Monthly Archives: May 2012

 by Frederick Manfred

Grizzly


When I was a kid, my parents used to drop me off at Blue Mounds State Park in Luverne, Minnesota, near the confluence of that state, South Dakota, and Iowa.  Not only were the park’s pink, quartzite cliffs spectacular, but in the distance I could see buffalo grazing, and nearby was the futuristic-looking (this was the 1960s) home of a real curiosity:  a man who wrote books for a living, name of Frederick Manfred.

So it was with a mix of nostalgia and intrigue that I recently picked up Manfred’s Lord Grizzly, a National Book Award finalist in 1955 and the story of Hugh Glass, a real-life mountain man who survived a bear attack and subsequent abandonment in 1820s South Dakota – not far from my Blue Mounds stomping ground.

Lord Grizzly invokes that long-ago land of Indians, grizzlies, mountain lions and buzzards, but Manfred recreates it to a fault.   The book reminded me of Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain with its endless depictions of wilderness flora and fauna – nirvana for naturalists and American West fans, I’m sure – but not my cup of tea.  Old Hugh’s cumbersome crawl across the Midwestern Plains had nothing on my tedious trek through 100 pages of riverbeds, sunsets, and prairie-dog villages.

The plot is about Glass’s quest for revenge on the men who left him for dead, but the theme is man’s struggle between his desire for freedom and the bonds of society.  Manfred seemed to prefer the former; for me, those daylong prowls in his Blue Mounds backyard were wilderness enough.

 

Blue

  Blue Mounds State Park:  my childhood playground and Manfred’s backyard.

 

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Holmes1 

 

No Shit, Sherlock

 

When this modern-day retelling of the venerable Sherlock Holmes stories debuted two years ago, I was pleasantly surprised.  My powers of deduction had warned me that text messaging, computer hard drives, and Internet blogs would be a poor substitute for Arthur Conan Doyle’s 19th-century cobblestone, London fog, and horse-drawn carriages.  And I thought that the young actors cast to play Holmes and Dr. Watson, Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, were too green and baby-faced to convincingly battle the lords of London’s underworld.

OK, so I was wrong.  If anything, Sherlock is getting better. The second season’s opening episode, “A Scandal in Belgravia,” is a delight on several levels:

1)  The pace is breakneck — almost as fast as Holmes’s crime-detecting intellect and his rapid-fire dialogue.  In fact, it’s not a bad idea to watch the first episode twice, because if you blink you might miss important clues.

 

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2)  If solving the mystery is too much of a chore for you, you can simply sit back and enjoy the real draw of the series:  the amusing interplay amongst what can only be described as the queerest “family” ever to break bread on Baker Street — Holmes, Watson, and the irrepressible Mrs. Hudson.  Unlike the 1980s-’90s Jeremy Brett take on Holmes (also superb), humor and warmth permeate Sherlock.  Just when the rat-a-tat pace and complex plot begin to make your head spin, some bit of comic business between Watson and Holmes reminds us that it’s their relationship that holds everything together.

3)  “Belgravia” is an especially good episode because Holmes is pitted against his greatest challenge:  his own human feelings.  There is a Christmas scene in which Holmes is compelled to socialize (awkwardly) with his small circle of friends.  And then there is a secondary foe, the formidable Irene Adler (Lara Pulver), an upscale dominatrix who handles kingmakers with aplomb but who meets her match in the peculiar Holmes.  To Sherlock, Adler is simply “the woman.”  To Adler, Holmes is “the virgin.”

 

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All of this is done tongue-in-cheek, and with energy and visual flair.  The only downside to the start of a new season of Sherlock is the unfortunate fact that there are just three new episodes.  Sunday’s entry promises to provide a showcase for Freeman (The Office) because, if the script adheres to Conan Doyle’s original story, The Hounds of Baskerville will feature more Watson than Holmes.     Grade:  A-

 

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Cast:  Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Una Stubbs, Rupert Graves, Loo Brealey, Mark Gatiss, Andrew Scott, Lara Pulver  Premiere:  2010  Sundays on PBS

 

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        Watch Clips or Episodes  (click here)

 

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Square4

 

I am tired of the clichéd term “psychological thriller.”  I am also sick to death of every new suspense film being compared to the work of Alfred Hitchcock.  The Square is a nifty little nail-biter from Australia.  Read my review of the movie by clicking here, or click here to watch this Hitchcockian, psychological thriller free of charge.

