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If I Could Just Get It On Virtual Paper

Friday, July 29, 2005

Before I move on to the Mac Widget of the Week, I should note that Yahoo! is now offering Widgets to users of both Windows and Mac users. It's free to registered Yahoo users, and can be found at Yahoo! Widgets.

This week's Mac Widget is The Flux 3-Word Movie Review. Coming from the indie Web site The Flux, this little widget allows you to browse hundreds of different movie reviews and get the quick skinny on any of them. They'll also give you a rating - for example, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon gets 4.5 out of 5 "fluxers". Every time you enter Dashboard, it will refresh with a brand new review. It's a simple little gadget but very cute and plenty informative.


Widget of the Week

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Serenity: Issue 1, by Joss Whedon, Brett Matthews, Will Conrad and Laura Martin

This is the first in a series of three comic books that center on the universe Joss Whedon created in the television series Firefly. The events that take place in the books will fill in some of the blanks as to what happens in between the last episode of the show and the beginning of the upcoming film, Serenity. The book is a quick, brief read, that gives a glimpse of each of the characters, and also a bit of a cliffhanger concerning some villains that we've seen before. The art is generally pretty solid, though there were a couple of times where I found myself bothered that Jayne didn't quite look like…himself. On the other hand, the dialogue is totally true to the characters, as it was easy to hear everything spoken in its proper voice (particularly Mal). It's an intriguing start to the series, and I'm looking forward to having more back story revealed.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Pop Culture Weekly

Books

Currently Reading:
The Rope Eater, by Ben Jones

Next in the Queue:
Possession, by A.S. Byatt


Music

Currently Listening To:
The CD that came with the June/July issue of The Believer (it's quite good)


Movies

Most Recently Seen:
The Island - It wasn't bad, but it did get a bit long and ponderous. There was probably a really good film in there somewhere.

Bad News Bears - Subversive and funny. It felt a little scattershot, but I still came out happy.

Must Love Dogs - The movie is generally cute and entertaining, but there's not nearly enough John Cusack. He's terrific in the film, and I really found myself missing him when he wasn't onscreen.

Most Anticipated
Hustle and Flow (I still haven't gotten to see it yet)
Sky High (Bruce Campbell is in it. What can I say?)


TV

Currently Watching:
Batman: The Animated Series - After seeing Batman begins, I'd been wanting to sit and re-watch this terrific series. I've only just started, but the show really holds up quite well even after more than a decade.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Book 42: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling

Book five in the Potter series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, left me totally disappointed. Not only did I feel that Rowling killed off a character needlessly and almost emotionlessly, there was a character in the book, Dolores Umbridge, who was so cartoonish and over-the-top that I could hardly bear to continue reading the book. And so it was that as the sixth book in the franchise was set to be released, I found myself unable to remember anything other than those two portions of the book. Since it was more than 800 pages long, that's probably not a good thing.

Fortunately, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince sees Rowling returning more to the tone and feel of the earlier books in the series. Although a number of people have claimed that this book is quite dark, I found it to be considerably more light-hearted (with the exception of the last 100 pages, perhaps) than she has been since Prisoner of Azkaban. Harry, Ron and Hermione are just hitting that age where romance becomes a major factor, and the situations that result are handled with a wry, comedic touch.

Of course, the book ultimately centers on that good vs. evil battle between Harry/Dumbledore and Co. and Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters. From the very beginning of the book, it's clear that Voldemort has gotten ever more sinister and ambitious in his efforts to take over the wizarding (and perhaps the normal) world. Every day when Hermione opens her Daily Prophet, Ron asks, "Anyone we know dead?" Sometimes, the answer is yes. With the situation becoming more and more serious, Harry begins to have regular meetings with Professor Dumbledore to learn more about Voldemort's past. These sessions are quite revealing, and preoccupy our young hero much of the time even as he remains convinced that Draco Malfoy is up to absolutely no good.

