Saturday, April 9, 2011

Source Code

There's something irresistibly compelling about the idea of second chances. Part of it may be the utter impossibility of them in the real world. We can get the opportunity to make amends, or to try again, but we cannot ever go back and start afresh. Except, of course, in the zillions of books and movies, including Source Code, that explore time travel with this very goal in mind.

I am, as you might expect, an absolute sucker for them.

Thus, I expected to find Source Code at least interesting and probably enjoyable, and indeed it was. I'm glad I saw it, I liked it, and I recommend it to those in the mood for an interesting SF story.

I wasn't sure, however, whether it would be intelligent, internally consistent, well-acted, or, in general, well-crafted. On that front, I have to report mixed results.

The acting was strong. Jake Gyllenhaal delivered the leading man goods in a scruffy but adorable style that worked well with what the story required of his character. Michelle Monaghan was adequately appealing in a role that gave her little room to shine. The best performance of the film came from Vera Farmiga, who did almost all of her work while sitting in a chair and playing a character one of whose jobs was not to show any sign of significant emotion. After Up in the Air and this, her name alone will now tempt me to try a movie.

The visual composition of the film was good enough, which sufficed given that most of it occurred in a relatively small number of sets.

The movie falls down, however, on the intelligent and internally consistent fronts. I'm completely willing to suspend my disbelief for its version of physics, but the twist that led to the "surprise" ending (you had to have been asleep not to have seen it coming from the first ten minutes) just didn't mesh well with what they'd presented before. Plus, we have a lingering problem that the movie hopes you never notice: what about the guy whose body Gyllenhaal took over? That completely innocent dude is dead, a casualty of this particular conflict, and the filmmakers just hope you don't notice.

Despite those weaknesses, however, I still enjoyed it. It's not in the class of The King's Speech, and yes, once again, I had to turn off part of my brain to enjoy it, but I'm willing to do that for many movies. The hero saves the day, he and the romantic lead get a chance to build a new life, and we have a good time watching it all happen.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Panciuto redux

Our first meal at Panciuto was so good that we were certain we would have to visit it again soon. I had to know if we'd gotten lucky or if Chef Aaron Vandemark's work was really that good. Only a week later, we were back. The answer quickly became obvious: the food at Panciuto truly is excellent.

The menu looked largely the same as the previous week, with only a few dishes being completely new, but everything except the two desserts--both again excellent--had changed in small but important ways. The bruschetta used different greens and cheese and though delicious was definitely different from its predecessor. Topping the carpaccio this time were fried oysters, a touch I expected to hate. I'm really not an oyster person, but I had to try them just to see what Vandemark would do. I'm very glad I did. The oysters were the best I've ever tasted and had the mouth feel of foie gras. Amazing.

This second trip included a larger group, and every person enjoyed every single dish. The service can't keep up with the food, but sadly, I've come to see that as a given in local restaurants. It's not that the service is egregiously bad, mind you; it's not. It simply does not do justice to the food.

As far as I'm concerned, Panciuto is now firmly set as one of the top restaurants in the Triangle. If you live in Raleigh or Cary, the rather long drive can be off-putting, but just allocate the time and make the trip. You'll be glad you did.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Telling the story you want to tell

A while back, my friend, Eric, won a StorySLAM competition at The Monti. Eight people compete. Each goes on stage and tells a story for five minutes. Three groups of judges award them points. The winner is the person with the most points. I didn't get to see the stories that evening, but I did later hear Eric's story online, and he did a swell job with it. (I'd give you the URL, but I can't find it online any longer.)

Earlier tonight, the Monti held its championship event, in which eight winners, including Eric, competed. I was able to attend this one.

I had a grand time. All eight storytellers delivered commendable performances. Humor generally reigned supreme this evening, but a few of the talks, including Eric's, were on the more serious side.

Eric didn't win this time. As I said, humor was in favor this evening, and though his talk contained many funny moments, it also held many serious ones.

Eric knew going in that he was unlikely to win if he told this story, but it concerned something that had just happened, and the event was important to him. He decided to tell the story he wanted to tell, no matter what. He did it well, and he deserved the loud ovation he received.

Any of us who tell stories face choices all the time, and many of those choices have the potential to affect the tales we tell. I don't think it's at all a problem to choose to work in a particular area, such as a genre or sub-genre, but I do believe that when it comes to the actual story itself, you will do your best work only when you tell the story you want to tell. I'm proud of Eric for doing just that, and I'm glad I got to see him do it.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

We should all feel this way every day

A friend recently acquired some old family photos. She showed me a few of them, including the one below of her. My reaction was immediate and visceral:

Wouldn't it be great if you felt that way every day?

I love the unabashed joy in the expression, so I asked her if I could take a picture of it with my phone and put it here. She agreed, so I'm sharing it with you. As always, click on it to see a larger, higher-resolution image.

I don't mean, by the way, that you should have that feeling all the time; that much laughter would physically hurt. It would, though, be a most excellent thing to feel that happy at least once every day. I fear most adults don't, and I confess to not doing a very good job myself of pursuing joy. Something to change, methinks.

(Bonus points, of course, go to those who can identify the friend.)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Another TED talk I loved

I am clearly a sucker for the talks with performances, but this talk from a bit over a month ago really worked for me. If all the talking in the beginning bugs you, wait for the scenes of the virtual choirs; they are worth it.

It touched me deeply. I hope it works for you, too.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Keeping the Children No More giveaway program going

As many of you are probably aware, last year I announced a program in which I said I would be donating all of my income from sales of the hardback of my last Jon and Lobo novel, Children No More, to Falling Whistles to help rehabilitate and reintegrate war-affected children. If you weren't aware of this program, you can learn more about it on the Children No More Web site.

I've decided now to change that program.

I'm going to donate to Falling Whistles everything I earn from all sales of all editions, electronic and print, hardback and paperback, of the novel.

This decision is going to cost me a fair amount of money. I had originally planned to keep the proceeds of the ebook and paperback sales because, well, it's nice to get some compensation for the year's worth of work that goes into writing a novel. I decided, though, that I could afford to live without the money, and the cause could definitely use it.

I won't repeat here all the information on the site I mentioned above. You can read it there. What I will repeat is this: we should not use children as soldiers, and we should help those poor kids whom others have used in this horrible way.

The paperback of Children No More goes on sale on July 5th of this year. Here's my request of all of you: Help promote it. Buy copies. Get others to do it. If you don't want to support the book, donate directly to Falling Whistles.

As we say on the site,

Lose yourself in other worlds, do a good deed in this one.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Memories burst unbidden

They do, they really do.

In 1976, I had the privilege of seeing the Bob Dylan and the Rolling Thunder Revue show. That experience shot into my mind, and with it came these two songs. I can't explain why. No point in trying. I still enjoy them, though, and I hope you will, too.

This rendition isn't from the tour, but I did get to see Baez sing it live. That was magic... was hearing Dylan sing this.

And now we return you to my regularly scheduled brain.


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