true secrets of magic

Once upon a time in the not-too-distant future (in distant days longing to sense it all so clear):

PS: Thanks to the always awesome Monica Vega for the great comments. I now has some self esteem.

^_^
Finally seen: A Chinese Ghost Story III

I saw the trilogy out of order, mostly of how and when the movies became available to me. I saw the second one first, then the original and then this past weekend the last one. In between, I saw the animated adaptation.

The third one, like the animated movie, rehashes the original (and classic) tale of an individual who stumbles upon an abandoned temple, runs into a ghost working to lure him to a tree demon who wants to eat his soul but the ghost ends up falling in love with the dude. The difference in this tale of the story is it is set a hundred years after the original and attempts to put an end one and for all to the tree demon (who I thought was killed in the first one anyway) and the haunted temple.

Instead of Leslie Cheung we get Tony Leung and instead of a tax collector we get a monk and his master, a demon killer and their golden Buddha. We still get the lovely, lovely, lovely Joey Wong as the ghost and one really wishes she still does movies. She was still very effective in this central role. We also get Cantopop star Jacky Cheung who may or may not be playing the character he played in A Chinese Ghost Story II.

Despite being a rehash- it is still a decent movie, the kind I wish there were more of. Not a lot of martial arts (besides it is not that kind of movie), but lots of mystical mumbo jumbo including a scroll that becomes a suit of armor. And it is more in the vein of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead movies of which these were inspired by rather than spooky tales regarding the afterlife (just as some of Raimi’s work later were inspired by these movies- you cannot watch the Xena finale without recalling these movies).

A very fun movie, a bit more so than the original helped by the portrayal of the helpless and clueless monk and happier ending. But the original one is still the best of the three and if you have to watch any of these, I would stick with the original.

That said, I think it is time for a new Chinese Ghost Story. The original story was a classic, as previously mentioned, but the subsequent rehashings of the story has not diluted the tale (and besides, the animated movie and the third one were not half bad at all).

My grade for A Chinese Ghost Story: B+

Also seen: Sesame Street Beginnings DVD

Because this entry is brought to you by the letters, D, I, E and the number 666.

Well, I did not see all the shows on the set (which has the first episode of each of the first five seasons of the show). I did see the sales pitch and the selected shorts that accompany the set.

In short, if you are a Muppets fan- you got to see these. Freaking hilarious without being offensive to anyone.

Unless you are a grouch, of course.

Especially if you have not seen the antics of Regular and Super Grover and the Yip-Yip aliens since you were a kid. I must have laughed myself silly.

(I especially the Best Of take this release takes. I would pick up any follow up releases and hope that more of the classic shorts are included and maybe, that Death of Mr. Hooper episode- or at least highlights from it)

This review brought to you by the letter A+.

No desire at the moment to see the Simpsons Movie. Yes the trailers are funny (especially the clip with the Presidential Governator) - how much you want to bet that those are the best parts of the movie? And besides, why see the movie when the show can be seen at least once a day (and the undisputed fact that Futurama was a better show)?

Chowing on this:

Stephen Chow as Kato in a Green Hornet film? Only if Stephen Chow writes, directs and has creative freedom. And Kato is the lead character. Otherwise, I like the fact that Stephen Chow has avoided Hollywood because we all know how great they treated Chow Yun Fat (second billing to Stifler?), Tsui Hark (A Dennis Rodman movie?), Michelle Yeoh and to a lesser extent Jet Li (although his better Western roles have been via the French- see Kiss of the Dragon and Danny the Dog).

But Stephen Chow is a huge Bruce Lee fan and might do it just for the hell of it. By the way, did you know that Stephen Chow’s fortune mostly comes from successfully investing in real estate? This explains why he is not doing like ten movies a year like he did when he first became popular- and is a good thing as his more recent movies are just getting better and better.

