Thursday, November 27, 2014

NaNoWriMo 2014 – I made it!!


Current word count: 50,029
Word count goal 27th day: 45,009

* * *

It’s Thanksgiving Day here in the United States, when people celebrate friends, family and things they were thankful for over the year.

I ended up spending most of it on the couch trying to figure out what was up with my laptop computer.

Two days ago Microsoft pushed the latest update to Windows 10 Technical Preview. Up until then I was having no problems at all. Now the keyboard is acting like it has a mind of its own, and I have to keep an eagle eye out for when it jumps back several characters into what I’ve previously written and deletes, or overwrites the recent characters.

I tried an external USB keyboard to see if that would work and, sure enough, it works just fine.

This either means a problem with the driver for the built-in keyboard, or the keyboard is dying. Not good, though I could understand it as I use this computer way more than it was probably ever designed to be used.

External keyboard in hand, I was able to move onto capturing the 1800 words needed to accomplish the real topic of this blog entry, my winning NaNoWriMo!! Still hard to believe it. But, I did it in 27 days.

To refresh your memory winning NaNoWriMo means writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Not sure what this year’s stats look like. But, last year only 17% of the 300,000+ participants accomplished that task.

There were times when the words flowed like water. While there were other times when it felt like pulling teeth. Still, only two days out of the 27 did I write less than the 1667 average I needed to complete the task by month’s end.

This year I wrote historical fiction so I couldn’t stray too far from what actually happened. I’ve already decided that next year will be some type of science fiction, paranormal, horror, alternative history type of piece where I can write pretty much whatever I want as it flows from my mind.

I’ve got some ideas already on electronic paper courtesy of some dreams I had lately. But, I think I’ll keep them to myself for now till I actually decide which to use. I’ll definitely make sure to have outlined and planned a lot better than this year when it was a case of research, write, research, write, and repeat.

This year’s book is hardly finished though. I’m guessing it’s going to take another 50,000 words, or so, to finish the first draft. Then it’s time to revise and polish. Don’t expect to see Bullets and Borscht gracing the digital shelves of Amazon and Barnes & Noble any time soon.

Now it’s time to return to figuring out what’s up with this keyboard because I can’t afford a new laptop, and lugging around an external keyboard would be for the birds.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

NaNoWriMo 2014 – Day 15


Current word count: 28,535
Word count goal 15th day: 25,005

* * *

NaNoWriMo is now half over for this year! Hard to believe it’s already Day 15. Also hard to believe there are still 15 more days to go!!

I hope it doesn’t sound pretentious. But, it’s actually been going a lot easier than I expected. A couple of days I hit a wall of sorts. But, other than that, I’ve found it easy to put down the required 1667 words for the day goal to keep on pace to write 50,000 words in the month of November. In fact, I’ve usually done more than what was required so I’ve now built up a little wiggle room in case something comes up.

I think on of the reasons I’ve been able to keep the pace up is that I have jumped around a bit, rather than writing from beginning to end. I will have to go back and figure out where my story holes are, and then fill them in. But, it’s made it easier writing chapters as they came to me, or I was inspired, rather than trying to co it the old ways of page after page.

When I was at the Berkeley Public Library South Branch today, for a write-in, I was able to blast away 2900 words in one session! Just got there, stuck my ear buds in with Music Choice’s Light Classical channel playing at a low level in the background on my laptop, and then typed away. Before I knew it, it was three hours later.

I’ve been able to stumble upon some books through the library which really illustrate how things were back in the 1860s.

One particular book I actually look forward to reading at another time when it’s not purely for research. Thanks to the Albany Public Library’s Link+ connection I was able to borrow it from Cal State-East Bay.

Overland Explorations in Siberia, Northern Asia and the Amoor River Country was written in 1860, and chronicled Major Perry McDonough Collins’ trip through eastern Russia and China, as he envisioned building the Russian American Telegraph Company. The goal to eventually encircle the world with telegraph lines.

A really fascinating thing is that the book I got was actually printed in February 1864! (Yes, the book was 100 years older than I am!). Though it appears to have received a new hardbound cover along the way, it was a real treat to touch pages that were printed so long ago.

If anybody else decided to take up the challenge, feel free to leave a comment below on how you’re doing! I’ve love to hear from you.

This may be the last blog entry until I either cross the 50,000 word finish line (sometime around Nov. 27th or 28th), or it’s December 1st, the day after NaNoWriMo officially ends. I haven’t decided.

And don’t ask me if you can read what I’ve written so far. As I pointed out above, it’s not being written in order, so there are come glaring holes big enough to drive a Peterbilt truck through, and with the pace I’ve been writing I expect it’ll take another 50,000 words to actually finish the book.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

NaNoWriMo 2014 –Take One


“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

* * *

To most, November means leaves turning gold and orange, frost on the ground and a chill in the morning air, and there’s plenty of turkey and pumpkin pie towards the end of the month.

To others, it’s time to write. Write A LOT!!! At least 50,000 words to be specific for it’s National Novel Writing Month…NaNoWriMo for short.

I learned about NaNoWriMo by accident midway through last November when listening to Mur Lafferty’s I should Be Writing podcast. It intrigued me. But, I figured there would be no way to win starting so late in the month.

Organizers say you win NaNoWriMo if you write at least 50,000 words during the month. It can be pure dreck that you’ll throw 80% away in editing. But, the word count is the goal. To get the juices flowing, so to speak.

And what do you get for winning? A fancy downloadable pdf certificate, suitable for hanging on your all (frame not included).

I think most people have said at least once in their life, “I want to write a book.” The trick is in actually moving from thinking about it to actually doing it; be it on a computer, typewriter, or a ream of 20lb bond and a fountain pen.

NaNoWriMo has grown from a group of 21 Bay Area friends in 1999 to over 310,000 participants worldwide just last year. People from all walks of life writing about all sorts of different subjects.

I will be writing a fictionalized account of a little known American Civil War event. In 1863, Czar Alexander II approved a plan to send his Pacific Navy fleet to San Francisco, while sending his Atlantic Navy fleet to New York City. They hung around for about a year before heading back to Mother Russia.

It’ll be wrapped about several historical events, which they may or may not have had direct involvement in (it’s fiction after all!).

At least that’s the plan.

Or I  may decide at the last second I want to hold that one off until I get more research done, replacing the idea with some <fill in the genre> novel that I’ve come up with as I go along (known as a pantsing in NaNoWriMo vernacular).

That’s allowed, since there are really very few rules, and for those who want to break the rules, there’s a rule for that. Just declare yourself a NaNoWriMo Rebel.

50,000 words is actually doable. That’s only 1,667 words per day, if you write every day. Most of my blog entries hover around 1,000 words, and are completed in about two hours with editing (this entry is about 560 words). For NaNoWriMo, you’re generally supposed to lock your inside editor in a box until December.

* * *

For those interested in taking up the challenge, local East Bay Region organizers will be having a pre-event meet and greet Thursday (Oct. 30) at the Dublin Panera, located at 7030 Amador Plaza Road, followed by an official kick-off party, November 1, at the Berkeley Public Library main branch.

If you’re not located around my neck of the woods you can find your home region, as well as any events they might have scheduled at

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

movie review: THE MAZE RUNNER (2014)

The_Maze_Runner_poster(reviews may contain spoilers for those that have never seen the film or are unfamiliar with the characters.)

