Saturday, May 28, 2005

Yes, please...

(I have no) business class
Originally uploaded by AviatorDave. what you say when the flight attendants offer you anything, in Cathay Pacific's business class. Which is where I ended up, in the wee hours of Friday morning, on my way from JFK to Vancouver.

I was late leaving my office on Thursday, and lost more time with some last-minute shopping on the way home. So I rushed through my packing, and left the house almost an hour late - which was my buffer hour, in case I hit any traffic going into New York. As it happened, I didn't hit much traffic, but I did have to park in long-term parking, a long way from Terminal 7, even by AirTrain.

So I was among the last stragglers at the check-in desk, and the ticket agent and her companion were furrowing their brows; they couldn't find an empty seat on the flight. I knew the flight was heavily booked, this Thursday before Memorial Day, and I began to sweat the idea of being bumped due to overbooking. (One of the peculiarities of the airline industry; selling more of a product or service than you actually have to offer.) But the chief booking-agent-guy came over, hit a few keys, and up popped my boarding pass.

I didn't realize until I got to the gate that they had seated me in business class; and just in time for my first perq - I got to walk straight through and board immediately, rather than wait in a 100-deep queue.

Arriving at my seat, I began to revel in the other windfalls of my situation. The seat was capacious, a power-operated Barcalounger with enough room to open up into a small bed. The meal menu featured Thai prawns, and a fantastic salad with lobster meat and marinated mushrooms. The cabin crew busily brought me goodies - a selection of cheeses, champagne, port wine, and a nice little deluxe travel kit. And time and again, those wonderful hot towels!

This was actually the fourth time I have flown in a higher class that I booked; I have never actually paid for a seat upgrade. But I must say, this was probably the nicest, most pleasant airline flight I have ever been on. Even the cabin noise seemed remarkably low. The only hiccup came when we landed, over half an hour early. Parked at our gate, engines shut down, we waited for 15 minutes because the air bridge - the telescoping tubelike hallway that meets up with the aircraft cabin door - would not move. They finally had to use a tug to push our plane back, and tow it to the next gate over.

But all ended well, we still got into the airport at our proper departure time, and I arrived refreshed and happy. Which I would have been in any case, since I was here to see Gail; she met me as I cleared Customs, and we've been having a great time since then. More later, it's her turn to upload some photos, and I'm on her Powerbook!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

OK, last one out get the lights...

I got in from a long day at work, and lots of last-minute errands, and immediately fell asleep on the couch; a little trick I learned from my cat. But I woke up just in time to catch the last 20 minutes of the amazing, superspectacular, blowout final American Idol show. So I feel quite fortunate, in not having missed the most important moment in television history.

Or so they said, anyway. By now your local emergency broadcasting service will have notified you, but Carrie was declared the winner, and wept and celebrated in the manner of a Miss America contestant - which of course she was. But I reflected last time, many of the other contestants have contracts to record and perform, and they were here for the big show. Before the announcement, we were favored with a medley of songs featuring the various "Idols" booted off over the past few months, performing with some of the original artists (who became famous the old, tedious way.) I didn't catch all of it, but it was neat to see George Benson reprising "On Broadway", and I genuinely enjoyed hearing Vonzell again performing with Billy Preston; she sounded terrific. Bo performed with Lynyrd Skynyrd, appropriately enough, looking like a 20-year younger member of the band.

So here I end my brief tenure as a Fox viewer, and my reports on this season's Idol competition. Er, "competition". Carrie is presumably off to a good start on her country-pop career, and I'm sure that more will be heard from the other contestants as well. (Heck, ten of them are coming to my local arena this summer!) Personally, I hope Vonzell and Bo get a good ride too; they added a little soul to this enterprise, which otherwise might have been a little - dare I say it - contrived.

Good night, America - Fielding out.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Monday Night of Terror

It started off as an ordinary day... I went to work, came home as usual, mowed the lawn... and then the sun went down, and I drifted off for a nap. When I awoke, things were no longer as they had been...