I do have a few quibbles with the book. I found the ending to be rushed and perhaps not as well thought out as it should have been. The conclusion is telegraphed pretty openly, so it is not a surprise. Somehow, this lessens the impact of what takes place. I certainly won't spoil the story here, but all I can say is that I hope Rowling is taking things much deeper in the finale.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Widget of the Week: Symphonic

This is a slick little Widget that to my mind, is the best of the iTunes-related downloads available for Dashboard. It's a small little search bar that should slot in easily amongst other items on the Desktop. With Symphonic, you can choose to play any song that is currently in your iTunes library all while keeping the bigger iTunes screen hidden. You simply type in the song you want to hear (for testing purposes, I went with Queen Bitch), and a couple of seconds later, you've got music emerging from your computer speakers. Its accuracy does seem to be pretty solid, too. It's a fairly recent release as far as Widgets go, and I expect it to be quite popular.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Book 41: My Life as a Fake, by Peter Carey

This fascinating novel about a literary hoax that leads to dire consequences is a quick read, though not what I would call easy. The story centers on a woman who is the publisher of a literary magazine. When she journeys to Malaysia with a friend, she makes an unexpected and remarkable discovery of some poetry that definitely merits publication and study. The apparent "keeper" of this volume is a man known to the publisher's traveling companion, and he seems to be a loathsome sort who has been left destitute in the shops of the city for some unknown reason. He tells the publisher his story, and what makes the tale particularly intriguing is the fact that he's is clearly an unreliable narrator who is disguising and/or distorting the truth in a variety of ways. Ultimately, the tale leads to the creation of a golem, but certainly not one that you might expect. It's a story that gets better and better upon reflection, and one to which I might return in the future for a follow-up read.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

WE3, by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

I was anxiously awaiting the release of this graphic novel after reading about the idea behind it. It's already been optioned for a theatrical release, and it was in the Variety story about the pickup that I saw the story compared to Terminator meshed with Homeward Bound. I was instantly sold by this premise, and went ahead and ordered the book in advance of its actual street date.

Now that I've read it, I would actually put it much closer to Richard Adams' Plague Dogs with a cyborg element involved. Basically, the story involves a cat, a dog and a bunny who were once beloved family pets but are now animals in an experimental government laboratory. They've been turned into ultimate killing machines as their bodies are inserted into machines and their brains are controlled by masters who give them destructive orders. They can even talk, to a degree. Naturally, they escape, and the government will go to all measures to try to eliminate them.

I should state from the outset that the story is not at all lighthearted or uplifting. This is an examination of animal experimentation from the grimmest of perspectives. There are some funny moments (the cat frequently comments on the "stink" of humans), but beyond that the tale is bloody, graphic and occasionally quite harrowing. As an animal lover, it was fairly difficult for me to read, in fact. I won't say the experience wasn't rewarding - the subject matter definitely deserves attention and the art was masterfully done. It's just that if you're expecting a cute puppy and kitty story or something that might be appropriate for kids, it's probably better to look somewhere else.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Pop Culture Weekly

Books

Currently Reading:
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling

Next in the Queue:
The Rope Eater, by Ben Jones
Possession, by A.S. Byatt

Most Recently Purchased:
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling


Music

Currently Listening To:
Soundtrack - Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - The best Danny Elfman score to date.


Movies

Most Recently Seen:
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - I just adored this film, and it might be my favorite of the year.

Wedding Crashers - I love Vince Vaughn and I adore Owen Wilson even more than him. I thoroughly enjoyed this film.

Miss Congeniality 2 - It would be my worst of the year if Uwe Boll hadn't had a movie released in 2005.

Most Anticipated:
Hustle & Flow
The Bad News Bears


TV

Currently Watching:
Ming's Quest - This show from Ming Tsai airs on the Fine Living network and has him setting out each week to find an indigenous recipe ingredient and then cooking it up at the end of the show. If you're unfamiliar with Ming, he's extremely charming and a blast to watch.

Recommended Viewing:
Firefly - Starts this Friday on Sci-Fi and airs at 7 p.m. Do yourself a favor and watch.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Book 40: In Her Shoes, by Jennifer Weiner

I don't generally go for books from the "chick lit" genre; however, Jennifer Weiner has been highly recommended on a number of blogs that I frequent on a regular basis. Also, since Curtis Hanson has a film based on the book being released later this year, I became intrigued. I am pleased to say that I was not disappointed, as the book offers a lovely character study of three different women. The two primary characters are Rose, a 30-year-old lawyer who lives a structured, maybe boring existence, and her sister Maggie, a 28-year-old free spirit who cares primarily about looking good. We also get to see the viewpoint of senior citizen Ella, who happens to be Rose and Maggie's grandmother, but has been out of touch with them from childhood on. It sounds like a pat tale from that brief description, but the three women are so richly drawn that the book is a pleasure to read. In addition, peripheral characters such as Ella's gentleman friend Lewis and Rose's lawyer acquaintance Simon are so charming that it's hard to resist them. The book is sometimes predictable, but I never found myself caring. Seeing the characters evolve was rewarding and enjoyable to the point that I look forward to reading Weiner's other books at some point in the very near future.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Widget of the Week: Serenity Countdown