Currently thinking of: People I used to know (mostly because I know no one in Texas)

Whatever happened to them? Occasionally I get random flashes of the names and faces of old friends, classmates or co-workers. Names like Starleigh, Angie, Greico, that dude at the library at Oxnard College, that chick who used to work at Salzers, that brainy chick from high school who became a party girl when she got to college, Joon, Erika, Edna, Stina, people who know me in St. Georges, Bee Bee, Bea, Chuck, Stephanie and others.

I tell myself that I am happy I am not like 90% of the population who spend the vast majority of their lives approximately an hour’s drive from where they were born. And I am happy about that, it is good for the soul to move around and see new things.

I just miss home every now and then, a bit more now than I usually do as I glanced at the date earlier today and realized it has been two years since I packed everything I could and the two cats into my car and made the drive to Texas.

And the fact that I have a need to visit the California beach and rejuvenate myself.

Other Stuff:

One of my favourite urban myths is the one about mad genius Alan Moore tells about the times he had met a fictional character that he had created.

As he told it:

“One day, I was in Westminster in London-this was after we had introduced the character-and I was sitting in a sandwich bar. All of a sudden, up the stairs came John Constantine. He was wearing the trench coat, a short cut-he looked-no, he didn't even look exactly like Sting. He looked exactly like John Constantine. He looked at me, stared me straight in the eyes, smiled, nodded almost conspiratorially and then just walked off around the corner to the other part of the snack bar.

I sat there and thought, should I go around that corner and see if he is really there, or should I just eat my sandwich and leave? I opted for the latter; I thought it was the safest. I'm not making any claims to anything. I'm just saying that it happened. Strange little story.”

I first heard that story a while ago and just loved that story. I then heard that he ran to Constantine again, although this time, it was a wee bit more metaphysically.

“Years later, in another place, he steps out of the dark and speaks to me. He whispers: 'I'll tell you the ultimate secret of magic. Any cunt could do it.' ”

I think at the time, Mr. Moore was doing one of his magic performances so who knows what chemicals were coursing through his veins.

Not that it makes the story false. If any fictitious characters could ever break the walls of reality just for the hell of it, it would be the old Con Job.

Of course my favourite urban myth of writers coming across their characters is the time Neil Gaiman went on a plane ride and one of the Endless was on it. You can guess which one it was as another passenger suffered a fatal heart attack during the trip.

And while we are on the topic of writers, Jo Rowling’s favourite bands The Smiths and The Clash. Hey, she is just like us. Apart from the fact of course that she is a billionaire.

I have not finished reading the last HP book yet*. To all the people who got the book on midnight on Friday night and locked themselves in until Sunday afternoon so they can have a marathon read I say this: You are the TREKKIES for this generation. I am going to take my time and enjoy the ride.

*[I read two chapters and accidentally started reading Crooked Little Vein (which I was originally going to save for later), laughed out loud a few times and am now barreling though to the rest of that book instead.]

I have read some spoilers, but I do not trust them. But if the one regarding the final fate of the three main characters are true, I would have to say the readers have been ripped off and Rowling took the easy route to not piss off any fans and parents of fans.

And I would have loved to hear that Harry’s last words, instead of being about his scar, being 'I'll tell you the ultimate secret of magic. Any cunt could do it.'
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I read a book and want to tell you about it...

Once upon a time in the not-too-distant future (in distant days longing to sense it all so clear):

HATRED OF THE DAY: How it is too warm in the house, how it is too hot and humid outside and conversely, how cold it is indoors at most office buildings. Do I bring a jacket or should I just step outside to warm up every fifteen minutes or so?

Crappity Crap: The Birthday Massacre has postponed their shows in my part of the world because of scheduling problems. Me sad but hey, maybe it just means they will be playing somewhere closer when they do swing by the neighbourhood.

Book Review: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri.