Eerie moon
Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
First, I went out to the car to bring in some things I needed to pack for my upcoming trip. But halfway there I stopped - the whole neighborhood was quiet, and suffused with a cold blue light. I looked up at the moon. It was full, and bright, and broken clouds were drifting slowly across its baleful face. I retrieved my camera from the car and steadied it on the roof, and zoomed in as far as it would go. As I made adjustments to the exposure and color, trying to capture this unearthly sight, the moon's visage seemed to change; like a face it was, turning left and right, considering me from all angles. I shivered, and stole back inside to the warmth and lingering adhesive fumes.

But my ordeal was only half over. Upstairs, in my study, I searched in vain for an old volume I intended to revisit. It struck me that it must be among the books I had crated and taken to the attic, to make room on the shelves for my faraway love. I took lantern in hand and pulled down the creaky attic stairs, with much screeching and pinging, and ascended into the dark, peaked cavern above.

In the weak glare of the sole naked bulb I squinted into the corners. There is dusty flotsam up there that was not mine, but here when I moved in; an small old bed, packages of tile, the old cupboard doors. Ah, there were the boxes of books I sought. I moved to retrieve them and then I saw it...


Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
The original chandelier from downstairs! I thought the most horrid of the the decor was still on the walls and floors of this old house, but the most hideous perversion was lurking up here all along! It's a heavy wooden hexagon, with fake bronze straps at the corners - and plastic candles, with sockets for electric bulbs; no doubt, the kind that look like a frozen glass flame. This abomination must have once hung as you see it here, from its nightmarish fake-bronze chains, in the master dining room. I picked it up gingerly, as one might lift a thousand-year-old mummy to nick his wallet, and hung it on a nail to document it.

Anyway, if anyone out there is shooting a low-budget Gothic horror film, and you need lighting for the dining hall - where the fiend entertains his unsuspecting guests, before dragging them to the basement for unspeakable tortures - I have just the thing for you. It looks to be regular 120V, and you'll want to brace it to the nearest stud or joist - it's heavy!

Monday, May 23, 2005

The dust settles

Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
Well, I put in a late Friday night and most of Saturday finishing off this round of changes to the kitchen. I still have some work to do; I have the backsplash pieces cut for the other side of the room, and I have yet to paint behind the fridge (or inside the pantry closet. Oops! How did I miss that?) I posted a set of photos showing the progress over the past fortnight.

When Gail comes back, we will decide what to do with the dark cabinets. They can be painted, refaced or tossed out entirely and replaced. But the "working" side of the kitchen is much brighter and more livable now. The new range hood has a lot more (and warmer) light than the old buzzing fluorescent, and a quieter variable-speed fan. (I had fun turning it on "full", and running outside to see the breeze from the outside vent.)

The backsplash material is paneling, made for kitchens and bathrooms, that has a glossy ceramic-tile face. It's quite inexpensive, less than $20 for a 4' x 8' sheet; I only needed two sheets. I chose one with sand-colored tile and white "grout" lines, and ran a line of white caulk into the corners. I finished the edges with some 3/8" pine corner stock, cut down to the thickness of the paneling where necessary. Now it's all waterproof and easy to clean; it's a good solution for a quick DIY makeover. (Hmm, he thinks, casting his eye on the downstairs bathroom...)

Anyway, it's been a long time coming. I bought this house back in 2001, basically sight unseen; the location, size and price were exactly what I wanted. So when I walked through it and saw the hokey 70s decor and the mud-dark colors, I just figured I would pull down the wallpaper and paint when I was ready. But then I just got used to it, and since I spent most of my time flying I wasn't home that much anyway. But now I'm looking forward to sharing it with Gail, and I really want to make it a comfortable place for us. A home.

Friday, May 20, 2005

A belated word...

...about American Idol. I did watch it this week, on tape on Wednesday afternoon just before the hatchet show. I'm not going to rehash the whole show, just report on my impressions. I'm saving the tape for Gail, because some of the performances were rather good.

There is a lot of consensus that Bo Bice was the standout of the final three competition; I agree. He took the assigned songs and sung them with clear originality, and looked relaxed and confident on stage. For his song choice, he threw all caution to the wind: no backup band. Taking the stage in silence, he stood in a lone spotlight and sung a capella; and his voice alone, in near-perfect time and tune, filled the hall. Gutsy; and proof that he is truly a musician. His voice has a soulful texture, and an honesty that increasingly makes him seem out of place in this pop-music "competition".