* * *


Dazed and confused, a teenager is jarred awake when the elevator he's penned in starts moving upwards. Just as abruptly he reaches the surface and is surrounded by a dozen pair of peering eyes staring down at him.

He has arrived in "The Glade", a rectangular patch of green foliage surrounded by extremely high walls. He can't remember why he's there, nor who he is for that matter.

* * *

There seems to be a trend in Hollywood lately where the year's big blockbuster releases are either based on comic book characters or Young Adult novels.

The latest installment is last Friday's release of The Maze Runner, based upon the James Dashner novel of the same name.

Perhaps the best way to describe this film is part Lord of the Flies, part The Running Man and part The Hunger Games.

Don't go expecting to see a character driven film. There simply isn't much development to be found. It's also not really needed. Boy meets flock of boys. Boy sees that there might be a way out. Boy tries to escape.

Parents should have no concern with taking their children to see the film. I think I noticed maybe one swear word in the entire film, and I'm not even sure if it was what I thought it was.

While there's some violence, it's not grievous, and it's nowhere near the gore fest in some of the other films released lately.

Boys should definitely find this film enjoyable; especially if they're the adventurous type.

As for girls? If your daughter prefers playing with Barbie or My Little Pony, she's probably going to find it boring. There's only one girl in the main cast, and she only shows up halfway through the film.

The ending of the film is very clearly open ended, banking on the idea that there will be enough interest to spawn at least one sequel.

20th Century Fox was not disappointed as The Maze Runner topped the box office with approximately $70 million world-wide this last weekend. Not bad for a film that cost $36 million to make, and enough to allow Fox to announce The Maze Runner Chapter II: The Scorch Trials will be hitting the big screen September 2015.

There's been no announcement for The Maze Runner Chapter III: The Death Cure, though you can probably bank on that being made too.

I decided to catch this on IMAX, so the screen was crystal clear, and the sound was VERY loud!! While I understand they advertise IMAX as having explosions more explosive, it was ear splitting, and made me consider getting a pair of good quality earplugs like those worn by performers for the next time. They cut the sound down a notch, yet don't muffle it.

I was a bit surprised to see it wasn't released in 3D, though I'm not sure it would have offered a lot more to the experience.

RATED: 7.0 out of 10 STARS

* * *

The Maze Runner is currently showing in nationwide release, showing nearby at the UA Berkeley 7 and Rialto Cinemas Cerrito theatres.

A full listing of show times and locations can be found at Fandango.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

One More Thing…

If it's fall, it must be time for an iPhone refresh and today was the day.

I will readily admit I'm an Android user. It would take quite a bit to get me to leave that eco-system for Apple because I'm just too set up with my Android apps.

That said, I wanted to share some of my thoughts on today's product announcements. This should not be considered a detailed review, and just my observations gleaned while watching the streaming keynote.

* * *

The new iPhones are certainly attractive and as close as they ever have been to pushing me towards Apple mobile products than before.

The iPhone has finally grown…literally.

At one time it had the largest screen of any smartphone. But, they stood fast while everyone else passed them by. In fact, they kept the 3.5" screen size until the release of the iPhone 5; adding a mere  half inch more.

Now, they're making a quantum leap to 4.7"! I really like that they jumped to the 4.7" screen. That's the size on my 1st Generation HTC One (M7), and it seems to be a sweet spot for me.

What's a little disappointing, is that the screen is the equivalent of 750p resolution, when you take pixel density into account. Better than basic HD, yet not quite the typical 1080p on most Android phones.

Will most people notice the difference? Probably not.

Additionally, they're releasing a bigger brother, dubbed the iPhone 6 Plus, which has a 5.5" screen. This is clearly aimed at the growing phablet market, dominated by the LG G3 Note 3 and Samsung Galaxy Note models.

While I've got relatively large hands, I have to ask myself how large is too large? We're talking a phone, after all. Some of my friends swear by them though.

Apple bumped up memory, with both new models topping out at 128Gb of onboard storage. They still haven't added a microSD card. But, with cloud storage options more readily available, that's becoming less of an issue. (Though carriers need to wake up and raise their data caps to step in line).

Both new models come with 802.11ac Wi-Fi connectivity, and they're implementing a neat feature (where carriers allow for it) that the phone will jump onto available Wi-Fi if it can't reach a traditional cell tower.

Apple has also finally added an NFC chip!

Near Field Communication allows a couple of devices in close proximity to communicate with each other. Android phones have had this in a while now.

Why is this important?

Probably the #1 usage of NFC in phones has been for contactless payments, such as Google Wallet. It's great. Tap your phone against specific credit card readers, and the credit card you have attached to your phone will be charged.

Unfortunately, financial institutions came out with their own competing product, formerly known as ISIS, but recently redubbed SoftCard.

They actively discouraged carriers from allowing adoption of Google Wallet, until recently, with the release of KitKat (Android 4.2).

But, Apple isn't simply adopting someone else's version of contactless payments. Starting next month is Apple Pay.

Apple Pay will be a secure payment system that securely stores your credit card information so you pay just like the Android devices.

They're taking it one step further though as Apple Pay will not provide your account information to the merchant. Rather, it will use a one time number that the Apple Pay-equipped credit card terminal recognizes.

Your credit card information is stored onboard the phone, in a newly designed chip, which encrypts the data. A big advantage over Google Wallet is that it uses Apple's finger print authentication to allow purchases.

Should you lose your phone, you will be able to disable payments using the Find My iPhone service.

Apple Pay launches next month, and they've already announced some large merchants, including McDonalds, Walgreens, Whole Foods and Disneyland/Disney World.

Apple Pay is a game changer folks. While the financial institutions were able to put up stumbling blocks when Android-based phones introduced this, Apple is a juggernaut. Pretty much every person that has an iTunes account, has already provided Apple with their credit card number.

Providing existing merchants are allowed a relatively painless way to add Apple Pay, there's virtually no way for it to fail.

And then Tim Cook muttered that phrase made famous by Apple founder Steve Jobs

"One More Thing"

With that, the Apple Watch made its public debut.

I am absolutely impressed with what they've come up with. Despite using a square form factor, it's absolutely gorgeous. Rounded edges. Removable bands that come in fashion and sports versions.

The home screen looks like a kaleidoscope of polka dots. You then select app by clicking on its dot.

My favorite feature was Digital Tap, best described as rather Twitter-like. But, it provides suggested quick responses based upon content from the first message. It also allows images and unique tap sequences to be sent.

Apple Watch will also support Apple Pay, though your iPhone will need to be handy. Now you won't have to dig into your pocket for your phone, and can simply hold your wrist up to the credit card machine.

Pebble, Motorola, LG and Samsung need to be concerned as it looks like functionality is several steps ahead of what the competitors currently offer.

These are just some of my thoughts after watching the live keynote today.

* * *

IPhone Pricing (w/2yr contract):

iPhone 6:

  • $199 (16gb)
  • $299 (64gb)
  • $399 ($128gb)

iPhone 6 Plus:

  • $299 (16gb)
  • $399 (64gb)
  • $499 ($128gb)

iPhone Pre-orders start Sept. 12th, and start shipping Sept. 19th

Full pricing for the Apple Watch was not announced, other than it starts at $350, and will be available early 2015.

Apple should have the recording from today's iPhone and Apple Watch announcement posted shortly.

