Coolio, ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ Rapper, Dies at 59 –

From a bookish, asthmatic child to crack addict to mainstream recording powerhouse, Coolio charted a path to hip-hop superstardom like no other.
— Read on

Sad news for music fans. Fans of fine action movies will look up his Wikipedia listing and wonder if they should watch his movie “Submerged” out of respect.

They should not. Nil nisi bonum, my dudes.

There Has Been or Will Be An Awakening

Listen to that voice. Who is it?

Maaaaaaybe THIS GUY?


Fan reactions at Digital Spy are undecided as to who the voiceover is, but I think it’s Benedict Cumberbatch. I recently watched a rerun of Graham Norton where Cumberbatch was encouraged/goaded/genially forced to say things in different voices, including a very funny bit of Smaug.

BONUS: Benedict Cumberbatch can’t say “Penguins” which is very awkward considering he voiced a heroic wolf who helps save the Penguins of Madagascar in the new animated feature out this weekend.


After watching the trailer, I’m pretty sure that the voice is Cumberbatch’s, even though he gallantly responded “No comment” to Graham Norton’s persistent questions.

Reading and Writing and Eating and Sleeping

Not too long ago, I got an email from Amazon:

We’re pleased to announce that the Amazon Associates program is again open to residents of the State of Illinois. We’re now able to re-open the program because the Illinois State Supreme Court recently struck down legislation that had forced Amazon to close the program to residents of Illinois. Amazon strongly supports federal legislation like the Marketplace Fairness Act that’s now pending before Congress, which is the only constitutional way to resolve interstate sales tax collection issues.

Well, now. It seems like I have to re-apply if this email is to be believed. I should have done something about it before Christmas, but given the way I’ve been reading books on my iPad Kindle app lately, it might not be a bad idea to explore this.

some time later, after refreshments…

All signed up again, and started a basic Amazon Deals page. All proceeds will benefit St Nicholas Episcopal Church, which offers an evening food pantry twice a month and hosts a lot of AA and GA support groups (there are at least 2 or 3 meetings every single day). We’re not just a church, we’re a community (including people who wouldn’t normally set foot in a churchy church).

Long, long, long ago I used to have a bookshelf page; I’ll have to see if I can easily set that up again.

Meanwhile, after stumbling across the works of Peter Mayle (saw a movie called A Good Year) I’ve been reading a lot more on my trusty old iPad. I’ve read… 4 books in the last 3 days – they’re light, fast reads, very engaging but somehow they leave you hungry for more.

And thanks to reading about all that delicious, locally sourced Provencal food, I ended up getting hungry for something savory and hearty, which is how I was somehow inspired to make a mish-mosh of Pasta Carbonara mixed up with sauteed kale with paprika. It was truly awesome. I kind of cheated by not using bacon or pancetta… we had a big hunk of honey ham left over that needed to be used, so I diced about a cup of juicy, tender ham and some of the fatty bits and got that crisped on the edges in the skillet, and then sauteed the blanched kale in that same skillet with onions, while also doing the magical “no cream” carbonara with egg and Parmesan cheese at the same time. Both recipes are from Simply Recipes, but they were mighty in combination.

Sauteed Kale with Smoked Paprika (I used regular paprika and tossed in some slivered almonds to toast in the same skillet)
Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Haunting Images of Oblivion: See the Film Before You Get Spoiled

Don’t read that 2011 press blurb about Tom Cruise’s latest movie, Oblivion, if you haven’t seen the film. It gives away some of the best twists in a pretty satisfyingly twisty and stylish science fiction outing. It may show up as a link on GooglePlus; I wanted to see what had been written about the film back when the project got Tom Cruise to commit and was shocked to see that the premise and biggest surprise twist was awkwardly given away.

What I found satisfactory about the film was that I was still trying to work out the “bedrock premise” about 3/4 through the run time. I’m a long-time science fiction fan, and I’ve been disappointed before by big-action blockbuster “SF” stories that are just popcorn delivery vehicles IN SPACE.

The cinematography is both beautiful and disturbing, contrasting the dystopian Earth and the sky-dwelling utopian lives of a very effective team (Cruise’s character is a “drone repair” tech, partnered with a beautiful communications tech).