Vonzell Solomon was voted off, and I was sorry to see her go. She seems sweet and likable, and has a vulnerability about her; yet her voice is so powerful. In the first few weeks she seemed to be struggling, and she still is; but I think with each performance her confidence and skill were growing. Look at the shoes she slipped on for this week's three songs: Dionne Warwick, Aretha Franklin and Donna Summer! Three of the greatest female vocalists of all time. And Vonzell did all of them proud, in my opinion; heck, if she released that performance of "On the Radio", I'd pick up a copy.

Carrie Underwood seemed nervous and uncomfortable this week. Her voice was clear and in tune, as always; but the oft-repeated criticism, that she lacks emotion, was laid more bare than in any of the previous shows. "Wooden"; "robotic"; "stiff" - all quotes from the judges, on her various performances. The two songs she was assigned seemed tailor-made to help her break out of this colorlessness: "Crying" by Roy Orbison - my gosh, Roy could actually make people cry with this heartbreaking ballad, but Carrie sat and delivered it staring ahead like an eye test. And "Man, I Feel Like a Woman" by Shania Twain is silly, sassy fun with a country twang - it should have been right across the plate for Carrie, yet it was her third strike of the evening.

So the "winner" (I'm inclined to use quotes where the notion of competition is concerned; since eight of the "contestants" are touring together this summer, and nearly all are already under some kind of recording contract) ...the "winner" of American Idol will be either Bo or Carrie. Not all that surprising; they both have the kind of middle-American heartland* appeal that got George W. Bush reinstalled. Personally, I would much rather watch Bo perform; I think he is a natural entertainer and musician. But Carrie is blonde and has straight teeth, and can parrot songs in the current country & western style with tape-recorder precision.

So there's no telling whom the voters will choose, if in fact the voters are determining the outcome. Simon Cowell should get a dramatic Emmy, just for showing up every week and acting like it makes a difference.

*So named because the brain isn't there.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Aerospace Day III

The goal
Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
My C.A.P. squadron had a major activity Monday - we went to the Pocono Elementary Center in Tannersville, PA to teach their students about aviation. We have done this twice before, in the last three years, but with much smaller groups of students. Aerospace education is one of the functions of the Civil Air Patrol, along with our search-and-rescue mission and our cadet program.

The principal, Catherine Sweeney, allowed us to fill four long periods through the school day, for all 950 (!) of the students, so we had our work cut out for us. We marshalled all of our cadets, and all of our best classroom materials and activities, and spent a long time working out the schedule and practicing the lessons. Many of our younger cadets were getting their first experience teaching classes, and in front of some big groups! This was a maximum effort; we had less than twenty of our kids and seven CAP officers to take on this large student body.

We also brought in some help, as we have before, from the local aviation community. Carl House and Dave Zahorsky from the Waymart Wings model airplane club set up a model airstrip and flight line, and brought an impressive little fleet of airplanes, gliders and helicopters. John Vogler, a retired gentleman from the Stroudsburg chapter of the EAA, graciously agreed to trailer his full-scale homebuilt aircraft to the school and give a presentation. He put in a hard day's work in the sun behind the school, describing his partly-completed Pietenpol Aircamper - a beautiful design from the 1930s, crafted mostly of wood.

In previous years, we had flown in helicopters; and also done candy parachute drops, to start the day off on a high note. The school staff was concerned about the liability of landing the helos, though, so I opened the day by flying over the school in the C.A.P. Cessna. The airport is only seven miles from the school, so I took off and circled until the appointed time; at 9:29, I dove on the school from the north and let the airspeed build up. At 9:30 exactly, I skimmed over the school, where the first classes were gathering outside. I did a low pass at high speed, over 150 m.p.h., and pulled up into a maximum-performance turn to the left. Not that amazing in airshow terms, but a decent little demonstration, and I climbed to orbit the school and take a few snapshots.

After landing back at the airport I drove over to the school, where our cadets were already at work teaching a variety of subjects. The most ambitious was the rocketry presentation behind the school, set up by our very advanced 13-year old Frankie Arnold. Cadet Arnold brought his model rocket launch pads, and made some impressive visual aids out of found materials; he taught four long classes, and at the conclusion of each called for volunteers from the Pocono kids to help him launch a few rockets. The kids were awestruck, of course, and today in our first batch of thank-you cards many of them mentioned his class as their favorite.