Friday, August 22, 2014

movie review: CALVARY (2014)


(reviews may contain spoilers for those that have never seen the film or are unfamiliar with the characters.)

* * *

CALVARY (2014)

Father James is the senior priest in a small hamlet on the Irish Coast. He knows everyone by name, and everyone knows him as well.

It was a usual Sunday, preaching sermons and hearing confessions. However, today's confessional included something rather unique. One parishioner said he would be killing someone at the end of next week….Father James!

Being magnanimous, he does give Father James a week to prepare for his eventual demise.

* * *

This film wasn't on my radar this morning, when I went to check movie times. But, I saw a trailer and the premise intrigued me.

What is said in a confessional is supposed to be kept confidential; between you, the priest and God. Would Father James break that oath to save his life? I wanted to know.

Make sure you get to the theater before the movie starts as there is no wiggle room before the confessional scene, and it's a lot more than simply "I'm going to kill you."

Additionally, I need to say right up front, you really need to leave the kiddies at home. Calvary earned it's R rating with violence, adult language and subjects including pedophilia, homosexuality and adultery. I would not want to have to explain to the young ones what they're talking about at times.

It's obvious, almost from the beginning, that Father James (Brendan Gleeson) knows who his adversary is. However, writer/director John Michael McDonagh (Ned Kelly, The Guard), kept us in suspense pretty much till the end.

Several times I said to myself, "AHA!!" Only to catch myself saying it again a few minutes later when another person meets with the priest.

Besides Gleeson, the film includes an ensemble cast as unique as the characters they portray.

Filmed in relatively secluded County Sligo, of northwest Ireland, the scenery helps paint the feeling that you're far away from the big city, in a sleepy little village.

The film did seem to drag on at times because the first two-thirds of the film has very little sound track to it, and what little there is is at a very low volume. Only, when we're getting to the end does the volume reach a fever pitch.

Most of the movie's 105 minute running time surrounds Father James trying to convince them to change their ways before its too late, all the while battling his own issues.

In prepping to write this review I came upon a couple of references suggesting this was wickedly funny. For the life of me, I couldn't find any humor that I'd label funny. It's part drama, part suspense.

This film will not be for everyone. I left the theater in a bit of a funk. Not because it was such a depressing film. But, because it was emotionally intense, percolating to a dull roar from the very beginning.

RATED: 6.75 out of 10 STARS

* * *

Calvary is currently in limited release nationwide, showing nearby at the California and Piedmont Theatres at least through next Thursday.

A full listing of show times and locations can be found at Fandango.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

And the Oscar goes to… (2014 edition)

movie_and_popcornLast November I wrote a blog entry with mini-reviews for the 2013 Oscar Awards.

It was an interesting exercise, so I decided to do it again.

I watched as DVDs became available through the Alameda County Library System so reviews were written over a couple months, not immediately back-to-back.

Comments are based on personal preferences, and don't take into account popularity at the box office.

So without further ado here are my thoughts on this year's Best Picture Nominations for the 2014 Academy Awards presentation.

american_hustle_posterAMERICAN HUSTLEAmerican Hustle is a visit to the recent past where hair styles were bigger, clothes were gaudy and music was still psychedelic.

Throughout watching the film I had to keep asking myself exactly who was conning whom? Just when you thought things were going one way, it took a left turn and went another.

Character development was intricate, with the main ones having many layers like an onion. I never really felt sorry for any of them. But, it was like a train wreck coming on, you wanted to keep watching.

The strongest character was probably Sydney (Amy Adams). Vulnerable at times, she knew how to control men when she needed to and it was intriguing watching her spin her web.

It's easy to see how American Hustle garnered Oscar nominations in all the Big Five categories, plus five others.

Though the screenplay is clearly fictional, it really works because it liberally borrows from actual events; the ABSCAM scandal.

captain_phillips_posterCAPTAIN PHILLIPSCaptain Phillips takes us on the five day piracy epic of the MV Maersk Alabama cargo ship in November 2009.

Tom Hanks portrays Capt. Richard Phillips, the commander of the ill-fated cargo vessel. His demeanor was pretty much an even keel all the way through as if he was trying to diffuse the situation as best he could.

Producers took a gamble in casting four native Somali expats, who never acted before. This could have been disastrous. But, they carried it off very well. Being naturally gaunt, and looking like they were constantly hopped up on qat, and their characters were more interesting than Hanks'.

dallas_buyers_club_posterDALLAS BUYERS CLUB – In the early days of the AIDS crisis, people scrambled to find anything that might help to put off the inevitable.

Ron Woodruff (Matthew McConaughey) was a blue color worker and part-time bull rider who contracts AIDS through unprotected sex.

We follow Woodruff as he turned a quick buck scheme into something that prolonged lives and his transformation from borderline homophobe to civil activist.

Yet another amazing acting job by McConaughey, proving he's one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood.

I appreciated that director Jean-Marc Vallée chose not to stereotype the Dallas transvestite community, and explore their human side in supporting characters, such as Rayon (Jared Leto).

gravity_posterGRAVITY Nothing is peaceful than floating 600km above the surface of the Earth in the vacuum of space.

One minute Mission Specialist Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is fixing a problematic satellite taking in the view; the next she's whirling out of control after a close encounter with space junk demolishes the space shuttle.

George Clooney and Bullock received equal billing in promos for Gravity. But, make no mistake; this was Bullock's film. Clooney's screen time was minimal at best.

An interesting tactic used was to constantly keep the camera moving for most of the film. This movement, even so slight, added to the ultra-realistic effects, gave me feeling as if this was actually shot in outer space.

After several minutes of Bullock hyperventilating and tumbling through space I began to wonder if that was all we were going to see. Fortunately, they moved the plot along in different ways.

They packed about three hours of events into the film's 93 minute running time, so we were kept on the edge of our seat for most of it.

her_posterHER A guy breaks up with his live-in girlfriend, and then relies on his computer's rather unique operating system for companionship.

Her is probably the strangest of this year's Best Picture nominees.

It's effectively a total of two hours-worth of conversations between Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) and Samantha (Scarlett Johansson); the body-less voice of his computer's operating system.

Phoenix sure has come along way since his 1986 debut in SpaceCamp, and Theodore must've been his hardest role yet because he had to effectively talk to the air as if he's interacting with a real person that's not visible.

Johansson had the luxury of showing up to a sound booth to record her lines and it wouldn't surprise me if she never set foot on the set.

Though the pacing of the film was slow most of the time, my biggest problem was the extreme foul language used when it just wasn't necessary. This included Writer/Director Spike Jonze in a cameo where his character excels at swearing and flipping the viewer off.

nebraska_posterNEBRASKA Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) won $1,000,000! At least that's what Woody thinks, and despite his failing health he's willing to walk a thousand miles to collect; much to the consternation of his immediate family.

Woody's son David (Will Forte) finally relents to drive his father the 850 miles to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect what's due him.

Along the way they visit Hawthorne, where Woody grew up, and where it seems like nothing has changed.

Nebraska is one of those films absolutely loved by  film festival goers, which I could never really get into.

It's thankfully short, yet it seems to drag on as if it were twice as long. Compounding that problem was the choice to film it in black and white.

Director Alexander Payne chose to use B&W because he always wanted to shoot a film in that medium, and because he felt this movie should be done that way.