Don’t read any reviews, don’t look it up, just go and see the film and form your own conclusions. I’ll say that Tom Cruise is NOT a favorite actor or action star of ours, but my husband David and I have formed a kind of grudging respect for the work he’s done in high-tech action movies, although personally I liked “Minority Report” (based on a story written by an actual SF writer) much more than any of the Mission: Impossible movies, which are simply spectacle.

David remarked, as I was writing this, that he also really liked the movie, “even though it had Tom Cruise in it.” So don’t let your pre-conceived notions hold you back: see the movie with an open mind, and prepare for it to be blown.

Watch the film, and ponder what happens to all of human creativity and culture as you do. Think about art and music, as well as architecture and literature. Think of all the precious things that could be lost in a planet-wide cataclysm, whether we bring it on ourselves, or it’s brought upon us via some sort of deus ex machina.

Here’s the old preview from Huffington Post, which does NOT contain the spoilers in the quoted portion, but does ruin the premise if you read it and haven’t seen Oblivion. The movie turns out to be quite a bit more than the press blurb leads you to believe; see it, then come back here and tell me what you thought. I checked Twitter last night for comments on the film, and it was about 3/4 “good movie” and about 1/4 “durr, whut?” comments.

While the rapture hasn’t quite gone down yet on Saturday, the end of human civilization on Earth as we know it will have already come and gone in Tom Cruise’s newest film commitment.

via Tom Cruise Joins 'Oblivion,' Joseph Kasinski's Sci-Fi Film.

Nerds Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Roman Numerals To Identify Star Trek Movies

My husband David and I were watching a cable rerun of one of the original-cast Star Trek movies last night, because we are nerds and thus we have no life. The official title of this movie is something long and involved: Star Trek (Insert Roman Numeral Here): The Search For Spock.

At least in our house, the official name of this movie is actually “Star Trek: You Klingon Bastard, You Killed My Son. You Klingon Bastard, You Killed My Son. YOU KLINGON BASTARD, YOU KILLED MY SON.

It takes place on the Genesis planet, immediately after the events in the previous movie, Star Trek: KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN! which of course was a sequel to the very first Star Trek classic-cast movie, Star Trek: VEEJUR NEEDS SPACE GUITARS.

In like fashion, the only way I can remember the Star Trek movie that follows ST: YKBYKMS is by calling it either “Star Trek: Double Dumbass On You,” or “Star Trek: Save The Damn Whales.” You may also remember it’s the one with the antique nuclear wessel.

The one after that is either “Star Trek: Oh, God!” or “Star Trek: Uhura’s Embarasssing Fan Dance,” and the one after that is generally “Star Trek: The Last Hurrah,” or “Star Trek: FFS, Let Picard Drive Next Time, Grandpa!”

And so on. The “Next Gen” installments, being more recent, have aged a little better for me. Some of them were excellent (“Star Trek: Very Manly! Lots of Testosterone!*“), and one or two of the later ones (“Star Trek: Sexy Bald Captain’s Clone”) were stinkbombs.

The new reboot was rousing, but inevitably, in my mind it has become both “Star Trek: You Romulan Bastard, You Blew Up My Vulcan!” and “Star Trek: Sector 90210.” The newest installment, which is still in “teaser mode” is likely to become Star Trek: Sexy Hot KHAAAAAAAAAAAAN!” if the hints and spoilers are accurate.

So anyway, in spite of some serious scenery noshing mostly by Shatner, we enjoyed watching “ST:YKBYKMS.” Our affection for the characters still overcomes our dislike of the hokey plot elements. Also, this movie is the one with Christopher Lloyd doing a little “Spaceman Jim” riff when he drops into laid-back English while using his communicator screen, instead of barking orders in monosyllabic Klingon. I started watching pretty early on; the makeup on the Klingons looked pretty bad and you could see where the prostheses began on the upper cheeks.

This is also the one where the mighty Enterprise is given the space-operatic version of a Viking funeral; since Starfleet wasn’t going to refit the old gal, it seemed fitting that Kirk destroy her (with the classic destruct sequence from the old series). That’s okay, they get a shiny new one in the next movie, but not before limping home (and back in time) in that creaky old Klingon Bird of Prey with the rather useful cloaking device. Oh, that reminds me; the next movie after this one also goes by “Star Trek: Everybody Remember Where We Parked The Car.”)

How do you remember multiple-installment genre movies? How the hell does anybody remember all the Friday the 13th and Halloween installments? My system works for me, but admittedly it worked better when there were Shatnerisms to play with.