Three of our young lady cadets - Annalea Littleton, Julia Rasely and Grace Tighe - took on the task of preparing lessons for the youngest classes, the kindergarten and first grades. They adapted some lesson plans we got from NASA, which has many excellent resources for teachers. Using streamers, balloons and straws, they demonstrated that air is a substance and has pressure, and can do work. They bubbled with energy and did a great job of connecting with the kids, as good as any college student teachers.

Juan Montealegre, one of the youngest but most enthusiastic of our cadets, headed the class on parachutes; he and his comrades worked hard in the preceding days making dozens of small clothespin parachutes. They filled the second half of their allotted time with "AlkaFuji" rockets, made from film canisters and powered by Alka-Seltzer tablets. (They pop off the desk, surprisingly high, in a lovely frothy mess!)

Some of the older cadets gave presentations on the Civil Air Patrol and our search-and-rescue missions, demonstrated radio direction-finding, and our field gear. I took the last segment of the day to teach the fifth and sixth grades about the basic physics of flying, the "four forces", and concluded with a Q&A period. Afterwards, I had a semicircle of fifth and sixth graders around me, asking about our cadet program and how they can get involved.

All in all, the day went off as seamlessly as we could have hoped. The weather was beautiful, the school kids had a ball, and the faculty was very appreciative. I couldn't be prouder of the officers and cadets in my unit; they all worked hard to make this happen. I've uploaded some pictures of the day in my Flickr album here.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Kitchen progress

Kitchen progress
Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
Yesterday I took a break from painting for an hour to mow the lawn, then went back to work. It's slow going, because there are lots of angles and corners and little pieces that don't lend themselves to the roller. I suppose they have lots of fancy corner-and-angle tools at the hardware store, but I am working with a plain old 2" brush.

And there are a lot of dark stains that are hard to cover up. When the previous owner stained the woodwork around the windows and doors (a very dark brown) he didn't mask the wallboard around them; figuring, I guess, that they were going to wallpaper over it anyway.

I'll probably lay on a third coat of white primer tonight and start the color tomorrow morning. I'm still trying to find a good material to cover the burnt orange backsplash, short-term, since I don't want to pull down the cupboards to remove it. But the kitchen is definitely looking less kitsch.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

American Idol - Final Four

I just got back from my C.A.P. meeting, and rewound the tape to zip through American Idol. I'll write my report on the performances now, while they are ringing in my ears, for better or worse.

The two themes for the show were based on two distinctly American cities - Philadelphia and Nashville. For the Luther Vandross/Patti LaBelle Philadelphia sound, the contestants could pick from the songs of Gamble and Huff, who were present at the taping. I didn't catch any rules for the Nashville songs, other than the country theme. The Nashville round was first, and who could be happier that the first contestant...

Carrie, who sang the Dixie Chicks' "Sin Wagon" - and yeeee-haw, ain't nobody more country than her! The vocals and arrangement were as deep-south as collard greens, and Carrie grinned and showboated through it. An up-tempo song, and her vocals were perfect; the crowd was hooting in appreciation, and even Simon allowed that she sang great "...and we saw personality, too." In case anyone can't tell yet, Carrie is a great country singer.

Bo may be a rocker, but he's a good ol' boy, too; he sang Travis Tritt's "It's A Great Day To Be Alive". Upbeat and sunny lyrics but kind of a slow, lazy song; I thought he was drowned out by the band a few times. Natural, no mistakes and the crowd liked it, but Simon used the same word I wrote down - lazy, and he added boring. I just think this is a tough place to bring a slow song.

Something apparently happened to Vonzell the day of the performance; she was obviously nervous, and Paula and Simon both seemed to know about it. Her song was Tricia Yearwood's "How Do I", and her performance was obviously affected by something - her voice wobbled, she went flat twice, and even forgot a line of the lyrics. But she did fight through it, and the judges were obviously being gentle with her; she was crying as Ryan Seacrest talked her off.

Anthony sang the vastly overplayed "Already There" by Lone Star. A challenging vocal, and he barely carried it off; but the cheesy, phony choreography made the song totally unbelievable. Pleading eyebrows, reaching for the camera... gack. Simon called it "gooey", and that's the kindest thing he could have said.