It's the simplest of Widgets, but it's a must-have for the desktop of any Browncoat. That's right, Firefly fans, Joss Whedon's movie follow-up to the Fox television series will be hitting screens in a couple of months, and this Widget will tell you exactly how long is left until the big day. Even though among the fortunate few who have had the opportunity to screen the film early, I still love the way the Widget looks on my desktop with the stylish logo in the background. In fact, I'll miss the Widget when the countdown is over.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Astonishing X-Men Vol. 1, by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday

Joss Whedon moves from the Slayer-verse and the world of Firefly to the mutant storyline of X-Men as he tackles the story and gives it a bit of a new face. Starting out, he centers on Cyclops, Emma Frost, Beast, Kitty Pryde and Wolverine, who are heading up the school in Professor Xavier's absence. Going beyond the fact that Cyclops and Wolverine are in conflict (as usual), there's also a touchy situation that has arisen wherein a "cure" for mutants has been discovered. The art in the book is spectacular, and there are certain little touches throughout that make it quite clear that this is a Joss Whedon production. While I'm not necessarily a big comic reader unless the book is unique or different, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the world Whedon created and looking forward to the next books in the series.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Book 39: Chuck Dugan Is AWOL, by Eric Chase Anderson

Anyone who has seen The Royal Tenenbaums is already familiar with Eric Chase Anderson's work, although they might not know it. Anderson is the brother of Tenenbaums director Wes Anderson, and did the various drawings and portraits that adorn the walls of the Tenenbaum home. He also drew the box art for the Criterion Edition DVD. Now, Eric Chase Anderson has set out to create his own story - Chuck Dugan Is AWOL: A Novel With Maps - and it's a terrific read for any age.

The story is fairly simple, but never goes for the expected or pat result, which is refreshing. In fact, the book ends on a surprisingly ambiguous note, which is unique considering that it's probably at least partially targeted toward young readers. The story centers on an 18-year-old boy who has left his Marine training to try to help his mother, who seems to be marrying an evil, evil man called The Admiral. Additionally, he's just received a letter in which his father, now deceased, has directed him to some underwater treasure. Interspersed throughout the story are maps. Maps of locations, maps of boats, maps of houses, and even maps of human beings. The book is extremely charming and certainly sets itself up for a sequel - which should be just as much fun as the original.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Pop Culture Weekly

Books

Currently Reading:
In Her Shoes, by Jennifer Weiner

Next in the Queue
WE3, by Grant Morrison
My Life as a Fake, by Peter Carey

Most Recently Purchased
Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville


Music

Just Purchased
Sufjan Stevens, Illinoise


Movies

Most recently seen
Fantastic Four - Meh. Fun in spots, but mostly really boring.
Hostage - Surprisingly tense and powerful.

Most anticipated
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
The Wedding Crashers


TV

Currently watching
Two-part season finale to Battlestar Galactica - I came onto this show late, but it's easily one of the best things on TV

Most anticipated
Season Two of Battlestar Galactica (starts this Friday)

Monday, July 11, 2005

Fray, by Joss Whedon, Karl Moline and Andy Owens

This graphic novel from the mind of Joss Whedon takes the slayer universe he created in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and sets it in the future. It's set in a dystopic era with flying cars and mutated humans. These new mutant breeds aren't precisely the same sort that you might find in X-Men, but rather people who might be missing an arm, or a man who is essentially a fish. Also, there are creatures called Lurks, which will soon seem very familiar to anyone who has followed the Whedon-verse for any period of time.

In the midst of all this is a young woman named Melaka Fray, a girl who has some special powers. Soon, she is discovering that she's another in a long line of slayers, whose destiny is to fight demons - specifically vampires, even though she's never heard that word in her life. Oddly, her watcher isn't the one who trains her, but instead it's a large, demony looking fellow. The art in the book is spectacular and the story is quite enjoyable, with the types of twists and turns one would expect from Whedon. It's an outstanding take on the mythology he created in Buffy and Angel and a unique way to continue with a story that fascinates aficionados so much that oodles of fan fiction continues to emanate from their minds.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Widget of the Week: Panda Cam

Pandas are adorable. There's just no denying it. And so when I discovered that the San Diego Zoo has a webcam of their Panda exhibit, I naturally couldn't wait to add it to my dashboard. Every time I open the dashboard, the cute critter is right there in front of me, eating and… well, so far I've seen him eat a lot of vegetation. Last night, he also slept for awhile. You'd think that watching this webcam might get monotonous, but it continually stays engaging for reasons I just can't explain. In addition to the panda, Panda Cam also has the option for viewers to watch the zoo's elephants, apes and polar bears.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Book 38: Layer Cake, by J.J. Connolly