*Before Star Trek: First Contact was released, I distinctly remember reading an interview somewhere with Jonathan Frakes, who directed in addition to playing Riker. The interview included a tease of Frakes directing Patrick Stewart hunting Borg survivors on the Enterprise armed with a prop plasma rifle. Frakes was shouting encouragement, such as “very manly! Lots of testosterone!,” and so that is how I will always remember this movie.

A Magically Mechanical Movie: “Hugo” – See It In A Premium Theater If You Can

Roger Ebert gave a highly positive review of “Hugo” recently:

“Hugo” is unlike any other film Martin Scorsese has ever made, and yet possibly the closest to his heart: a big-budget, family epic in 3-D, and in some ways, a mirror of his own life. We feel a great artist has been given command of the tools and resources he needs to make a movie about — movies. That he also makes it a fable that will be fascinating for (some, not all) children is a measure of what feeling went into it.

via Hugo :: :: Reviews

Scorsese has a cameo, too. Lots of other well-known actors are in the film, too.

He also had a link on his website to a review-by-email from one of his readers in Vancouver, BC:

When the film started, it was 2D, but the “masking” was wrong; the top and bottom of the film was bleeding off-screen. I noticed the film was digital, not 35mm. It wasn’t focused and I could see artifacts. The opening shot, cityscape of Paris. A guy got up and walked out — then returned; they fixed it. He’d gone to complain.

Ten minutes into the film, the woman next to me checks her cell for messages.

On the way out, the manager hands everyone a coupon for a free movie and apologizes about the film at the start etc.

Cheryl wanted to collect “points” on a club card and we headed back to the lobby; she wasn’t able to get credit for buying tickets when the system was down; cash only. While there, we chatted to the ticket girl, and she told us about a co-worker who’d arrived one night to attend a movie. During the movie, someone used their cell phone — so she slips out of the theater, changes into her Cinema-plex uniform in the staff room, goes back and tells the woman to TURN OFF her phone. Then leaves to change back into her street clothes, and resumes her seat in the theater to watch the rest of the film!

Sadly, we’ve had moviegoing experiences like this before, but happily, not tonight!

The movie is magical; every performance is pitch-perfect. The two young people are breathtakingly good. The secondary characters, denizens of the Montparnasse train station according to the review on IMDB, are all wonderful, quirky, charming, or all of the above. The music is lovely. The camera work is thrilling (the swooping, flying shot through the station that opens the movie deserves 3-D and seats that face the center of the screen straight on as ours did). The embedded story of the history of film, of Cinema with a capital C, is handled sensitively and movingly.

And we didn’t watch it in a grubby multiplex nearest us that’s full of cardboard cutouts of future bad films and raucous packs of adolescents bent on disrupting every screening they wander into.

No, we decided to give something called “iPic” a try, at a shopping center a little farther out that’s located in an area that was empty farmland and meadows a few years ago.

We hadn’t been out that way in a few years – somehow they plopped an upscale “outmall” or two out there not far from the Sears home office area. Now I really hope Sears doesn’t up sticks and move, because all these other businesses and restaurants have located out there.

But I digress.

The iPic near us was… amazing.

We walked in and decided to talk to a staffer at the front desk rather than our usual move of opting for the touch-screen kiosk. Good thing, too; we got a few dollars off for taking a free membership, and we’ll have to remember to either book tickets online with our membership, or buy them at the counter. It was more like making an airline reservation, because after she explained the difference in the seating (there was either premium leather seats, or super-deluxe premium with recliners, pillows, and blankets with concierge meals).

We opted for “regular” premium; they were only showing the 3-D version of “Hugo” so we selected the seats the counter staffer suggested – at pretty much the optimum distance for viewing the screen straight on and centered. David never really likes 3-D, but I found this one movie to be crisply and cleanly rendered, with no fuzzy edges or stray “rainbows.” The depth of field was interesting, and more than one shot was clearly planned with 3-D in mind.

There’s one extreme close-up of Sasha Baron Cohen that looks like his head is about to land in your lap… but it’s a very emotional yet subtly played shot. It had to be, because the medium picks up every eyelash twitch.

Still, some of the effects were both very beautiful and effective with the enhanced depth.

