Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Bionic Woman -- Michelle Ryan

British TV star Michelle Ryan steps into the titanium sneakers (or is that "trainers?") of Linsey Wagner to play Jaime Summers, the Bionic Woman, in a remake of the classic Seventies TV series premiering this Fall.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Greetings again, true believers!

I've been remiss in my posting lately. While this is often considered the kiss of death for bloggers, I see it as a sign that I am out there living experiences, training hard, and learning new things to share with you all rather than typing away my time in front of a cathode ray tube.

Here's the latest in Japanese knife fighting videos on YouTube.

Kusari Fundo

Kusari Fundo is a weighted chain about as long as your forearm.
These are training ropes used in place of a real chain.

The weapon is sometimes known by other names, including manrikigusari.

Harry Potter...

Well, by now -- if you care -- you know how it all ends. And then you have to come to grips with the fact that there will be no more Harry Potter books.


It's over.

I've never read one. But as a recovering bookseller, I sure sold my share of the damn things over the years. For "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," I worked the midnight shift and then turned around a scant four hours later to open the store and make sure everything went smoothly.

So as a former bookseller, I have my own opinions on the topic of Harry Potter and his influence on childhood reading. Unfortunately, some book critic got around to expressing them in last Sunday's Washington Post. So, I can't swear all of these thoughts are 100% original to me.

Now, as a commercial bookseller, I liked it anytime we could move mega-quantities of books. But as a booklover, I'm not so sure Harry had the impact on kid's reading that it is sometimes claimed to have. I know it is fashionable to say that Harry Potter introduced millions of children to the pleasures of reading. I don't buy it. "Deathly Hallows" had the largest printing in the history of the world -- hundreds of thousands were sold to vendors, and by next week, I'm sure only a few thousand of this first printing will be left on all the store shelves of America. (BTW, if you're trying to get a copy in the next few days... Don't go to a "Bookstore." Try Toys R Us, or a Target, Wal-Mart, or other place that sells books, but not as it's mainline.) But do those kinds of sales mean that all of those Harry Potter fans will be running back to the pick up another 800 page novel? Probably not.

I dealt with hundreds of customers over the years who had finished all the Potter books. "What else is there, you know, like Harry Potter?" Now this is a great question for a bookseller. It gives us an opportunity to share wonderful series with customers. Depending on the age and apparent interests, I recommended The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, His Dark Materials, Spiderwick Chronicles, Neil Gaiman's output, Tim Powers' novels, "Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell," "The Prestige," Jim Butcher's Dreden Files... There is no shortage of marvelous books for a Harry Potter fan to dive into, no matter how old or young. But often, the customer would read the coverflap or back cover copy, shake his or her head, and leave the book behind (usually in a pile I had to reshelve, but that's a different gripe).

All those kids who stayed up all weekend to finish an 800 page book? Just two months ago, they wandered into the same bookstore with a summer reading list.

Now, the ritual of selling the summer reading list is familiar to any veteran bookseller. Teenager walks up to the information desk and asks for a particular title (BTW, getting the title right is optional). The bookseller directs the teenager's attention to a table clearly labeled "Summer Reading List" usually no more than five feet from the desk, and clearly visible from the front door. The teenager looks at the table vacantly until the bookseller walks the shlub to the table. The teenager purses his or her lips while looking over the books for a pretty one. Then the book is picked up, and the teenager flips quickly to the last page to see what page number it is... "Are they any shorter ones?" will be asked. Typically, the length of a book will be the determining factor in the decision to purchase one. Rarely will the bookseller be solicited for input, and more rare still will the teenage customer bother to review the backcover copy to find a story that is particularly interesting. And these are the kids responsible enough to come into the store in the first place.

Yeah, Harry Potter really prepared these kids for a love of reading.