I have several need-to-read books on my shelves, my reading habits having relapsed a bit over the years. I have a Greg Rucka book that is based on a video game franchise, some of the Feng Shui Detective books by Nury Vitacchi and the short story collections from Neil Gaiman (of which I have previously read most of in other short story collections, but still, I want to reread them as they finally have all been gathered together). It is not just novels either, I am finally just getting around to reading the Captain Britain book by Alan Moore and Alan Davis which was originally published in the dark ages (the collection that I am reading was published in 2002 which was also when I got it). The Miracleman books by Moore and Davis are just as good as Watchmen and I am enjoying every little bit of Captain Britain.

It is not just that I stopped reading, I just stopped reading continuously as much as I used to. Maybe it was all the books that I got assigned to read one right after the other for several years straight in high school and college. I like to take my time to read and being forced to read three hundred pages of small print in a week just took its toll. I can still do it and enjoy a book if I want to and if the story warrants it (I read Anansi Boys in a few days; but the last Queen & Country novel took months for me to finally finish- both being great books), but usually nowadays, normally I will take three to four weeks to finish a decent sized novel.

And three to four weeks is how long it took me to finish the Namesake, a book I picked up after I kept hearing about the movie version (which I have not seen) and how Kal Penn sought the role and how the tale is another definitive take on being Asian American nowadays.

So how did I like the book? It reminds me of the kind of book you would get assigned to read in an English literature class and/or an Asian American history class. It also is the kind of book that would get assigned to read for a Psych 101 course to show how the environment one is surrounded by would affect their personality.

The book is primarily about the story of the unfortunately named Gogol Ganguli and how he lets his life and identity be shaped by having that name. Of course he outwardly hates the name to the point that he legally changes the name to Nikhil as soon as he can thus creating a new identity for himself (Nikhil and Gogol are the names of an esoteric Russian author that was loved by his father). But even after the name change, the narrative still refers to him as Gogol hinting that he inherently accepts this name and the book is the journey of how he finally accepts the name when he lets the identities of Gogol and Nikhil reconcile and combine and he is finally begins the process of being at peace with who he is.

So- plot wise, a little boring but you have to remember that this is coming from someone who is more accustomed to genre tales of the fantastical, weird science, detective stories, spies and whales that used to be missiles that fall out of the sky. The book excels in being the descriptive take of a person’s life, it really does seem that you are dropping into the life of someone and being an intimate observer into their thoughts and feelings.

It gets a little cliché that the main periods of this person’s life are marked by the more significant relationships that he is in (the first love, the first long term love and the marriage that eventually did not work) and the quiet periods in between. But hey- someone told me once that life is nothing more than a small handful of moments and our reactions to them. By bookending these moments, the book gets chick flicky- for lack of a better term (I would say chick lit is that better term, but some reason that does not work with my reaction to the book).

What is impressive for me though, is that Lahiri manages to capture the mind of a male character despite being a woman. Plenty of men have been known to write effective female characters (Joss Whedon comes to mind) but this might be the first instance that I have observe a woman write a male character where he does not become a caricature or just a dude with a chick’s world view (the male characters of Anne Rice come to mind). Gogol is very much a dude and is written effectively enough that you forget the gender of the author (unlike the aforementioned Joss Whedon whose female characters sometimes tend to shout, “Hey- I am a powerful woman being written by a guy!”).

Another thing I liked is that the book is also the tale of the parents of Gogol. Even though they are not on every page and the father dies halfway though- both are always there as though they are always watching Gogol- not in a creepy way but in the way that the actions of Gogol are reflective of how he was raised by these two kindly individuals who till their last days struggle with the two cultures they live in. As the book ends with Gogol reconciling his identities, the book also concludes with his mother literally living in two worlds by choice.

As the book is championed by those who say it is representative of the Asian American Experience, the book is that but thankfully it is not in your face. It is not Bengali Lifestyles 101 or My Big Fat Bengali Wedding and for that you should be so happy. There is enough to establish that the characters are from an outside world who come to integrate (and integrate successfully) with this world so far from where their roots are and still retain those roots to different extents.
In the end, the book is an intriguing examination of identity and an amazing look into the life of a fictional character.