To me, the choice didn't add anything which a grainy effect wouldn't have to a color film. Supposedly, they also produced a color version. But, that was never released. It would be interesting to compare the two some day.

On a positive side, the give and take between Dern and Forte was great, and kept me from dozing off.

Anybody who has had a grandparent who religiously pestered them to fill out PCH sweepstakes forms year after year will sympathize with David as he tries to dissuade his father every chance he gets before finally throwing his hands up in defeat.

philomena_posterPHILOMENA Philomena has kept a deep secret for 50 years. So deep, that she hadn't even shared it with her daughter.

Her daughter, after learning of her older brother, connects mom up with former BBC reporter Martin Sixsmith, who accompanies her on her real life journey to be reunited with her son, forcefully given up for adoption so long ago.

This film was an absolute gem. It's 97 minute running time is packed with detail that moves the story along, keeping the viewer's interest.

Judi Dench, best known to American audiences as M, in the James Bond franchise, was absolutely astounding. What's particular fascinating are the scenes where there is no dialog and her facial expressions were enough for the moment.

Steve Coogan took a step out of his comedic comfort zone to play a very serious Sixsmith. Not only was Coogan the lead actor. But, he also had his hands in writing the screenplay and film production.

wolf_of_wall_street_posterTHE WOLF OF WALL STREETJordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) had an amazing gift at being able to sell things.

Unfortunately, while working on Wall Street, he met a smooth talking mentor who showed him how to not take no for an answer.

After his firm was dissolved in the 1987 stock market crash, he took a job in the relatively unregulated penny stock world, building a fortune in a short time, and bringing him under the microscope of the FBI.

This film starts out like a race horse firing out of the gate. It tries to hook your attention with lots of flash and dash like one of those 1980s investment infomercials.

Unfortunately, it doesn't keep that pace and there are some dead times where you begin to lose interest. Frankly, it's just too long, with a running time of three hours.

The ensemble of supporting actors brings variety to the screen. But, this film is all about Belfort, and when DiCaprio is off his mark, it fails.

twelve_years_a_slave_poster12 YEARS A SLAVE As a Free Man of Color in the North, Solomon Northup stood out amongst his fellow residents of Hebron, New York.

In 1841 he was introduced to two men who were interested in hiring him for his skills with the violin.

However, Northup soon woke up in a foggy state, his fancy suit replaced by the chains of a slave.

12 Years A Slave follows his tribulations while living as a slave in the southern plantation system, and his eventually freedom and reunification with his family.

This film was both wonderful and horrific at the same time. Wonderful in that it's beautifully photographed and meticulously written. Horrific in that some of the attention to details might cause most people to become sick to their stomachs.

It's a fact that slaves were whipped. This has been shown many times before in movies. But, the makeup effects portrayed the results of whipping at a level I've never seen before in a movie.

Another issue some might have is the usage of the N word. I know of several people who refused to see the movie because it was used at all. Had they watched it, they would have probably left the theater within the first 20 minutes.

Screenwriter John Ridley wrote a script which seemed like a compilation of several vignettes, rather than one single story. At times it switched from one to the next rather abruptly.

* * *

So what would have been my choice for Best Picture?


A real gem. Acting was not over the top, and melded kept us interested with several twists and turns along the way.

While some events may have been enhanced by creative license, it was done to move the plot along. This was probably the closest to what really happened compared to the other films based on real life events.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Wasabi and Mango and Cappuccino…OH MY!!

About 16 months ago Frito-Lay came up with a big marketing campaign where consumers would vote for one of three flavors to join the ever growing list of potato chips.

The reward for submitting the eventual winning flavor? ONE MILLION DOLLARS!! As you can imagine, there were thousands of entries.

After much fan fair, Cheesy Garlic Bread won the right to stick around over Sriracha and Chicken & Waffles.

It deserved it as it tasted the closest to what it was supposed to be after my unscientific sampling.

I guess the powers that be were happy with the results as the Do Us a Flavor contest is back!

This time we've got four new flavors to tantalize our taste buds, including the first sweet entry to make the finalists.

Unlike last year, I have been able to find all three flavors pretty much immediately. I did have to do a little searching for the Lay’s Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger flavor.

For whatever reason Frito-Lay decided to release two of their finalists in their classic potato chips, while the third is Wavy and the fourth is a Kettle-cooked option.

However, they didn't think their marketing through. All their displays show off only the first three, and you have to go elsewhere in the store to find the Kettle-cooked variety. Plus the Kettle-cooked are more expensive.

* * *

Here are my thoughts after sampling the chips.

CAPPUCCINO – When we think of potato chips we generally think savory. At least, that's what I normally think of. But, that didn't stop lots of people from submitting flavors that are sweet. (Can anyone say Cotton Candy Potato Chips? EEK!).

Cappuccino is the first sweet variety to make it into the finals, and I wonder whether it was added at the last second just to see how things go as they've bumped the finalists up to four this year.

With much trepidation I popped open the bag somewhat preparing to be mortified.

First thing that hit me was the aroma. Most definitely reminded me of a steaming hot cup of cappuccino. Then came the taste test.

To be perfectly honest, this isn't half bad. It's not overly sweet. Just enough sweetness, and it's actually pretty balanced because I don't particularly taste the potato flavor you get in a lot of other flavored chips. This is a plus for any sweet flavored chip.

CHEDDAR BACON MAC & CHEESE – What's probably the number one comfort food in America? Mac & Cheese!! (If it's not it should be). All that cheesy goodness slathered over the top of warm macaroni. Then sprinkle crispy bacon, and bake till it's got that crunchy top. YUM!

A cheesy aroma came out of the bag. Nothing really different than the other cheese-based varieties.

Regarding the taste, the first thing I noticed was the macaroni part. Not overly cheesy. The bacon didn't show up until after a few seconds.

Sadly, the more chips you ate, the less the unique flavors could be noticed.

KETTLE COOKED WASABI GINGER – At any good sushi restaurant you always get a side of wasabi paste and pickled ginger to go with your meal. I guess it's the Japanese version of ketchup and mustard at the hot dog stand.

What's interesting about this variety is that they're a kettle-cooked style. The biggest difference is they're thicker than your normal chip, and they seem crispier. Not sure if it's by using a higher temp or longer time.

The aroma was rather muted when opening these. Wasabi was definitely in the nose. But, not ginger.

I was surprised how delicate the flavors were. Most noticeable was the wasabi. It wasn't blast furnace burn your sinuses hot like what happens if you put too much wasabi on your sushi. It was just enough so you knew what it was.

The ginger showed up a little later. But, as with the bacon in the mac & cheese flavor, it was more pronounced after you ate the chip, than as you were eating it. On the plus side it didn't get lost the more chips you consumed.

WAVY MANGO SALSA – Some people cringe at the idea of salsas that contain anything but tomato as the basic ingredient. Those people need to try Peach and Mango salsas to see what they're missing.

Supposedly the waves make it stronger so you use it for dipping, so it seems like putting salsa flavors in a chip you're going to dip into salsa might be strange.

Aroma does remind me of a jar of mango salsa. There's a slight sweetness that comes out when taking a whiff. But, that's as close to mango salsa as it got.

Trying to figure out whether I like the flavor, or not. At first taste there's certainly the mango characteristic. But, it's not as fresh as I'd care for, and there's certainly no tomato  and/or garlic to be found.

Then the potato takes over in the aftertaste, along with a somewhat buttery characteristic, which is most certainly not present in any salsa I've ever had.