 

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Shuttle

 

Could we please celebrate our national achievements just once?  When the retired space shuttle Enterprise was piggy-backed to Manhattan last week, there was breathless news coverage of the event.  Just as there was breathless news coverage of the final space-shuttle mission last July.

This week, we celebrated the placement of a steel beam atop One World Trade Center, officially making it New York’s tallest building.  We will celebrate, again, when the building is completed in a year or so.

I am thinking that this year I will celebrate my birthday not once, but twice:  once on the actual day of my birth, and once on the day that I was conceived.  Please alert the media.

 

*****

 

Avengers

 

There is an upside to being an unpaid film critic, as opposed to the poor schmucks who review movies for professional media.  As an unpaid critic, I am under absolutely no obligation to see the latest entry in Hollywood’s endless string of mindless, childish teenybopper movies, in this case The Avengers.  Yes, it’s getting good reviews, and yes, it will strike gold at the box office.  I’ll even admit that it might be an entertaining flick.  But at this point, all I need to hear are the words “superhero” or “comic book” and I run screaming for the exit.

 

*****

 

Chat

 

My phone stopped working.  So I did what anyone would do, I contacted Fermin in India.

 

Fermin:  Hello sir.  Thank you for contacting Comcast Live Chat Support.  My name is Fermin.  Please give me one moment to review your information.

Grouch:  I think I need to just drop this voicemail feature on my computer, because 1)  I never use it, and 2)  I am now unable to use my telephone, and I am missing phone calls.  How on earth do I just get rid of it?

Fermin:  I will be more than glad to do the best I can to assist you today.  I hope your day is doing just fine.

Grouch:  Well, I can no longer use my telephone, and I suspect it’s because of this voicemail feature I have on my computer, which I never use.

Fermin:  I understand your concern, sir.

Fermin:  To make sure that I’m working with the correct phone, kindly verify the affected Comcast phone number and also your best contact number so we can call you if necessary.

Grouch:  You can’t call me.  My phone does not seem to be working.

Fermin:  I understand your concern.

Fermin:  Please in chat.

Fermin:  Please stat in chat.

Fermin:  Thank you so much.

Grouch:  I just want my phone to work again.

Fermin:  No problem.  Kindly connect the base unit of your phone directly to the modem at tel line 1 and 2 ports to verify which port is working.

Grouch:  The telephone is in another room, it’s not near the computer.

Fermin:  At this point, I humbly ask your patience and cooperation to follow my instructions so that we can resolve this phone issue now.  Please plug your phone directly to the modem.

Grouch:  But the telephone is not in the same room as the computer.

Fermin:  I understand you.  Please make sure to connect the wire or cable to the line 1 port at the back of the modem so that the wall outlet in your room will surely work.

Grouch:  The only way I can get a dial tone is by bringing the entire phone apparatus into this room and plugging it into the computer.  I don’t want the phone in this room.  I think perhaps you had better schedule a technician.

Fermin:  Yes.  I can see that there is an issue with your inside wiring.  The appointment schedule will be on 5/5/2012 between 2 pm and 4 pm.  Please keep this ticket as your reference.

Grouch:  You have to stop typing so I can write the number down.  This screen keeps scrolling by itself.

Fermin:  I’m glad I was able to help you.  Do you have any other questions or concerns I can help you with today? I just wanna make sure all your concerns will be taken cared of today.

Grouch:  They were not taken care of.  I will have to wait until Saturday and probably pay 49.95 to fix the problem.

Fermin:  I understand your concern.  Is there anything else I can help you with today?

 

*****

 

Boob1

 

A St. Louis judge awarded more than seven million dollars to Tamara Favazza because her boobs wound up in a Girls Gone Wild video. Favazza does have nice boobs, but I don’t think they are worth a penny more than $500,000.

 

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by Suzanne Collins 

Hunger


The Hunger Games is a pretty good “young adult” book.  If that sounds condescending, I apologize, but the story has just a few too many silly contrivances, shallow characters, and teen-angst moments to transcend its Y.A. genre.

There are valid reasons why Games has become a cultural phenomenon:  The feisty heroine is appealing, and Collins creates some genuine suspense in a futuristic North America where 24 teenagers engage in a televised fight to the death.  Collins also introduces some interesting themes – including class warfare – but what really sets Games apart from ancestors like The Most Dangerous Game is its “reality TV” angle.

The protagonist’s romantic dilemma of choosing between two boys (neither of them particularly well written) is probably of interest to teen girls only.  But her struggle to survive the games while simultaneously pleasing an audience – it’s all being shown on live TV – is often intriguing.

 

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