BBQ and books in New York City

At Madison Square Park
Near the Empire State Building

To continue my report of David I.S., Thomas K.Y.’s, and my latest visit to Manhattan, on Sunday, 12 June 2011, host Corbin A.Y. got us a classic breakfast at East Side Bagel & Appetizing. After saying goodbye to Andria K.Y. and Maia Y. for the morning, we again headed downtown.

We met Thomas at the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party in Madison Square Park. (His host Stuart C.G. also rejoined us later.) While mostly college friends had joined us the day before, this time, the “Westchester crew” arrived — Damon F.P., Carlo R., and Ron J.K. Unfortunately, fellow Stepinac alumnus Steve M. was unable to come down from Connecticut because of a train fatality. Fellow Binghamtonians Dexter V.H. and Steve A.L. also eventually joined us.

Dave was pleased to find Dinosaur Bar-B-Que represented, and I enjoyed pulled pork sandwiches, sausage, and beer. The guys, some of whom hadn’t seen one another in years, caught up on relationships, jobs, and computer talk as we chowed down. It’s hard to believe that we’ve all been friends for 25 years or more!

Rather than waddle to the New York Expo or “Figment NYC” for even more food, Corbin graciously took us to his and Andria’s current offices, where we were able to lounge and talk without difficulty. As with “herding cats” the day before, I learned the value of including a private space for hanging out in the agenda for such visits. Who knows — next time, I might even run a one-shot game!

We then walked to the Strand Bookstore, one of the biggest independent brick-and-mortar booksellers left. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to spend as much time in the stacks as I had hoped, because I had to get Carlo (who had met us on both days) to a restroom after he became ill from something he had eaten. Spicy or fatty food, undercooked meat, and overeating and fatigue are hazards no matter where one travels.

Carlo eventually got his second wind, and we “urban hiked” to more retailers, including Cosmic Comics, which had lots of back issues, and the well-organized Time Machine. Dave didn’t find the obscure titles he sought, but Carlo learned about recent events in the DC and Marvel universes. Both retailers had good indie selections.

Since Carlo and Damon were tiring out, we stopped at a Pinkberry for yogurt snacks rather than press on to Book-Off, Metropolis Collectibles, Midtown Comics, or St. Mark’s Comics. So much to see, so little time! As I noted previously, I should block out time for roaming separately from group gatherings.

As we gradually disbanded, Dave, Thomas, and I found ourselves back on the Upper East Side. We stopped by Corb & Andria’s place and then met Stuart and his sons Sammy and Benji. We first tried to get dinner at Flex Mussels, but that restaurant was full, and we didn’t have a reservation. Fortunately, our second choice, Ithaka, had traditional Greek food. Dave and Thomas lived in Ithaca, N.Y., when they taught at Cornell University.

On Monday, June 13, Corbin escorted Dave and me to Penn Station, where we departed for Albany and Boston, respectively. On the way back, I began reading the fantasy mystery The City and the City, which Janice had read. Thomas planned to grab another dinner with Stuart before catching a red-eye train back north early Tuesday.

Since then, I’ve been busy with my second annual review at work, turnover in my department, and getting over a bad cold that Ron, a co-worker, and I all caught earlier this week. Among other things, I also watched the recorded half-season finale of Doctor Who, which I liked, despite a spotty season.

This coming weekend is Free RPG Day, as well as the opening of Green Lantern (although this Muppet trailer is more amusing). My Pathfinder/Skype: “the Vanished Landstelecom fantasy game and FATE 3e Starblazer Adventures: “Vortexspace opera will also resume for a few sessions.

5 January 2010: Sherlock Holmes review

Sherlock Holmes
Jeremy Brett as the great detective

We found Sherlock Holmes to be entertaining, if not especially cerebral. Guy Ritchie did a better job of adapting Arthur Conan Doyle’s seminal mysteries than some critics had feared, using dialogue and descriptions recognizable to Holmes enthusiasts. On the other hand, the movie has the director’s trademark slow-motion fisticuffs and explosions, modern quips, and focus on the seamy side of Great Britain.

Robert Downey Jr. is as much a caricature of Oscar Wilde or other Victorian bohemians as he is the great detective. As with Iron Man, he brings appropriate charisma, nervous energy, and intelligence to the role. Jude Law is good as Dr. Watson, giving Holmes’ sidekick a more youthful energy and making him more of a true partner than he has often been portrayed.

The pretty Rachel McAdams plays Irene Adler in the largest deviation from “canon” as a recurring love interest of Sherlock Holmes, and genre veteran Mark Strong plays Lord Blackwood, the key to a nefarious plot threatening London, and by extension, civilization itself.

The story is similar to that of Young Sherlock Holmes and other pastiches, and even though I’m a big fan of the original books, I can appreciate well-done variations on the classic characters. The script leaves an obvious opening for a sequel.

I’ve argued on Facebook and elsewhere that Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes is a decent adaptation of the literary sleuth but a better steampunk movie. I plan to blog more about this subgenre of speculative fiction, which has been growing in popularity and has had relatively few successes in film or on television.

Sherlock Holmes is an excellent example of steampunk, including social commentary implied in the Dickensian images of a gritty (and class-stratified) industrial metropolis, a few clockwork and steam-powered gadgets, opulent costumes, playful anachronisms, and a lively soundtrack inspired by Gypsy music.

Although my favorite version of Sherlock Holmes so far is the early 1980s BBC/PBS television series starring Jeremy Brett, I enjoyed the movie, which I’d rate an 8.5 out of 10 or a B+. It’s rated PG-13 for violence and some sexuality. Let’s hope that more movies this coming year are equally fun!

Tuesday, 20 October 2009: Second takes on genre TV

Fringe wallpaper
The truth is still out there…

The most popular genres of fiction on television right now are the perennial
favorites of murder procedurals, ensemble dramas, situational comedies, and so-called
reality shows. This season, paranormal conspiracies, exemplified in the past by
shows such as Friday the 13th: the Series and The X-Files, are again all the rage.

So far, Fringe is arguably the best of the bunch, with a good balance of “monster of the week” episodes and an overall story arc. The actors and characters are quirky and sympathetic, the dialogue is clever, and the science fiction/horror aspects aren’t too
unbelievable, if frequently explicitly grotesque.

I’ve been watching Sanctuary, but I hope the SyFy’s cryptozoology show can successfully blend the steampunk tone, globe-hopping adventures (thanks to computer-generated backdrops), and a dysfunctional family-based team better than it did in its shaky first season. Over the summer, the artifact collectors of Warehouse
proved to be fun to watch because the writers didn’t taking themselves too seriously despite some heavy themes of betrayal and fate.

I may drop Flash Forward, in which people try to figure out how and why almost everyone on the planet blacked out at the same time, in the interest of time. The Lost wannabe isn’t bad, but with programs like Heroes, V, and the aforementioned shows, I’m already watching enough large casts pursuing numerous plot threads.

Eastwick is one of the few new shows that I’ll probably continue to follow. The frothy witchcraft soap opera is more like early Buffy: the Vampire Slayer, Reaper, or Pushing Daisies than later Charmed or Supernatural. Upcoming conspiracy shows in which I’m interested include the remakes of action decoy Human Target, alien invasion V, and espionage paranoiac The Prisoner.

In nonfiction, Janice’s and my DVR is filling up with the PBS documentary on Latin
music and this week’s IFC profile of the “Monty Python” British comedy troupe of the 1970s. More to come!