia chocolate and topped with walnut marshmallows. Served with banana pound cake.
Available at: Bel Cafe, 801 West Georgia Street @ Howe (at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia)
I loved the Banana Split as passionately as I disliked the Peppermint Patty. The banana bread was good (although I prefer the Bella Gelateria/Erin Ireland version) and the marshmallow was as fine as a marshmallow could be, but the hot chocolate itself was spectacular. Sweet, silky, and substantial.
Verdict: Close, but the underdog pulls the upset here.
Almost every series starts off a little rough before, eventually (hopefully), finding its way. Sure, there are strong elements in those first few episodes, moments that keep you coming back with the promise of bigger and better, but it’s usually further down the broadcast line when THE episode airs, the REALLY GOOD ONE if not the GREAT ONE, the one that makes you shout “I love this show!” and start recommending it to friends. And episode #4, Suspicion…
It aint it. But like the preceding episodes, it has its moments. And Akemi liked it well enough, again because of the humor (McKay rubbing his numb foot received special praise) and those establishing shots of Atlantis on the water. In fact, if we followed this episode up with an episode entirely made up of lingering establishers, I suspect it would prove her reigning favorite.
So, what else did our Japanese Stargate newbie think of Suspicion? Well…
On Bates’ attitude throughout the episode but during the Teyla interview in particular: “Why he so rude? So unprofessional!”
On Weir’s civilian outfit during said interview: “Why she not wearing uniform? Casual Friday?”
On angry Halling: “Jinto is crazy because his father is crazy.”
And when the Athosians decide to leave the city: “Hurray!” Evidently, not a fan.
On the black-clad wraith’s first appearance: “Beautiful hair!”
All in all, not a bad episode in her eyes. In her estimation, better than 38 Minutes but not as good as Hide and Seek. Still, after SGU, she’s having a difficult time adjusting to the shift in tone: “Maybe because of old and dynamic of the shooting scenes but feels like watching a kid’s show. Chotto sad. Anyway, good!”
Jenny Horn writes: “Jinto should have been about 8 years old. It would have made his antics more believable, and it would made one line from his father far less creepy. It’s the line about nothing being as big as my love for you. Cute when said to an 8 year old. Kinda creepy when said to a kid who looks about 12. My Nephew is 12, so….yeah….”
Answer: YES! When we watched the episode the other night, I remember thinking: “AWKWARD!”.
Majorsal writes: “joe/Answer: As I said, if I sat her down to watch SG-1′s first season, she’d probably excuse herself and then secretly hop on the first plane back to Japan. That was a rocky first season with some very rough visual effects.
what about just showing her a few episodes from each season?”
Answer: No. Again, it has everything to do with the look of the show – and, the visual effects in particular. I think I need to slowly acclimatize her, like a lobster in a pot. I started with SGU and follow with SGA, then SG-1 seasons 9 and 10 and the movies, then SG-1 season 4-8, and finally SG-1 seasons 1-3.
Deborah Rose writes: “Good scripting. But things like the McKay/Sheppard horse playing and many of the other points could have easily crashed, had the actors not pulled it off.”
Answer: Ah, true enough, but the writer scripts the moment imagining the best-case version of what he has written, having full confidence in the actor’s ability to pull it off. And, in this case, it was confidence well placed.
gforce writes: “Update – Brio (the budgie) seems to be doing much better today. I guess he just didn’t want to eat while I was away?”
Answer: Well, great to hear. Separation anxiety maybe?
Answer: Don’t know if he’s ever written a pilot script, but Gaiman certainly has scriptwriting experience. In addition to episodes of Dr. Who, his screenwriting credits include Stardust, Beowulf, and Neverwhere.
arctic goddess writes: “As a Stargate writer/producer, were you ever surprised at how popular it was with female viewers?”
