Saturday, September 22, 2007

Another silent week

It's been another thrill-packed week. Sorry to anyone who has come to expect daily updates. Last night, Friday night, I enjoyed the only uncommitted time of the entire week; and even that was less debauched than it might have been, since I jumped at the opportunity to put in some overtime at work. Eventually I did manage to go out for a bite to eat and then veg out in front of a video.

Here are some of the things y'all have missed. One time this past week, I dined at the Fox and Hound in Chesterfield MO. All I had was a medium-welldone cheeseburger (I chose Cheddar out of a list of 3 or 4 cheeses), thick-cut steak fries, and a Sprite, but it was all quite good. The burger had a nice thickness and smoky-charred flavor, the pickles were interestingly unique, the fries were extraordinary, and the surroundings were very attractive. I felt underdressed in my customary work outfit of chinos and polo shirt. But at 3-ish in the afternoon, as I was on my way home from work (my work hours are a bit unusual, I'll admit), there weren't a lot of other diners to be offended by my appearance.

Last night my debauch-of-choice was the St. Louis Sports Zone, at Kenrick Plaza off Watson Road in, I believe, Shrewsbury MO. It's the type of sports bar where you can play a computerized trivia game with patrons of Hot Wings restaurants across the country. It's a large place, which seems even larger now that they've finished tearing out some internal walls, and it is full of loud music, big-screen TVs mostly showing ESPN and similar networks (it's a good place to watch poker, I find). It has a dart-board somewhere, and you always come home from it with the smell of second-hand smoke on your clothes.

Nevertheless, Happy Hour is worthy of its name because you can have their Trashed Wings (like Buffalo Wings, only fried a second time to make them rather crispy than greasy), stuffed potato skins, toasted ravioli, and quite a few other excellent appetizers served in generous portions for a really reasonable price. Last night I went with the Trashed Wings and an order of spinach and artichoke ravioli, washed down with two glasses of Fat Tire, a really good domestic beer that is getting so well-known that the folks at Anheuser Busch should be concerned. Everything was good, right down to the marinara sauce for dipping the ravioli. It was also a more than filling meal for a guy who had snacked a little here and there but never eaten lunch. A $20-bill covered it all plus the server's tip.

It has been several weeks since I've gone to a big-screen movie. This is very unusual for me. Since I went to college over 15 years ago, I haven't missed very many weekends at the movies. It may say a lot about the uninspiring selection of new films that have opened during the past month or so, or perhaps it reflects more on how busy I have been, or how tight dollars have become. Lately, when I've really needed a break from thinking and reading and squinting through my windshield, I have turned to DVDs of television programs. If I find a reasonably-priced boxed set of an entire season of a TV show that seems interesting, I get it & watch it in my spare time, when I have any. It beats watching TV by a long throw. The main reason is that I hate commercial breaks from the depths of my soul.

A couple weeks ago, the program I caught on DVD was "Heroes," season one. That was a magnificent show! And I am so glad I got to see it all at once, without being dragged through the torment of waiting until next week - or worse, after a six-week hiatus, etc. - to find out what happened next. My only complaint is the amount of time each episode spent reminding the viewer of what happened previously. I suppose this was necessary, what with six-week hiatuses and the radical complexity of the series. There were a LOT of independent storylines, covering a large number of characters, some of whom only came in for a few moments of treatment in a given episode. As their stories gradually arced and melded together, you had to juggle a lot of mindblowing stuff, such as Sulu from Star Trek being a master of samurai-style swordplay, and the invulnerable cheerleader's adopted father being a bad guy and a good guy at the same time, and the adorable boy-man-hero being the cause of an explosion that could lead to a turning point in human history.

Heroes is a gripping tale about several extraordinary people finding out how extraordinary they are, trying to integrate their powers into their everyday lives, finding each other, and gradually working out whether they will do good or evil with what has been given them. A major part of the suspense in the series rises from this last question: will so-and-so turn out to be a good guy or a bad guy? One episode that gives you a glimpse of a possible future world is particularly disturbing because it upsets your expectations about many of these characters. And there are sinister things afoot. A shadowy organization has plans for these "special" people, plans that anyone who cares about those people would want stopped, but that may not be stoppable. Creepy characters fill the edges of the picture, from the unnamed Haitian who can erase people's memories to the serial killer who literally takes people's heads apart to see how they work. The number of conflicting agendas becomes overwhelming, especially after you add in the hot mama with super strength and multiple personality syndrome, an explosive combination.

It's basically a comic book or graphic novel brought to life on film, but every page has a thrill or a chill or a surprise on it. I like it because it's the kind of tale that makes you root for the characters - not necessarily for their victory or even their survival, but for their conscience. And it ramps up to a final episode that brings all the storylines to a fitting climax, and that leaves the door open - somehow, I don't understand how - to a second season, or rather "volume." Apparently the series has been accompanied by actual graphic novels, so anyone who has more time to blow than I do, can explore the story even further and enjoy it on even more sensory levels. But even the TV show alone is an impressive creative achievement for network TV.

A more recent DVD conquest, which I am still in the process of watching, was season two of Bones, the forensic anthropology mystery-thriller starring Emily Deschanel and David Borneanaz. I basically like it, though it is a very uneven show. For example, just last night I saw two episodes, one of which was exceptionally good, the other quite bad. The good one had the Deschanel's title character trapped with one of her lackeys in a car buried underground, thanks to a serial killer called the "Grave Digger." It was an unusual episode that really kept me hooked. The episode after it was a sad, silly riff on The Blair Witch Project, told from the point of view of forensic scientists who have recovered the spooky video of screaming film students in the haunted woods, plus some human remains. I was amazed that the show could attempt such an obvious rip-off without acknowledging the source and making a self-conscious joke out of it. Besides, it was a dull, predictable, uninspired episode, with the cast seeming to work their way grimly through it, just wanting it over with.

Bones, as I said, is uneven. One reason it is uneven is that David Borneanaz is uneven. Sorry, Angel fans, but the man is hardly an actor. When more than muscular bravado and tough-guy repartee is required, he isn't up to the job. I really feel bad for him when the script requires him to emote, because there isn't a moment when you're thinking about how his character feels. No, you're just thinking, "There goes David Borneanaz, trying to emote." Most of his co-stars do better, though the show doesn't explore their characters in as much depth.

And finally, my last week or two has had some notable musical experiences. One that I particularly enjoyed was the CD of Rossini's Stabat Mater, the version conducted by Chailly, which I mentioned in a previous post. It arrived on Tuesday in time for me to listen to it before I went to Symphony Chorus rehearsal, and it was wonderful. My favorite bit was the tenor aria Cuius animam gementem. It really is true that, at least in Chailly's hands, this sacred piece sounds like Rossini without for a minute sounding like opera. The tortured harmonies, particularly in the last couple of movements, make sure of that. It's an altogether beautiful piece with a thrilling conclusion, and the perspective of having heard the whole thing made Tuesday night's rehearsal that much more interesting.

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