As we watched the movie unfold, I was aware of several things: my seat was VERY comfortable. It was quiet in the theater – there weren’t that many people, but I sensed that people were really wrapped up in the movie. Afterwards, we walked out through the bar (BAR!) past the big fireplace (FIREPLACE) and through the restaurant (RESTAURANT). I stopped off in the ladies’ room, which had slate floors, upscale washbasins, and thought how it would not look amiss in a trendy restaurant. Then we walked out, seeing where Santa had been earlier with a photographer (SANTA WITH A PHOTOGRAPHER) by the second fireplace in the lounge/conversation area (INSERT ALL CAPS SUPERLATIVE HERE).

Yes, it was expensive. We were definitely paying premium, but with this membership thing we saved enough to bring it more in line with what we normally pay.

It’s definitely worth it to never have to deal with the packs of noisy adolescents that infest the closer, cheaper theaters. I don’t think they’re going to be willing to pay the upcharge, and the theater staff will have a vested interest in seeing they don’t disturb other patrons.

There are plenty of nice restaurants in the “outmall” near the theater, too. We’ll be back. For one thing, it was nice seeing a movie, that so clearly is a love letter to cinema, in a modern movie theater that is so beautifully designed.

We’ll definitely be back.

You Must Go See The Muppets As Soon As Possible

Miss Piggy in a Pink Chanel Suit

One of the best reasons for seeing the newest Muppets movie is for the ‘where are they now?’ treatment they get – some are doing better than others; Miss Piggy is doing pretty well and looking fabulous in pink Chanel in Paris. There are many, many truly laugh out loud moments, and many more “Did they really say that?” chuckles. We’ve decided we’ll have to go see it again later, or be sure to get the inevitable DVD with all the goodies, just to catch all the juicy gags that were hard to catch in a packed theater.

The Muppet franchise is revitalized with “The Muppets,” a funny, wickedly self-aware musical that opens by acknowledging they’ve outlived their shelf life. There’s some truth in that observation; this is the first Muppet movie since “Muppets From Space” (1999), and there wasn’t exactly a clamor for a revival. Yet for those who grew up with the Muppets, they had lovable personalities and (shall we say?) character defects.

What’s rather canny about this revival is that it sidesteps the fact that some younger viewers may not actually be very familiar with the Muppets.

Their parents will be the fans. The movie opens with the Muppets disbanded; their movies and TV shows are all in the past. They’ve moved on. Miss Piggy, we discover, became the editor of a Paris fashion magazine.

via The Muppets :: :: Reviews

Yes, and it’s the ones that are not doing that well that add poignancy to the story – it’s not been a happily-ever-after for some of the secondary characters. That the human characters (and one new Muppet character) do seem to inhabit a perfect little small-town universe just makes the gritty “reality” that much harder for them to accept. And they decide to do something about it.

The movie keeps delivering laughs… hours later, we’re still cackling: “Maniacal laughter. Maniacal laughter! MANIACAL LAUGHTER!”

Okay,, I give in. I’m scrobbling again… to The Muppets. Blogging muse must be fed.

I’ve given in to, as I found that it was easy to add a widget to scrobble tracks I’ve listened to on iTunes or via (it’s not working for the internet radio stations I listen to on Winamp). So far, I’ve listened to random things, and something I created called “The Muppets Radio.” It’s made for some interesting audio moments, which eventually led to Monty Python and something wacky called Moxy Fruvious. It’s high time I opened up to new music… I’m hoping it’ll help me dare to be a bit more productive and creative around here.

If you stumble across the blog after a long time away, you’ll see there’ve been a lot of changes. I’m giving a more modern WordPress theme a try… flirted with WooThemes, but found that their otherwise nifty WooTumblog plugin, paired with the Express for WordPress app for the iPhone really only works with Woothemes – all other themes require some modifications. The default Twenty Ten theme was the only example given for how to get it working; I had it working for a while with my previous theme, Amazing Grace, but it stopped working after the most recent WordPress version came out.

So, I decided to try the latest default theme, called Twenty Eleven. However, it was completely different from the previous default theme, and the instructions for getting WooTumblog configured were nowhere to be found. In fact, there was some indication on the support forums for WooTumblog that the latest version of WordPress kind of indicated that it would be harder and harder to integrate it into any non-Woothemes template.

Meh, I had played around with it from the iPhone, but it didn’t really make my blogging any easier from there. So I bailed on it (especially when an adjustment I tried to make to get it working totally broke my website. Buh-bye).