This book is the basis for the movie of the same name and is a crime novel primarily set in London. I'll have a Book vs. Movie forthcoming in the next few days to discuss the subject in detail, so I won't duplicate here. It's a solid first novel from Connolly and actually helped me to understand some of the context I missed when watching the film.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Book 37: The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova

This first novel from Elizabeth Kostova had been much touted in advance of its recent release. Not only was it picked up for theatrical adaptation by Sony, but countless reviews remarked on how well the book worked in its crafting of a vampire story. Since I've generally been a pretty big fan of horror novels and vampire stuff in particular, I was eagerly anticipating the day that this book would arrive on my doorstep, as I pre-ordered it with birthday money.

Sadly, the book in no way lived up to my hopes or even the slightest of my expectations.

I saw a couple of reviews that made note of the fact that The Historian is over-long, and the one in Entertainment Weekly actually remarked that the book was rather boring, particularly given that a story about vampires has no excuse for being dull. I figured that maybe these books were just minority opinions, and hoped that The Historian might be something like 2004's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, where despite the book's length, it was a pleasure to read each and every word - even the everlasting footnotes. Instead, The Historian was just deadly dull, and I found it a chore to read.

By around page 150, when literally nothing had happened yet, I started to worry and wondered if maybe I should just give up on the book. I hate doing that with books, though, and since the book was a gigantic 642 pages long, I was hoping that maybe things would pick up if I gave it another chance. I now wish I'd gone with that first impression, because it was another long week and some days before I could struggle through.

The book is advertised as a sort of historian's search and encounter with the Dracula legend, and I guess that's truthful to a degree. The final 100 pages do in fact pick up some in pace and there is probably an intriguing story in there somewhere. To get to that point, the reader must wade through pages upon pages of dull exposition and travelogue. The characters are not all that well-developed, with one exception (Helen), so it becomes increasingly difficult to care about their plight as the story moves along.

I do think that Kostova has a talent for language, and her love of books, history and locations is quite evident. I was just expecting something more engaging and while it didn't *have* to be action-packed, it would have been nice if anything…had…happened…at…all.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Pop Culture Weekly

Books

Currently Reading
Layer Cake, by J.J. Connolly

Next in the Queue
Fray, a comic book from Joss Whedon, Karl Moline and Andy Owens
Chuck Dugan Is AWOL, by Eric Chase Anderson

Most Recently Purchased
WE3, by Grant Morrison

Music

What's Playing on the Shuffle
Hard Times - Run DMC
Vertigo - U2
Jerk It Out - The Caesars
Ceremony - New Order
Sunken-Eyed Girl - Mike Doughty
This Fire - Franz Ferdinand
Over World - Final Fantasy X Soundtrack
Queen Bitch - David Bowie
Freaks - Live

Movies

Most Recently Seen
War of the Worlds - A terrific exercise in terror. The ending is highly, highly flawed, though.
Howl's Moving Castle - Simply delightful. It's not Miyazaki's most accessible film, but it's gorgeous, funny and heartfelt.

Most Anticipated
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
The Wedding Crashers

TV

Currently Watching
The Tick - I really miss this animated series, and am thrilled that Toon Disney is re-airing it.
Jackie Chan Adventures Series Finale - The show's quality has suffered in recent years, but they wrapped everything up perfectly. I understand that there probably wasn't much further to take the characters, but I'll still miss them.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Widget of the Week

For those who are lucky enough to be Apple computer users, Mac OS X v. 10.4 "Tiger" is the most recent operating system, and it includes a fantastic feature known as "Dashboard". With Dashboard, you can download a variety of Widgets to your desktop that are so handy, you might have everything you need just by popping your Dashboard onto your desktop. Simple widgets include a calendar, a calculator, and the local weather, but if you visit Apple's Dashboard Widget page, you'll find a host of new Widgets that you might want. I generally look through to see what's new each week, and thought it would be a fun feature to include the Widget of the Week here at the Hollis blog.

This week's Widget: Gas

In this current economic atmosphere where gas is becoming so expensive, it's starting to affect people's spending decisions, knowing where the cheapest gas can be purchased is paramount. This little widget will search the area around your zip code and tell you exactly where to go for the best value. As someone who drives a lot for my full-time job, this is a handy little gadget to have, for sure.


 
     


 
 

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