Next it was off to Philadelphia; Seacrest takes a few moments to welcome songwriters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who defined the Philadelphia Sound from the sixties well into the eighties. They wish the contestants well, and are happy that a new generation is appreciating their music.

Carrie led off again, and in the next two minutes proved the same point as her first song - she is a country singer. She chose "If You Don't Know Me By Now", by Teddy Pendergrass (and many others). It was awful. As confident as she was in the first number, in the second she looked like she strayed into the wrong neighborhood. The timing was all wrong, and Carrie seemed to look around the room wishing it was over. All three judges - even Paula - agreed that it didn't work.

Bo thundered into the O'Jays classic "For The Love Of Money," now famous again as the theme of the Donald Trump show "The Apprentice". I thought it was great; Bo really sold it, hair and mike stand swinging, sunglasses on. He put his own stamp on the song; kind of Soul Train meets the Allman Brothers. The crowd agreed - they went NUTS, it was a long time before Randy could begin his comments.

Vonzell was far more in control for the second song, "Dont Leave Me This Way," made famous by Thelma Houston; a tall act to follow. But Vonzell started off well, and swelled with energy as she worked through the song. When she hit the chorus, her voice just exploded into a premium-quality growl... "BAY-BEE! My heart is full of love, and DESIRE FOR YOU!" Then, almost recklessly - she went up an octave, and did it again! She might have been shaken up today, but her voice and that song just overpowered and made a great impression. All the judges agreed that this performance was much better, although Simon thought it was a little frantic.

Anthony sang... uh, the same song as Carrie? Yes, he also launched into "If You Don't Know Me By Now". Rather than sing it with style and emotion, like - oh, Simply Red, or anyone else who has covered the song - Anthony decided that maybe angry shouting was the way to go. He seemed to glare into the camera and pound every line convulsively, in all the wrong places. Simon stated that Anthony had "no soul", and was again too kind by far.

My Prediction: Oh, please, please, please... get Anthony out of there. I can't imagine that even the "votefortheworst" crowd can sustain him past this week.

Monday, May 09, 2005

The Age of Aquarius is Ending

Kitchen progress
Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
In our kitchen, anyway. Friday afternoon I began one of the projects I planned when I bought this house four years ago; to do away with the Very Brady Kitchen.

I began by stripping off the funky, brown-and-burnt-orange, flower-and-bamboo (!) wallpaper that was lurking on the walls. I hardly needed the wallpaper removal solvent; the stuff practically disintegrated when I began tugging at it. When I was down to bare wallboard, I found that there were several repairs needed, so I went to work with spackle and blade.

While the repairs cured, I started painting out the red-with-black-mortar, amazingly-faux brick that covers two of the walls. (I have posted some before pictures, lest you think I am embellishing on the awfulness of this decor.) This dungeon theme was applied painstakingly, brick-by-fake-brick with epoxy glue onto the bare sheetrock, so there was no way to remove it short of a sledgehammer. The brickesque surface is taking forever, as the paint has to be teased down into all of the mortar lines with a 2" brush, and the ersatz bricks soak it up like Old Milwaukee at a frat party.

By Saturday night, I had one side of the fake brick done and most of the kitchen dressed and ready for paint. I'm doing the brick in semigloss white, which looks good so far and makes the brick look substantially less faux. The remaining walls will be a cheery pale yellow, "Summer Sun" I think, and then we will decide what to do with the cabinets. The lurid orange formica backsplash (sorry, hope you haven't just eaten) will have to go, but we haven't decided whether to paint the cabinets, or leave them for now and just replace 'em all later. They are not of any great quality, plywood and particle board, but we're saving up for more important stuff (wedding, honeymoon) at the moment. This is a low-budget, emergency decor adjustment, not a major renovation.

I'll post updates as work progresses. Those who are studying design trends of the Nixon era, or the morbidly curious, may inquire about the powder room or - gulp - the carpeting in the third bedroom. Gay males with diagnosed heart conditions may be asked to sign a waiver.

The Wicked Wind

Sunday morning I met one of my cadets at the airport for an orientation flight; one of the hour-long rides that are a perq of the CAP cadet program for teens. The air was totally clear, but the winds were quite strong and getting stronger. I warned Justin that the ride would be bumpy, but he assured me that he was up for it, and further that he had not eaten a big breakfast. (I'm proud to say that in over 230 such flights, I have only had two regurgatory incidents, and one of those was a college kid with a hangover.)