* * *

Call me crazy. But, after tasting all four flavors, I cast my vote for Cappuccino. It's certainly not a flavor I'm going to be eating all the time, and I'm more likely to eat only a handful instead of wolfing down a bag in a day (which is probably a good thing, eh?).

You have until October 18th to vote for your favorite flavor at

Monday, May 26, 2014

They're different…yet the same


Today is Memorial Day here in the United States. I like to publicly thank every veteran, as well as current military personnel for their service to our country. Without it, this country would never have grown to be what it has become, nor would we be enjoying the rights that many take for granted.

Recently a Facebook friend posted a photo which lambasted the media because

"…Memorial Day is not about Veterans. Memorial Day is about those that did not come home to become veterans."

The very first comment said, "Same Dif…semantics!" suggesting they were the same; which was followed by back and forth dialog on whether there was a difference between the two holidays.

After doing some reading on the subject, it's become obvious that it's not as crystal clear as that photo suggested.

* * *

Unofficially Memorial Day is the older of the two holidays. The exact origin of Memorial Day is somewhat clouded, with groups of people both north AND south of the Mason-Dixon Line, claiming to have been the first.

In those days it was known as Decoration Day because loved ones would decorate the graves of fallen soldiers who gave their all during that family squabble known as the American Civil War.

It wasn't until 1971 that Congress declared Memorial Day an official national holiday.

The day is generally filled with parades brimming with soldiers and floats, as well as air shows commemorating past conflicts, and the soldiers who took part. Unofficially it's also filled with BBQs marking the start of Summer.

California doesn't have the same fervor as the East Coast. That's probably because we have been lucky enough to have escaped military conflict on our soil, and invasion by foreign powers.

One of the most spectacular events takes place at America's National Cemeteries. But, it's a simple thing that probably escapes most people's thoughts today.

For several days beforehand thousands of volunteers go gravestone to gravestone making sure a small American flag graces the front of the marker.

If you have never visited Golden Gate National Cemetery on Memorial Day, you should. The utter silence with 140,000 tiny flags flapping in the breeze is awe inspiring.

Frankly, its more serene sight with quiet contemplation does more to commemorate our nation's sacrifice than any parade.

* * *

In 1919, WWI was fresh in the minds of many Americans. It's generally considered the first modern war due to many technological advances of the time such as tanks, airplanes and mustard gas.

On the one year anniversary of the end of WWI, President Calvin Coolidge declared every November 11th  a day to commemorate the end of hostilities.

(The official armistice went into effect 11-11-18, and because someone somewhere had a macabre sense of humor it took place, not at Midnight, but, at 11pm)

However, it wasn't until 1938 when Congress officially named it a Federal holiday.

Much to people's horror, WWI turned out not to be the War to End All Wars, to be joined in people's consciousness by the first true global war, WWII, and not to go unmentioned the Korean War.

Congress changed the holiday's name in 1954 to Veterans Day, to be inclusive of all veterans from all conflicts past and present.

What's forgotten by most, myself included until I was doing research for this post, was that Coolidge's original proclamation was not to celebrate those that returned live from the front, but to remember those that did not.

"To us in America, the reflections of armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations."

Arguably, Veterans Day is not observed nearly as much as Memorial Day. Probably, in part because of it falling two months after school has started, during the tail end of the Fall harvest and when BBQ weather has left much of the country.

Besides that, it's not part of a three day weekend, despite it originally becoming one under the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. Only four years after moving five holidays to Mondays; to create long weekends; Congress chose to move Veterans Day back to it's original date.

It should be noted that while Memorial Day is truly an American national holiday, "Veterans" Day is commemorated around the world in multiple nations, albeit under different names.

* * *

Today, I turned on the History Channel while having breakfast After all, it's Memorial Day. Surely they're going to have lots of historical goodness I could lose myself in today. Just ending was some program on WWII, only to be followed by episode after episode of Pawn Stars.

God bless Big Rick, Corey, Chumlee and the Old Man. But, little historical blurbs about items being pawned or sold just shouldn't cut it on Memorial Day.

I found a blog Tech Crunch editorial  frustrated by this as well, only to realize it was from 2011.

At least H2 (formerly known as History International), is running four episodes of Patton 360, a 2009 series on Gen. George S. Patton.

But, that's not even the full series.  They aired 3 episodes; then stuck an odd-ball episode of Target Earth about climate change, before repeating the same episodes! Thing is it's a 10 part series. Would it have killed them to have aired the whole thing today?

Thankfully, if a person has HBO or Amazon Prime Video, they have access to Band of Brothers and The Pacific; with NO commercial interruptions.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

I am Cyborg


cy·borg [sahy-bawrg] noun
a person whose physiological functioning is aided by or dependent upon a mechanical or electronic device.

Origin: 1960–65; cyb(ernetic) org(anism)

* * *

For a long long time I've had bad vision. I had always chalked it up to simply being my eyes, which had an horrendous amount of astigmatism.

About 14 years ago, I looked into the option of LASIK vision correction, and while I was apparently a candidate at the time, the doctor refused to preform it because, in his words, I would not be "20/20 happy." (I supplied him with a laundry list of questions about the procedure, and that must've scared him off).

In retrospect, that was a blessing in disguise because a few years later I heard a dreaded "C" word…cataract.

By definition, a cataract is the condition where the lens of your eye starts to turn cloudy, thereby blurring your vision. In extremely circumstances it can go completely opaque, effectively rendering a person blind in that eye.

While I wasn't completely blind, my vision was pretty bad. Uncorrected, it was something like 20/500+, and even with my coke bottle glasses it had devolved to a point where it could someday become a hindrance to driving.

As I haven't had vision care for a long time, surgery was out of the question. Out of pocket could be upwards of $7000, or more, per eye.

However, thanks to Obamacare, I was able to finally get my eyes taken care of. I cannot stress enough that had the president not pushed for his changes in health care, I would not have been able to do this.

(And on a side note, I find the earlier comments by opponents that there would be less choice in health care ludicrous as I see more and more advertisements on TV for health care options I've never heard of until recently.)

* * *

I arrived at my appointment mid-morning last Friday. People asked me whether I was nervous? (How could I NOT be?!?). I said, "No." But, the truth came out when they took my blood pressure as it was all over the place. Not enough to abort the surgery. But, enough to make me take pause.

After copious amounts of eye drops, including some type of "cane" drug to numb the eye, as well as a mild sedative, it was time to wheel me into the operating room.

I was bummed that it wasn't equipped with a recording system, as my grandmother's surgery center had been. But, then I would be "the main event" so it didn't really matter.

The overhead light was all a blur. But, it kept moving all over the place and  so I eventually asked, "Have you started yet?"

Turns out he was already several minutes into the operation already when I asked.

Basically, they make a couple of small incisions in the surface of the eye and then use an ultrasonic wave to liquefy the natural lens of the eye. It's then sucked out and debris cleaned up, before the artificial lens is inserted; unfurling similarly to the solar wings on the International Space Station.

After a bit of tweaking to get the lens properly placed, they covered the eye with a shield (what you see in the photo above), and wheeled me back to the recovery room.

All told, I think I was in the operating room for 20-25 minutes. In fact, I was easily on my way home under two hours from when I first got there. Probably closer to 90 minutes!!