That said, I went all in with the new default theme, but still wanted a three column layout.

Enter NomNom Twenty Eleven child theme by Zeaks.

  • 8 premade color schemes
  • 6 new layouts including 3 different 3 column layouts
  • Nivo Slider added to header with several options to control the look
  • Option to resize the header
  • Support for excerpts with post thumbnails
  • Second menu above the header
  • Sidebar on post pages
  • Area to add your own custom CSS that will not be overwritten with an upgrade
  • Google Font selector for most areas
  • Built in related posts under each post with on/off option
  • Superfish dropdown menu effects
  • Custom Twitter, Flickr, Author Biography widgets
  • Plain text to URL support(just type a url in a post, no need to create a link)
  • WPPageNavi template and style support
  • Color options for all menu areas
  • All code is well commented

I didn’t really start working with it until yesterday, but it has plenty of flexibility for the kinds of color, graphic, and font tweaks that you might make to adapt a default theme. I’ve already added my normal CSS drop shadows – nice not to have to add it to the stylesheet, this theme has a custom CSS box where you can add it and it supposedly won’t get messed up in an upgrade. I’ve also added about a dozen custom banners that are taken from my own pictures – easy as pie, much simpler and more striking than the way I was doing it before. I may still fool with the Flickr badge in the right column.

There’s still some things to tweak but this is a pretty good start. And it’s been pleasant to listen to come up with variations on “The Muppets” as a radio station, and see the music get added to my left side bar. I’ve also been listening to Radio Riel, my standby, which WON’T scrobble from what I can tell – via Winamp and

More later, headed out to see “White Christmas” at the Marriott Lincolnshire.

Kung Fu Panda 2 A Rousing Extended Tale (Pun Intended)

We saw Kung Fu Panda 2 yesterday, and it was a joy to see a sequel that extended the original story so seamlessly and with such generous emotional satisfaction. Ebert liked it too, but thought the 3-D version detracted. Based on that assessment, we saw the “normal” 2-D version, and liked it very much indeed:

“Kung Fu Panda 2” is exactly as you’d expect, and more. The animation is elegant, the story is much more involving than in the original, and there’s boundless energy. I enjoyed it as fully as I possibly could, given the horror of its 3-D. The original film, in 2-D wide-screen, was just fine. But never mind. Hollywood has brainwashed us or itself that 3-D is an improvement and not an annoyance.What’s best about this sequel is that it’s not a dutiful retread of the original, but an ambitious extension. Of the many new elements, not least is the solution of the mystery of how Mr. Ping, a goose, could be the biological father of Po, a panda. In the original film, as nearly as I can recall, every character represented a different species, so I thought perhaps inscrutable reproductive processes were being employed. But no, Po’s parenthood is explained here, and it has a great deal to do with new developments in the kingdom.

via Kung Fu Panda 2 :: :: Reviews.

I spotted at least 2 Easter eggs or visual jokes – there’s a Pixar reference (this is a Dreamworks film) in a fight scene along a city street (watch out for the signs, Po!) and there’s an old-school gaming reference immediately afterwards that made me gigglesnort uncontrollably. I was already laughing hysterically when at the beginning of the “stealth mode” sequence, Po truly takes on the role of the Dragon (you will, too), but the sequence built on the laughs to a level that was just pure, childlike delight.

Yet the fight scenes were also intense, although true cartoon-animal violence is handled senstitively. The exploration of Po’s backstory brought me to tears late in the movie, where only the reel before I was laughing or chuckling most of the time.

The antagonist this time out, played by a sinister-sounding Gary Oldman, is a royal peacock with parental issues who seems to have mastered the “war fan” style of fighting using his magnificent Chinese-style tail plumage. His encounters with Po are amazing to watch.

In fact, all the animation is just jaw-droppingly gorgeous, and there are flashback sections that are told in a simplified visual style that evokes Chinese water colors. The opening and closing credits are beautifully rendered “Chinese cut-paper puppet” scenes.

Jack Black owns the panda, who’s really come into his own as a skilled warrior (who’s still a plushy looking panda after all).  And there’s just a touch of “skadoosh” too.

Highly recommended – we saw it at a matinee and there were a ton of kids, so think about going later when there might be more adults willing to be seen at a “kids’ movie.”