The wind was 20 degrees off the runway, at 10 knots gusting to 21. An eleven-knot gust factor is considerable, for a plane that stalls at around 40 knots, so I made a shallow climb and kept the airspeed up. I climbed to 6,500 feet, just above some lingering daubs of cloud, guessing that the air would smooth out at that height. Justin (age 16) was able to take the controls and accomplish some turns, and we explored the turning errors of the magnetic compass and the relationship of pitch, power and airspeed.

When we descended again on our way home, over the Pocono Raceway, the air turned rocky again and Justin asked me to take the controls. I checked the automated weather on the radio, the wind was now at 16 gusting to 24, and fluctuating over a sixty degree arc. I tightened my seatbelt and had my passenger do the same, and we entered the traffic pattern for landing. I used half the normal flap setting, and kept about 15 extra knots of airspeed; having flown there for a decade, I know too well the built-in wind shear on the south end of the Mount Pocono airport.

All my hours of Tri-Pacer time must have me in good shape; we got down to a smooth touchdown despite the raging, invisible rapids of wind. The Cessna is larger and heavier, and rides the bumps a little better, but doesn't have the snappy control response of Zero-two Papa. We taxied back, slowly, as the wind was still trying to flip us over; on days like this, you don't stop flying the plane until it's tied down. Justin resumed his normal stream of chatter, and said that he enjoyed the ride; I did, too. As my primary instructor used to say "You can't learn to fly on the calm days!"

Friday, May 06, 2005

Be Nice to the Substitute...

Since Gail has gone back to Canadia for a while, there to await her visa, she and I won't be watching the last few weeks of American Idol together. Gail has been blogging our reluctant foray into the world of Fox programming, through last week when she reported on the "Vote for the Worst" theory. Since Fox is not broadcast freely in British Columbia (and gosh, doesn't it sound better every day) it falls to me to tape the remaining episodes and file our reports.

We did manage to watch this week's episode together while Gail packed for her trip. Since the number of contestants is dwindling, there was time in Tuesday's show for each to do two songs, with a verse or two snipped from each. The two given themes were "Lieber and Stoller", picking songs from the five-decade songbook of that rock 'n roll songwriting duo; and "This Week’s Top 40 Hits", allowing any song currently on any of the current Billboard charts.


Anthony got the show off to a dull, colorless start with his L&S pick, "Poison Ivy". My impression was that he took a playful, fun song and sung it in the same cheesy, boy-band delivery that he struggles each week to perfect. He was wearing his glasses again this week, so he no doubt saw clearly the bored looks on the judges' faces.

Scott was up next with "On Broadway", which suited the booming alto of his voice, and with most appropriate lyrics; he defiantly pointed to Simon as he sang "...oh, but they're wrong - I know they are!" Scott actually delivered a credibly good performance of the song and had the crowd's approval.

Vonzell seems to gain confidence in her voice every week, and it is a great instrument; powerful and brassy. She turned it to the Elvis classic "Treat Me Nice", and gosh, why wouldn't you? Vonzell is just so darn nice herself. Simon was the only one in the room who wasn't impressed, and was loudly booed for saying so.

As he must always be titled, Rocker Bo was up next with "Stand By Me". It's been sung by better singers, but Bo showed that he can sing melodically when he tries. He was relaxed and largely on-key, connected with the audience - and left the mike stand on the floor, to the delight of the stagehand who has to wax it every week.

Carrie tried to stir up some "Trouble", another Elvis classic; but it just doesn't play, somehow. She can growl, furrow her little eyebrows and kick the mike stand over - sorry, stagehand - but she's still just a nice little blonde girl, although certainly one with a clear, dazzling voice. Carrie can't get in any trouble at this point, and the judges agree.


Anthony sang some crappy Backstreet Boys song, without their harmonies and with the emotional depth of an Earl Scheib paintjob. Gail and I discussed the merits of our reheated Indian meal and waited patiently, with the audience, for the next act.

Scott proved that even with your eyes closed, he is still in fact a Caucasian. He took a swing at Brian McKnight's "Every Time You Go Away", but stumbled through the quicker hip-hop riffs. Randy says he pulled it off, but Randy is wrong.