I had my first follow-up appointment the next morning and was shocked! I nearly aced the eye chart; missing only one letter on the 20/20 line. Granted, it wasn't crystal clear. But, it was pretty discernable.

Now, at today's second follow-up appointment, I basically slammed the 20/15 line with no problems, and my astigmatism is completely gone! Plus, I got the great comment that I healed a lot quicker than the doctor expected (which accounts for the ultra-high distance vision).

Perhaps the only downer is that I have to wait until June 13th to get my right eye fixed, and so watching TV and using the computer can be a chore at times.

I can either use my old glasses, which render my new eye a total blur, or I can use a cheap pair of reading glasses, which then totally blur out the right eye due to its astigmatism.

It's kind of strange to think that I will have a small piece of plastic in my eye for the rest of my life. But, in this day and age, where it's commonplace for people to get knees and hips replaced, why should my eye lenses be any different?

Plus, I now have the advantage that these lenses are better than the best sunglasses when it comes to blocking out harmful UV light.

About the only negative thing I will come away with is they are not multi-focal, like the natural human eye so I will be doomed to reading glasses for the rest of my life. But, that's certainly better than not being able to see.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

What was Old is New again


A couple of days ago I found out that my childhood home is up on the market again. This is the one we sold last August.

At the time our real estate agent thought the buyers were getting it because it was so close to the Pacific East Mall, in Richmond. But, it turns out they must've been nothing but a couple of flippers.

I guess it was providence that I Googled the address on Friday as the first Open House took place today. Considering the brisk seller's market, It was likely now or never to see the transformation.

* * *

I use transformation akin to a transformation from a caterpillar into a butterfly.

They'd basically restuccoed the entire outside, because they had a whole bunch of wood rot to deal with, and all the windows were replaced, with all but two being moved from their original location.

Mind you this was a house built in 1949, yet they chose to use that rough stucco outside, which has been the trend on many buildings in the last couple of decades.

I was surprised they didn't put up the faux shutters around the windows, and the scalloped main living room window was replaced with a somewhat smaller cookie cutter square window, with no sill. Honestly, it looked unfinished.

On the bright side, the front yard was landscaped with fresh tanbark, and most of the foliage was gone, making it look a lot cleaner and bigger.

As we entered the house, the first thing we were greeted with was brand new flooring and NO wall between the living room and kitchen.

Truthfully, this is one of the things I'd pondered when I had visions of remodeling the house to live in. But, it was fascinating to see. I was a little surprised at the size of the kitchen window. With the great view of the Golden Gate Bridge, I would have went one size wider myself.

As we went room by room, there were newly sheet rocked walls, freshly painted a stark white, which brightened up the place considerably. Cabinets were supposedly all custom made. But, the ones in the bedrooms looked like standard laminated shelving, which could have just as easily came from Home Depot.

Downstairs finally got its bathroom; something that had been sorely lacking. I always hated having to make the trek from the very bottom of the house to the upper level every time I needed to use the bathroom or take a shower!

The lower "family room" had been turned into another bedroom, with the closet being exchanged for a slightly raised small alcove large enough for a full-sized bed. You still had the double-glass patio doors, which surprised me a bit.

The deck was downsized to half of what it was. But, the new one doesn't shake like the 1970s era one did, and has proper pier restraints to the ground.

Oddly, they only landscaped half the backyard, leaving the lower section by the freeway sound wall a small weed patch. I had to laugh as one of the grape vines I'd planted had poked through the fresh tanbark in back and was now a couple feet tall.

I scratched my head on why they didn't spend the extra money to install a solar electrical system, given there's such a large roof with unfettered access to the Sun, and they put a brand new roof on anyways?

Adding to all these changes mentioned were a sewer lateral and electrical wiring; basically meaning this was a "new" house compared to what stood there only eight months ago.

* * *

Leaving I said a silent "good-bye" to Tigger and the house in general. Unlike last August there was no crying and depression. OK so maybe a very little smidge of depression which was gone as soon as I walked out the front door. Perhaps it was more catharsis, than anything else.

It was good to see the transformation, even though I might not have done everything that was done. But, I think my sister and I left with a good feeling that whomever buys the house will have years of enjoyment before the next remodeling, 30 years hence.

(I was EXTREMELEY happy that they didn't chop it into two units, which was the fate for the houses to our immediate left and right.)

Click on the photo below to see the current RedFin listing:

Monday, April 21, 2014

It was such a Saab Story


I raise a rather tall glass of Aquavit in toast to my beautiful 1995 Saab 900SE Turbo Convertible. By this time tomorrow it will have crossed over into Valhalla.

Logic says I'm being over dramatic, and that it was nothing more than an inanimate steel box mounted on four wheels. But my heart tells me otherwise.

Turning it over at the Richmond Pick-And-Pull yard was like getting teeth pulled. I knew it has to be done. But, it was extremely traumatic nonetheless.

* * *

I'd been in the hunt for a new car for several months now.

As much as I'd hoped I could resurrect the Saab, to have it role on for years to come (no Easter/Christian pun intended, it just happened! Perhaps it's the Aquavit talking?), it became obvious that wasn't going to happen.

A friend had put a water pump in for me. But it was still leaking like a sieve. He then took the pump out completely and redid it, only to have it start leaking badly after another week.

That coupled with the power steering being completely shot and a broken transmission mount that made a clunk every time I came to a stop, made it painfully clear that I no longer had reliable transportation.

On a whim I called Pick-N-Pull last March to see what the car would be worth to them. Because it was a 1995, the guy told me about the State of California's Vehicle Retirement Program.

Basically, if the vehicle is still in running condition, and meets certain requirements, the State of California will authorize a vehicle dismantler to pay you $1000 after you surrender the car to them (You get an extra $500 if you meet certain low income criteria!!).

As there's no way any sane car dealership would have offered me anything in trade, this made the most sense.

I finally got my approval letter last Wednesday. Being that I had until July 11th to actually surrender the Saab, I figured I would take my time to find a good replacement. But, things moved faster than expected.

This morning I emptied the Saab out before giving it a going away bath. Truth is I hadn't washed it in a long long time and it was filthy.

It felt good doing so, yet as it looked like a car in great condition after finishing the job it made me guilty about simply handing it over to be dismantled.

With that done, I called my insurance company to get things straightened out, and then topped the coolant off before heading out to Pick-N-Pull.

As I passed Home Depot, on I-80, I started hyperventilating and tears were flowing as I thought of the experiences I'd had in that car.

My first Road Trip to the Sierra Nevada Taproom, only to find out on my return home that all four tires were a breath away from blowouts. Driving to my college best friend's wedding reception in Washington State; the top down as I cruised past Shasta on a gorgeous blue sky day. The time my sister and I took Glacier to Kirkwood Ski Area for a day.

I think the dog enjoyed the ride, as she was hunkered down in the back seat with my sister under a blanket; the convertible top down until we got near Luther Pass.

As you can imagine, dealing with paperwork, especially when it involves the State of California, takes a while.

I went in only to find out it would be another 15 minutes before Haley could help me. After that, it was still another 15 minutes. Each time she told me to take a seat. But, I returned to my Saab to sit in it for another one last time.

Finally she was able to help me. As I was missing the Pink Slip, she had to send some info over to her main office to confirm I was the actual owner (quite understandable). This took another 15 minutes (and a return to sitting in the driver's seat).