Has the fantastic adventure of Harry Potter opened the doors to new worlds for his adult readers? No, in fact, I'd say that by industry standards and measure, adults are even worse. Pull up any major Bestseller list. It's mostly potboiler trash. The bestseller lists are dominated by the same handfull of authors, churning out the same tepid thriller plots or non-fiction self-help books. Harry Potter was probably the last time a decent novel was recommended by word of mouth (by a mouth other than Oprah's) all the way onto the bestseller list. Go to any gathering of mid-list authors and you will hear the same complants about how the publishing industry is shrinking. Publishers will tell authors that they are always looking for the next big thing, but they push more of the same old tired plots, and they put their advertising dollars behind the major authors (who at this point really shouldn't need the help).

So, if you are really depressed that Harry Potter's journey is finished, I have some advice on what to do while you wait for the next movie... Explore the fantastical world of your bookstore, preferably a locally owned one. Wander into past the bestseller stacks deep into the shelves. Make time to spend a good hour browsing the shelves of a fiction section that appeals to you. And promise yourself that you will walk out with a title that you have never heard of before, and no one has recommended to you. It should be a book that gives you the sense that it wants to be read. You might find that you find your own personal Hogwarts and start a magical journey of your own.

Geez, Harry, you need to be a little more megaforce and a little less obvious...

Sayoc Kali

Ok, now this guy is a megaforce all by himself...

My recent posting of pekiti tirsia kali videos got a lot of positive feedback, so I'm going to post some more links to clips of Sayoc Kali (or, as I hear, just "Sayoc" now).

Sayoc is a Filipino Martial Art (or, FMA) emphasizing the use of bladed weapons.

Now, the video quality sucks... I can't do much about that. Often it doesn't look "pretty." Sayoc has a pretty good knife fighting reputation.

I also can't explain why so many of these Sayoc guys are lardos... Maybe they were too fat to take up Tae Kwon Do?

Ok, ok, ok. Here are some bonuses for those of you (Sky Ninja? MLK?) who were disappointed with the Sayoc. Oh, and did I tell you guys that I started competing in MMA matches? I sure did, here's a video of my very first match! The good news is, I win! I'm so megaforce, baby.

Lacey Chabert

That's right. More tasteful cheesecake.
If you have a problem with pictures of pretty girls, then you definitely ain't mageforce, baby!

Are you megaforce, baby?

Sunday, July 08, 2007

"Ninja" Weapons

If you've seen a Sho Kosugi ninja movia, then you're familiar with the idea that ninja were sneaky blokes who hid weapons all over their bodies and sometimes disguised them in everyday objects. But what many people don't realize is that the samurai had a touch of sneakiness about them also.

Don't believe me? Well, here's a video showing a small collection of "secret" samurai weapons. It doesn't even scratch the surface of the small items samurai carried around to commit mayhem. If you're interested in learning more about these tools (and what that "cigarette case" really is), I can recommend this book by Serge Mol.

The Bourne Ultimatum...

About the same time that Pierce Brosnan's Bond films began to suffer from the same, tired, over-inflated, megalomania that sunk the franchise under Roger Moore, somebody had the slightly crazy idea to cast Matt "Mr. Babyface" Damon as Jason Bourne in a film loosely based on the Bourne books by Robert Ludlum.

The original Bourne books have a Seventies-chic, ponderous plot, but the producers and director stripped down the plot to the bare ideas: man wakes up with amnesia, discovers very slowly that he is a trained assassin, and his former employers are out to get him. They also had a pretty simple rule about action: all live stunts, no CGI. The hallmark of the Bourne movies is grit. It's tempting to say that all of the action in these movies is realistic; but that's still a stretch. It is far more realistic than the Bond movies, or the Cruise-tastic Mission: Impossible films.

The Bourne films are favorites among martial arts fans for the well-choreographed fights. Everyone still talks about how Bourne beat up a guy with a rolled-up magazine; but lets not forget how he stabbed a guy in the hand with a ballpoint pen, or strangled somebody with an electric cord.

This Summer sees the last of the original Bourne titles used: The Bourne Ultimatum. In this one, Bourne meets his maker (so to speak). It's one of the few films I'm putting on my must-see list this year.

Bonus: THIS is just plain scary...