Answer: When I first joined the production at the start of SG-1′s fourth season, I was surprised. After all, SF is traditionally seen as a young man’s preferred genre. But it quickly became apparent to me that viewers may initially tune in for the bells and whistles – the action, adventure, dazzling visual effects, the star – but they’ll only come back for one thing: the characters. And, at the end of the day, the show’s characters and relationships seemed to resonate more with female viewers…which is not all that surprising.
skua writes: “Have you seen? Shingeki no Kyojin: Ilse no Techou; Attack on Titan: Ilse’s Journal. OVA”
Whoa. Didn’t see that coming. Well, I kind of did given that I correctly predicted a Seahawks victory (see last blog entry), but I was far too generous in my estimation of the Broncos’ offence (and clearly underestimated the Seattle defense). It wasn’t a great game (unless you’re a Seahawks fan) and those much-ballyhooed Superbowl commercials weren’t all that special either. Alas, being in Canada, we are stuck watching our super-lame Canadian commercials – roughly the same half-dozen replayed ad nauseum – so we didn’t get to see those multi-million dollar ads. Until much later when I hopped online and checked them out. For the most part, highly forgettable. But there were a few winners. The following were my favorites…
NEWCASTLE BROWN ALE
Agree? Disagree? What were your favorites? If they include cloying kids (ie. that Cheerios commercial), then I’m afraid you’re automatically disqualified.
Continuing our Stargate: Atlantis rewatch. Last night, Akemi and I (and, I assume, many of you who are rewatching along with us) checked out the show’s third episode, Hide and Seek. So,what did Akemi think?
Surprisingly, she liked it quite a bit. I say “surprisingly” because, well, compared to the thrilling opening two-parter (Rising I and II), episode #3 was comparatively sedate. Also, the fact that she almost dozed off during the search for Jinto suggested otherwise – but she quickly perked up once the shadow creature appeared. Overall, a mixed bag for her – but one predominantly filled with hazelnuts (her favorites) over pecans (her least favorites): “I liked this episode. Very interesting concept.”
Some of you asked why we’re watching the shows in reverse order. Wouldn’t it make more sense to start with SG-1? Well, yes, but if we started with SG-1, we probably wouldn’t have gotten through the first episode of the franchise. Akemi is highly sensitive to a show’s dated aspects. If it looks old, she just won’t watch it. And that’s why we started with SGU, the last iteration of the franchise that boasted the very best visual effects. Akemi greatly appreciates “computer graphics” and, as we started SGA, I wasn’t sure how the VFX would hold up after so many years. The answer? Judging from Akemi’s reaction, pretty damn fine. She thinks highly enough of SGA’s visual effects in general but has particular praise for the establishing shots of Atlantis on the water: “I love this shot. Beautiful.”
Her lowlight of the episode was (ah, a girl after my own heart) the “stupid kids”, especially the wandering/random-button-pushing Jinto. She couldn’t believe kids that age would be so clueless: “How old are they? They look quite old. Middle high school.” And when I suggested they were just mischievous children playing hide-and-seek: “Did you play this kind of thing in middle high school?” No. I played Dungeons & Dragons. For her part, Akemi played mishievous-less trouble-free dodgeball.
And later, when Jinto visits Ford in the infirmary to apologize, she was positively incensed: “I don’t know why he didn’t angry at that kid. I’d be so angry at the kid.”
While she didn’t like the stupid kid, she DID like McKay – and her appreciation for his character continues to grow. A little humor goes a long way.
As for the other characters…
Beckett: “I find he has charming eyes.”
Sheppard: “I getting to like him.” Sort of like smoked paprika, a spice she was only introduced to when she moved to Canada but enjoys just fine now.
Weir: “Still old-fashioned.”
Teyla: “I think she’s nice. She has nice hair.” Wig!
Overall: “I liked this one better. I find more interesting and also very funny. And getting to know the characters.”
Whoops! Almost forgot. I did do a little write-up on this episode way back when:
Carol writes: “If she thinks Atlantis is old fashioned then she’s going to struggle if she ever gets round to SG1…”
Answer: True. If she enjoys Atlantis and wants to check out SG-1, I’ll probably start with season 9.