Vonzell took "When You Tell Me That You Love Me", recorded by the American Idol kids as a group effort, and presented it as a powerful solo piece. The crowd was cheering loudly, we thought it was good, but Simon shook his head and declared her "vulnerable". (I don't think he really likes music, necessarily.)

Bo... sorry, Rocker Bo sang "How Far Is Heaven" by Los Lonely Boys, delivered in the southern-fried growl that comes so easily to him. Even Simon admits that it was a professional effort, saying that Bo made the others look like amateurs.

Carrie stayed in her safe place with "Broken Road", from the Country charts; I don't know whose song it is, but I've heard it, it's a male artist. Carrie sung it flawlessly, with the commercially-perfect level of country twang, but palpably lacking in emotion. Simon hit the nail on the head, acknowledging that it was beautiful if a little "robotic".


Brickable Ryan Seacrest tried his best to stretch 15 seconds' worth of drama into a 22-minute show, but no one (except Scott) was fooled when he sent the lowest two scorers to the couch and left the top three on stage. So Vonzell, Bo and Carrie stood up, and Anthony and Scott sat down on the couch. Gail and I have been raging at the screen for long weeks, pleading for the removal of Anthony and Scott, respectively; so one of us was about to be rewarded.

And this week, it was me - brutish, inarticulate, alleged domestic-abuser Scott Savol was finally shown the door. I'll admit, he has a fine singing voice; but I never could reconcile the rich, warm music that comes out of him with the mumbling ghettospeak and the prison scowl. I don't know if the beauty of his singing is something he merely parrots, or is really hidden beneath all the urban-Ohio trash talk; but in any case, he's all gone now. With any luck, the wardrobe people are sewing a target onto Anthony Federov's pastel shirt for next week, and Gail will get her wish.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005)

(Film Review: 3 Stars)

Gail and I just returned from seeing The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and we represent both sides of the audience experience. Gail was unfamiliar with the stories - whereas I have read all five of the Douglas Adams books, heard the BBC radio series, seen the BBC television series... a fan-geek since the early '80s, in other words. So the following is my review, from the dyed-in-the-wool, able-to-recite-lines Fan perspective.

The story, repeated in so many media over the years, begins simply: The plant Earth is destroyed. Douglas Adams once revealed in an interview that he had decided to write a science-fiction story that began with the destruction of Earth, rather than ending that way. The story spirals outward wildly from there, following the trials of the planet's lone survivor, Englishman Arthur Dent; who survives because his friend, Ford Prefect, turns out to be an extraterrestrial researcher for a galactic travel-tips book and whisks him away at the last minute, in his bathrobe.

Adams himself was working on the screenplay when he died, suddenly, on his 49th birthday in 2001. The screenplay contains many of the elements and characters from the book, but the plot diverges widely for the latter two-thirds of the film. (Old-time readers, take note: This is very much a new story, not a retelling of the book, as the old BBC projects were.) A large part of the appeal of the original HHGG series, besides the absurd situations, was Adams' prose; engaging, wildly roundabout, with tremendously baroque sentence structures that roll on and on in dry British manner. It's not always easy to reproduce in performance, and the film doesn't strive all that hard to do so.

But the characters are there, and a lot of the film's goodness comes from how they are brought to life. Martin Freeman (of the BBC comedy series The Office) makes a fine Arthur Dent, hapless yet persevering. Alan Rickman voices Marvin, the Paranoid Android - one of the book's most memorable characters - to perfection, his voice rich with misery. And Sam Rockwell comes up with a new spin on freewheeling Galactic President Zaphod Beeblebrox - with an American accent reminiscent of a certain other well-known, dimwitted Southwestern figurehead.

A real treat of the film is that the Vogons, and many of the other fantastic aliens, are recreated not by CGI but by Jim Henson's Creature Workshop. The work they've done here is amazing, as always - hilarious caricatures, ingeniously brought to life.

I wonder what the impression will be for those who are new to the tale. The books themselves are sketchy, more like a series of episodes than a seamless story, and the film can be quick and confusing. But then, that's the authentic Arthur Dent experience - being thrown into a strange universe, on short notice, and struggling for meaning and survival.

Don't Panic.