Finally, after she got approval, she had me sign the final surrender documents and she came out to do an inspection of the vehicle, including watching me drive around the parking lot as proof that it was still in running condition.

Haley told me it would be about 30 minutes for her to get the final approval and cut me a check.

Rather than wait in the office, I, yet again, went out to sit in the Saab for definitely the last time.

I made the mistake of asking Haley how long my car would be in the yard, figuring I would post a message on the Saab Network, in case anyone in the Richmond area was looking for good donor parts. The answer upset me a bit inside.

Apparently my Saab is headed to the crusher sometime tomorrow. The logic being that the State of California is paying me to get it off the road and It wouldn't make sense to allow Pick-N-Pull to sell parts off it to keep other Saabs of that vintage on the road.

I set my alarm to count down the time and Haley came out almost 30 minutes to the second. I have to give her wonderful kudos for being very professional despite it being pretty obvious how much this was tearing me up inside. She presented me with the check as I still sat in the driver's seat. She thanked me and asked me to leave the keys in the ignition when I was leaving.

After another five minutes of watching them move other cars into the back, I told myself it would be way too painful to see my Saab pulled into the wrecking yard so I gave it a kiss good-bye on the steering wheel (actually two kisses), thanking it for being a faithful car and apologizing for not taking better care of it.

At the Pick-N-Pull driveway I took one last look and slunk off to the AC Transit bus stop for a ride home which seemed to took forever.

I stopped by Albany's Bevmo to pick up the previously mentioned Aquavit, some Havarti cheese, some crackers, and a bottle of Hop Rod Rye Beer (as it's Scandinavian tradition to have a beer chaser after your glass of Aquavit).

So now I sit here, on my couch, blogging and personifying my car, imagining it amongst strange cars in the lonely Richmond Pick-N-Pull yard crying, "Daddy, where are you? Why did you leave me here?"

But, tomorrow is another day. Hopefully, when I wake up I will feel better as Benny, the Benz, is sitting in front of my house eager to take me and Jakey on many an adventure.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Packing my bag and checking it twice

HockeyDreamHad a really stressful night's sleep. Nothing transpired over the past few days that could account for it. But, it was probably brought on by a strange dream from earlier this morning, which I can still vividly remember.

Doctors suggest we forget 95% of what we dream.

Every once in a while I get a doozy where it's still going on despite my being fairly certain I'm awake in the real world.

The heart is running at an elevated rate, and when I fully wake up, I'm really stressed, as if I'd run a 5k the night before.

* * *

This morning's dream involved a return to playing ice hockey, and primarily about getting dressed to play.

(Most people reading this have no idea of how slow I was at getting suited up when I first started playing ice hockey.

I used to get to the rink 60-90 minutes before game time just to make sure I had plenty of time. Yet, somehow, it was pretty certain I'd be one of the last people to leave the locker room.

Out of necessity I cured that problem, back in the 1990s, when I went away to hockey camp.)

It is my first time back on the ice after a prolonged stoppage. I don't exactly remember why I had the hiatus.


(I went skating last December for the first time in about three years and it was also the first time since I'd hyperextended both knees the year before. I felt like I was learning to skate anew. Very unsettling and I almost wanted to cry. But, as in baseball, there should be no crying in hockey!)

I don't know any of the players, except one. Most have already headed out to the ice while I'm still getting ready.

My equipment is strewn all over the small white cinderblock room. I go to grab something. But, can't find it!

(I still vividly remember one game where I got all dressed. On my way out to the rink I realized I had forgotten to put my shin guards on. Thank God I didn't take a shot in warm-ups as I certainly would have broken something.)

The clock on the wall keeps ticking and pretty much everyone else is out on the ice for warm-ups already. Only one returning player remains; urging me to hurry up.


Causing more frustration is the fact I'm not the only new player to the team. My sister is joining. She has no problems getting dressed.

(To the best of my knowledge she has never played hockey. Has never had the urge to go to one of the NCWHL's Give Hockey A Try Days, nor even strapped on a pair of hockey skates, which makes her being in the dream even more odd.

Co-rec teams are common these days, especially at the lower levels. Checking is expressly forbidden, though we always reminded ourselves the rule was "No Checking Does NOT necessarily mean No Contact.")

The clock keeps ticking as I struggle to get ready. I hear the buzzer off in the distance signifying the game is about to start.


A few more minutes are gone, and the first period starts. The veteran player comes back in asking how things are going?

"It's going" is about all I can answer as I look for a packing tape gun to throw on some tape over my hockey socks that now adorn my shin guards. (I think the only place I've actually seen packing tape used was in Mystery, Alaska.)

Glancing at the clock again, half of the first period has now vaporized. But, I cannot locate my hockey pants.


Finally locating them, I step my skates through the leg openings and pull the pants up.

Grabbing my helmet and gloves, I shuffle out of the room, only to freak out again. Light jersey or dark jersey? I'm wearing white at this point.

(I always made a point of emailing my teammates to remind them which jersey to bring, only to have the league switch us from 'Home' to 'Visiting' team one week. After that, I always brought BOTH!).

I've now wasted two-thirds of the First Period yet, strangely, people are still skating around as if warming up…and my jersey has morphed into a matching black. Don't ask me how, as my subconscious never explained that.

Sitting quickly on the bench, I stretch my legs before gingerly jumping on the ice to take a couple quick laps…and then it happens.


End of dream. No idea how I played; how my sister played. Did we win or lose the game?

So the moral of the story is to always check your hockey bag and make sure everything you need is in there, and to give yourself ample time to prepare.

(And to, perhaps, not eat Wasabi Hummus before bedtime! But, that's a story for another time…)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

movie review: POMPEII (2014)


(reviews may contain spoilers for those that have never seen the film or are unfamiliar with the characters.)

* * *
POMPEII (2014)

Milo (Kit Harington) is a Celtic barbarian, captured as a young child after his village was slaughtered by Roman General Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland), who was sent to quell a rebellion.

Despite orders being given that all shall be put to the sword Milo survives, only to live the life of a slave in the gladiatorial arena.

Eventually Milo and Corvus (now a Roman Senator) cross paths once more, during that ill fated week in 79 AD when Pompeii was wiped from the Roman World.

To complicate matters, Milo becomes enamored with a local administrator's daughter Cassia (Emily Browning), who has also caught the eye of Corvus.

* * *

It's that time of the year when Hollywood entices us with the first of what they hope will be the big movies of the year.

Such seemed to be Pompeii when the first trailers suggested this was a can't miss film we'd have to see. When I saw my first trailer last fall I did make a mental note to see it when it was finally released.

To make it even more interesting, it would be a part of the ever growing number of films released in 3D. Who can resist a volcano decimating a Roman city when it's done in 3D?

I didn't. But, I should have.

This marked Kit Harington's first headliner performance. He's better known as Jon Snow, in HBO's Game of Thrones.

"The Celt", as Milo is commonly known, seemed like a cross between Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name movies and Arnold Schwarzenegger's Conan the Barbarian.

I suppose Milo's life would have been somber; seeing his parents slaughtered before his childhood eyes, and then living life as a slave. But, Harington's delivery seemed tired most of the time.

Carrie-Anne Moss (Matrix trilogy, Chocolat, Vegas)  gets second billing. I guess she earned it because of her track record. But, you could have replaced her with any number of stock Hollywood actresses for all the screen time she actually had.