Maggiemayday writes: “I still have lingering remnants of the flu, so I just slept through a Shrek marathon rather than watch the game.”
Answer: And still clearly feverish. That wasn’t Shrek. That was a homeless man rooting through your backyard.
arcticgoddess writes: “One of the best things about the very first episode that continued later on in the series was the bro-mance between McKay and Beckett. The two of them were awesome together. Many of the best lines were between the two of them. Who made the decision that McKay and Beckett would become friends? It was brilliant.”
Answer: Brad Wright and Robert Cooper established the McKay-Beckett friendship in those early episodes and developed it over the course of the season, writing to the obvious onscreen chemistry between the two Hewlett and McGillion.
Mike from Canada writes: “Does each major character has a bible? How much does it change through out the series?”
Answer: Brad and Robert provided the cast with character breakdowns as well as one on one conversations on where their characters were headed in the show’s first season. Adjustments were made as things progressed of course as Brad and Robert wrote to the show’s (and cast’s) strengths.
Jenny Horn writes: “My favorite line in both episodes is when the bespectacled science guy is in the puddle jumper bay with science guy #2 and says, “Spaceships!”, with an excited demeanor. Very endearing.”
Answer: Yeah. Whatever happened to those nerds?
Jenny Horn also writes: “Now for the music….I’m a musician, a brass player, so I love it when composers use French horns and bass trombones, and all other brass, in their works. I’m sure a lot of the music was electronically produced, but do you know if the theme was performed by a live orchestra?”
Answer: Yes, this was composer Joel Goldsmith at his very best. He was so good at what he did because he truly loved what he did. And, yes, the theme was performed by a live orchestra (in Seattle, if I remember correctly).
Bailey writes: “I don’t quite get comparing Sheppard to Eli though, wasn’t Eli the McKay like character in SGU?”
Answer: It can certainly be argued that all three Stargates were “team” shows. Still, it’s pretty clear that the story is mainly seen through the eyes of a singular main character, one who is a little more grounded than the rest and offers viewers at home the opportunity to live vicariously through this “average Joe’s” experience. Again, one can debate how “average” these protagonists were, but there’s no denying the fact that THEY were the ones audience members connected with most. In SG-1, it was Jack. On Atlantis, it was Sheppard. And, on Atlantis, it was Eli. All three were, to a certain extent, fish out of water amidst the Stargate experts.
My first response to reading the description was: “Chocolate and parmesan? No.” But after tasting it: “Yes!”. It was the exact same reaction I had to one of Cocoa Nymph’s 2013 Hot Chocolate Festival entries that combined dark chocolate with basil and balsamic to create what turned out to be one of my Top 5 Fest Favorites. In this case, the scent of the parmesan wafts up off the cup but, when you sip it, it’s all chocolate up front with just a wisp of lingering sharpness at the back. It was reminiscent of the sweet and savory marriage of bacon and caramel. At first blush, you don’t think it will work but it does. And it’s delicious. Really! Special mention should be made of the Umami No. 5 fudge that accompanied the hot chocolate. If it was on the regular shop menu, I’d buy it by the box.
Passionista:Fresh passion fruit-infused hot chocolate with Grand Marnier chantilly. Served with passion fruit pate de fruit.
Available at: Thomas Haas,2539 West Broadway, Vancouver.
This one was Akemi’s favorite of the six we sampled over this three-day span. It packs a passionfruit punch without overwhelming the chocolate. A lovely balance. And that Grand Marnier chantilly? Killer!
Verdict: On paper, it would have been a toss-up between the two runners-up. But in the all important taste-off, I have to go with a most unlikely winner…
Winner: Phaun’s Fancy (Cocoa Nymph)
The Brunette Bangle: Hot Chocolate with the exotic hint of curry. Served with your choice of cookie.
