A penny saved is ridiculous.

A penny saved is ridiculous.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Hunger sated

I suppose I should go on record with some kind of opinion about The Hunger Games, both book and movie, now that the movie is finally beginning to fade from sight after several spectacular weeks at the top of the charts.

Actually, I don't have an extreme or unique opinion of any kind on this matter. Simply put, I thought The Hunger Games was a pretty good book that was adapted into a pretty good movie. There were some things I thought the book did better than the movie and some things I thought the movie did better than the book, but overall I liked both just fine.  I can't say I absolutely loved the book or movie, but I thought both were solid and perfectly satisfying.

I might go into some of the things in the book and movie that caught my fancy in a future post, but for now I'll just say that it was refreshing to see, in both versions of the story, a narrative aimed at young teens that A) was genuinely interesting to this non-teen, and B) carried a decent amount of emotional complexity and dark thematic material.

While the story construction and pacing are all over the map in the final two books in the series, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, both books had some particularly interesting ideas and plot points that I'm looking forward to seeing dramatized in their inevitable film versions. Many of those elements center around the idea that, sadly, opportunism isn't always limited to the activities of the "bad guys".

So, as said at the outset, if you haven't already checked out The Hunger Games, either book or movie, try one or both out. The book is a click away on Kindle (currently going for five bucks) and the movie is still in a lot of theaters.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Bond news

Some interesting literary news was released yesterday. Ian Fleming Publications announced that William Boyd (pictured), the award-winning author of Restless, Any Human Heart, and many other novels, has been engaged to write the next James Bond novel.

Interestingly, the novel will feature a "classic Bond" and will be set in the late 1960's. So much for the re-booted Bond presented by Jeffery Deaver last year in Carte Blanche, eh?

The full press release is floating around the internet for those who want to read it, but this post contains the gist of the announcement. The as-yet untitled novel (with no plot details yet released, either) will be published in Fall 2013 by Jonathan Cape in the UK and HarperCollins in the United States and Canada.

The next James Bond movie, Skyfall, will reach U.S. movie screens this coming November.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Opening Pandora's box

The Pandora Radio app is a favorite among tablet and other mobile device users. Most of you know the deal: you open the app, type in the name of a favorite recording artist, and Pandora will instantly create a radio station that plays the work of that particular artist, and- here's the part that impresses people when they first hear about the service- also presents the work of additional performers you'll probably also enjoy.

For example, if you ask Pandora to create a Frank Sinatra station, you'll hear lots of Sinatra, but also a lot of Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, and Mel Torme. Terrific, huh?

Well, it is until you start listening for a while and you stumble upon Pandora's true genius: turning a limitation into a selling point.

You see, within a month or two of enjoying say, the Frank Sinatra station, you'll discover that the real reason that Pandora mixes in a lot of artists working in the same genre of Sinatra is because, well, it simply doesn't have enough Sinatra songs available to fill a station with just Sinatra. It's the same two dozen Sinatra songs. And the Tony Bennett station (if you create one) doesn't have enough Tony Bennett material to just play Tony Bennett, and the Ella Fitzgerald station doesn't have... well, you get the picture.

See it now? Pandora's ingenious solution to this dilemma was to divert listeners' attention from its limited playlists by making it seem like the service's padding of individual stations with other artists' songs isn't a short-sighted budget solution but something cool: the ability to create a tailor-made radio station for those who like a particular artist.

The related discovery I also quickly made is that the Frank Sinatra station- which plays the music of Sinatra, Tona Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, and a handful of others- is exactly the same as the Tony Bennett station- which plays the music of Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and a few others. Which is the same as the Ella Fitzgerald station, which plays the music of Fitgerald, Sinatra, and... well, again, you get the picture.

There's a lot less "tailor-made" creating going on when one discovers- to give a nod to classical music enthusiasts for a moment- that the Beethoven station is exactly the same station as the Mozart station.

And, again, when you scrutinize each individual artist? It seems to be the same twenty-five songs. Maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but I really do hear a lot of repeated songs if I listen to large blocks of Pandora during the course of a week.

Pandora Radio is still fun on my iPad and on my wife's Kindle Fire, and yes, occasionally Pandora does seem to add some new songs from an artist's backlog. But I just want to let Pandora know that someone out there has noticed the bit of polish and spin it mixes into the description of its service. And I can't be the only one.

Anyway, I'm in the mood for some movie music, so I think I'll put on the John Williams station I created. And I guarantee that within twenty minutes I'll hear Williams' Jurassic Park theme and Jerry Goldsmith's theme from Rudy. Guaranteed. Sigh, and I don't even like Rudy.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Edgy fun

Thanks to Netflix's streaming service, I've happily discovered the perverse joys of Archer, an animated spy spoof that's currently unspooling its third season on basic cable's FX channel. I'm halfway through the first season and the episodes just keep getting better.

The show is something, combining perverse (often downright filthy) humor, stylish animation, and spy stories that are actually dramatic and involving. The plots, however, always take a back seat to the outrageousness of master spy Sterling Archer, who works for a government agency mostly populated by beautiful but very neurotic women. The show plays fair, though: the handful of men at the agency are pretty neurotic, too.

While there's lots of variety to the plots, most episodes on some level involve Archer contorting and manipulating the latest crisis or mission to give him the opportunity to bed one or more of his female co-workers, or ditch them because it's time to move on. I never said Archer was a sweetie. But, don't worry, the women aren't doormats and usually figure out Archer's angles and act accordingly.

Incidentally, Archer gets away with a lot of his craziness because his intelligence agency, ISIS, is headed by his mother, who is too busy covering up her ongoing affair with the head of Russia's intelligence service to find the time to run a tight ship at home.

Stylish animation and music, great voice acting, decent action plots, outrageous humor (the show isn't for the kids), and frequent, genuine sexiness make Archer a winner. If you're in the right frame of mind for this sort of thing, definitely give Archer a whirl.

The early episodes of Archer are available in a variety of formats, including various streaming services and DVD.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Dark but good

Val McDermid's The Mermaids Singing is a decent, fast-moving serial killer thriller that thankfully pays as much attention to its likable police investigator characters as it does to the frequent and disturbing sexual crimes on hand. Otherwise the novel, based in London and its environs, might have been a bit too much to take.

The friendship between police detective Carol Jordan and serial killer profiler Doctor Tony Hill, which quickly develops when Dr. Hill is called in to help the police with a string of killings in the gay community, is a particuarly enjoyable aspect of the novel. Interestingly, however, that friendship and developing flirtation is complicated by the fact that Tony is tormented by his own unusual sexual problems when he isn't trying to unravel the weird sexual predilections of the killer he and the police are chasing.

With frequent changes in viewpoint- sometimes the story is told from Tony's point of view, sometimes Carol's, and often via the killer himself- the story avoids one particular flavor, which keeps the reading experience fresh. Again, though, readers should be warned that some of those flavors are fairly dark and brutal.

The Mermaids Singing, which originally came out in the mid-1990's, has since spawned several more novels featuring Dr. Tony Hill and police investigator Carol Jordan. I plan to check them out at some point, as- darkness and all- this was an enjoyable crime story.

The Mermaids Singing is available on Kindle for $7.99.