Sadly, even Sutherland's portrayal of Corvus was somewhat laughable. He delivered his lines with one of two speeds. Most of the time he talked with a smugness and strange accent that sounded artificial at best. While, during the few times he shows full blown hatred he's to the point of almost screaming.

Relatively unknown Emily Browning (Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, Sucker Punch) does an adequate job with Cassia. Seemingly innocent at first. But, then more seems to meet the eye as things get complicated between her, Milo and Corvus.

My favorite character was Atticus, played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Oz, Lost, GI Joe: Rise of Cobra).

While we don't know Atticus' background, he's obviously a proud man who survived as a gladiator long enough that his next match will earn what he wants most…his freedom. Yet, it's believable when he throws that to the wind when he sees duty, honor and revenge in helping Milo.

I felt more compassion for Atticus than I did for Milo; mostly because of the actors' performances.

The 3D effects were pretty much a waste of the extra $3 the theater charged to rent special glasses. With the exception of a few rocks and boulders flying around, it did absolutely nothing for me, to the point of forgetting the 3D effect was even there.

Sure, the best 3D films are those that don't overdo the effect, throwing it in the viewer's face. But, Pompeii was so underdone.

Director Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil series, Event Horizon, AVP: Alien vs. Predator) told CBS that, "Obviously, it's a movie, not a documentary…but the story of Pompeii is so remarkable you don't need to embellish it."

If that's the case why did they? There are some glaring historical inaccuracies. But I can't mention them without spoiling some of the more intense parts of the film.

Perhaps he felt he needed to pad the script, because the film's running time is only 1 hour 39 minutes. Relatively short for a Hollywood epic these days.

It might have been better to devote the time to developing the relationship between Cassia and her parents, and to showing more of the life of a gladiator.

* * *

I really can't recommend this as a can't miss film and it will, no doubt, be forgotten by next year's Oscar nominations.

If you've invested in a big screen TV with super sound system, do yourself a favor and wait for the DVD release.

However, If you must see it in the theater, look for a matinee or some other discount. But, you'd better do it soon. Judging from the size of the crowd on opening weekend it may not be around too long.

RATED: 4.0 out of 10 STARS

* * *

Nearby theaters currently showing Pompeii are the UA Berkeley 7, AMC Bay Street 16 and Century 16 Hilltop.

A full listing of show times and locations can be found at Fandango.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Olympic detox…Part Deux

Well, it's time for my biennial case of withdrawal from watching nearly wall-to-wall Olympic coverage for the last couple of weeks. Last time it was London. This time it's Sochi.

The Winter Olympics have always been my favorite. Don't get me wrong. I can just as easily get lost in the Summer Games. But, it's the Winter Games that I'm especially fond of. Not sure if it's the hockey, the skiing, or just the scenes of clean white snow that seems so pure, especially back growing up as a 10-year-old kid.

Up until 1998, we were pretty much stuck with whatever they were broadcasting on NBC (or CBS and ABC before that). Every Olympiad would add additional hours of coverage. But, it was still only a single channel.

Then, in 2002, coverage expanded exponentially by use of their family of channels; namely adding MSNBC, CSNBC. More channels equaled more coverage. Simple as that.

However, that was yet another proverbial drop in the bucket. As the Internet reached its maturity, they realized they could offer a virtual cornucopia of coverage by streaming events.

I was able to watch the local cable channel on the TV, while streaming something else on my computer. This included some sports not normally covered on broadcast TV.

You could probably count on one hand the amount of hours devoted to curling in 1998. Now, with streaming, you could watch whole matches, and ALL matches if your heart desired it!

Absolute Olympic Nirvana!

But, with NBC's ever expanding coverage came the realization that NBC's coverage could be pretty bad, leaning towards events where Americans had a good chance of taking a medal, and flipping from event to event without regard to continuity. And don't forget the commercials!

Last time around, during the London Olympics, I decided to let technology take its course, and add the BBC's coverage of the London Summer Olympics to my viewing regimen.

Absolute night and day when compared to what NBC offered. Mind you, I still watched NBC. However, my laptop was hooked into the BBC on a daily basis.

It wasn't perfect because if I joined a live event and then scrolled back to the beginning, I'd lose the feed all of a sudden when the live program ended. Then I'd have to wait till the event was cataloged before I could see how it ended.

Still, they were full events, with ALL competitors, and was commercial free! I think I watched every route of archery in 2012.

But, things were a bit complicated this time around because I did away with my television cable package in late 2012.

This meant that I only had access to the local NBC affiliate. This also meant NO hockey coverage from Sochi since they usually aired that on the NBC Sports Channel, a cable only channel.

I think the final insult was that NBC would allow anybody to watch their streaming coverage. However, if you could not prove you were subscribed to a cable or satellite provider, your signal was abruptly cut after 30 minutes, forcing you to log back in again.

With that in mind, I returned to alternate methods to get my Olympic fix. Unfortunately, the VPN I signed up for this time seemed to have problems giving me a quality signal from the BBC.

There were a couple of options to take off to the Great White North, and so I experienced my first Canadian television, other than when I used to watch Hockey Night in Canada with the NHL Network.

While the CBC does have commercials, they don't seem to be as numerous as on American television. Plus, I could stream all events on their website, only I didn't have to directly prove I was Canadian or have a Canadian cable subscription.

For the most part, the announcers were very well informed and could hold a candle to any of their American counterparts. And they knew when to simply shut up and let the pictures do the talking.

I was able to watch the whole Opening Ceremonies, and watch them live.

Not only did NBC not offer the festivities live, NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus insulted the intelligence of every American viewer, suggesting "…the colorful ceremonies would not make sense without description."

Mr. Lazarus kindly explain why you couldn't have aired it live with commentators, just like every other event you streamed…including the Closing Ceremonies!!

So this time around I never did watch any NBC coverage. It was all CBC, and even though I had started watching events live, it eventually devolved to all tape delayed as a few days of watching till the wee hours of the morning started wrecking havoc with my sleep cycle.

I will have to admit, there were times I wanted to throttle my computer, especially during any US hockey game coverage.

An American women's game didn't go by without having to hear about the "battling Lamoureux Sisters" or how Jocelyne Lamoureux played with a chip on her shoulder and liked to "mix 'em up." (a reference to the two fights that occurred during pre-Olympic action with Canada).

Then there were Glenn Healy's idiotic remarks, such as that Team Sweden didn't know who they were playing against, when referring to Sydney Crosby. This despite the fact that all but one Swedish player came from NHL teams.

Technologically, signal quality did vary from time to time, especially if I was using my laptop over a wireless connection.

I will readily admit I missed NBC's traditional end of the Olympics highlight reel set to Beethoven's Ode to Joy.

Every time I'd watch it I'd well up in tears because of the realization the Games were over and it would be a couple years before they'd be on again. (It even happened watching the YouTube clip linked above and thinking how 1996 seems just like yesterday).

Also missing was all the cultural fluff. By steaming the events it became all about the events, and not the locale. I do enjoy the cultural and historical aspects we're sometimes given, though in moderation.

So now comes the two year wait before the 2016 Summer Games, in Rio de Janeiro. With Rio being only four hours ahead of San Francisco, I'll be bombarded with lots more live coverage during a more sane part of the day. Of course, I'm sure there will be new unforeseen challenges.

I just have 892 days to figure exactly how to accomplish it all!