Available at: Koko Monk, 1849 West 1st Avenue, Vancouver
One of the best combinations of sweet and savory so far. The vanilla marshmallow, lightly studded with smoked Hawaiian sea salt, was fabulous.
Verdict: Another tough call, but if I had to choose one…
Winner: The Campfire (Thomas Haas)
27 flavors down! 35 to go!
Ready to go?!
Everyone prepared to trek off to the Pegasus Galaxy one more time? Hope so because our Stargate: Atlantis rematch kicks off today with the episode that started it all: Rising I. Watch it today and come armed with your insights, accolades, critiques, and questions tomorrow! Also, be prepared for Akemi’s unique take on the show as I relay her thoughts on the episode in tomorrow’s blog entry. Yes, it’s Rising I: The Japanese Girlfriend Review!
What it’s about: A former children’s author seemingly loses his mind.
What it’s got working for it: It’s certainly unique and inventive-looking.
What’s it’s got going against it: Pegg’s movies are hit or miss. Even going off the trailer, it’s hard to say what to make of this one.
AFTER THE DARK
Release Date: February 7, 2014
What it’s about: Twenty college students must ten of them get to ride out the coming apocalypse in a bomb shelter.
What it’s got working for it: It’s like Survivor except that the eliminated contestants die.
What’s it’s got going against it: Uh, I’m not exactly sure what’s going on in the trailer. Is it real? An exercise? An exercise that turns out to be real? Or – WORSE OF ALL – reality that actually turns out to be an exercise all along? I’m going to go with the latter.
KIDS FOR CASH
Release Date: February 7, 2014
What it’s about: Did a small town judge paid off to sentence kids to juvenile prison?
What it’s got working for it: A fascinating true-life account.
What’s it’s got going against it: A potentially inconclusive conclusion.
WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE
Release Date: February 7, 2014
What it’s about: A corporate retreat goes horribly (hilariously?) wrong.
What it’s got working for it: Some very funny people.
What’s it’s got going against it: And some unintentionally funny people as well. Jean-Claude Van Damme? Comedic genius?
Release Date: February 14, 2014
What it’s about: A cure for zombie-ism creates moral and ethical issues. Also, lots of killing.
What it’s got working for it: An interesting take on the zombie genre.
What’s it’s got going against it: Some of the performances in that trailer are even more horrific than the walking dead.
THE WIND RISES
Release Date: February 21, 2014
What it’s about: The major events of 20th century Japan as experienced by an idealist young Engineer.
What it’s got working for it: Miyazaki makes beautiful movies.
What’s it’s got going against it: Sometimes, however, the stories leave a little to be desired. Loved Totoro, Castle in the Sky, and Spirited Away. Not so much Ponyo or Howl’s Moving Castle.
THE BAG MAN
Release Date: February 28, 2014
What it’s about: A tough guy get more than he bargained for when he agrees to deliver a mysterious bag for a powerful mobster.
What it’s got working for it: Its coming across as a more accessible David Lynch movie.
What’s it’s got going against it: At times, it looks downright silly. And not good silly. If there is such a thing.
Release Date: February 28, 2014
What it’s about: The battle of Stalingrad.
What it’s got working for it: It looks epic.
What’s it’s got going against it: The fact that its subtitled and may turn off the average film-goer.
WELCOME TO YESTERDAY
Release Date: February 28, 2014
What it’s about: A group of teenagers build themselves a time machine.
What it’s got working for it: I love a good time travel story.
What’s it’s got going against it: And absolutely despise the bad ones.
A gentle reminder that our Stargate: Atlantis re-watch kicks off tomorrow, January 31st, with the opener that started it all: Rising I. Watch tomorrow, then be prepared to discuss on Saturday. I WILL be checking to make sure everybody did their homework!
And another gentle reminder that our Book of the Month Club returns with a discussion, Monday March 3rd, of Marko Kloos’s Terms of Enlistment. That’s over a month away so there’s no excuse for not participating!