Plus Zuleikha Robinson is in the movie and we cannot get enough of her.

A solid B for the book.

Coming Soon: More books! In the coming weeks, I plan on picking up the last Harry Potter book and I really hope that Jo Rowling gets all metaphysical and existential on us in the end (like how Neon Genesis Evangelion turned out after we got used to giant robots beating up stuff). See all the little readers heads get blown away as Harry destroys the world to save the world and he is haunted for eternity by his guilts which take the form of all the people he knew in a landscape dominated by a blood red sun.

But we all know that is not going to happen.

The series has so far been free of hardcore haters like the kind you see that haunts the fandom of once beloved franchises like Star Trek and Star Wars despite the last two Potter books being mediocre.* Now that it is all over, it would be interesting to see if the Potter fandom stays as faithful to the series or if it will be ripped into two warring sides.
*Talking about Books 5&6 here, although I will probably change my mind on Book 6 if the last one is a decent capper to the series. And my opinion on Book 5 may change when I see the movie (as much as I hate that a movie can be better than the book it is based on) as I hear the movies excises the bad parts of the book. Plus there is supposedly no Quidditch in the last book and that alone makes the book a worthwhile read in my opinion (the Quidditch on the later books just seem so forced, obligatory and just too long).

By the way, Snape was a bastard in the beginning and he will be a bastard in the end. But, damn, what a magnificent bastard he was.

Also looking forward to the first novel from Warren Ellis, Crooked Little Vein. In fact I am anticipating this more that the Potter book and I will be locked in debate over which to read first (probably the Potter book because everyone will be talking spoilers about the book so best get it out of the way).

The first line of Crooked Little Vein is about a rat taking a piss in your coffee mug and just in that one line perfectly encapsulates that you are now in the mind of Warren Ellis, pay the toll, get stomped in the head and get ready to be taken for a ride. It is the best first line of a book since The Myth of Sisyphus encouraged philosophy majors all over the world to take their own lives.

I cannot wait for the rest of the book.

In other news and speaking of the absurd:

The Dead Zone of the Gulf of Mexico is expected this year to be about 6,662 sq miles (17,255 sq km). The Dead Zone is a virtually oxygen free area that supports no life except for algae that eat up all the available oxygen. The growth of the algae has been exacerbated by fertilizer run off.

An area of death almost 6,666 square miles big?

Somewhere Alistair Crowley is smiling.
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Dogstars

Once upon a time in the not-too-distant future (in distant days longing to sense it all so clear):

First some good news (for me anyway): the new Birthday Massacre album, Walking with Strangers comes out on September 11th. Their previous album was the first one in a long time that I just listened over and over and over again and I just love the demo version of Kill the Lights that is on their Myspace page. Now, if only they would do an official release of some of their older songs like Queen of Hearts or their awesome cover of the Neverending Story.

Hope the new album lives up and hope they play somewhere accessible to Austin.

New HATE THAT SONG of the day: Hey, There Delilah by the Plain White Tees.

First there was that song from Fall out Boy that would PUMP YOU UP if you are a bully working out so you could beat up nerds later in the day. Then there was that Iggy Thump song from the White Stripes where it sounds like they are just plucking strings out at random and doing it over and over again. Hey, I can pluck strings at random- where are my millions? (My main problem with both songs? Aside from being unimaginative pieces of crap, both were and are played continuously)

Then there is that Delilah song. I have nothing against it really other than it is played over and over again on a radio station that is supposed to play contemporary alternative rock. So in between sets of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beastie Boys, Soundgarden and Nirvana songs that get played at least four times every hour, they play crap like this. At least twice. Every hour. More than likely in between songs by Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beastie Boys, Soundgarden and Nirvana. And then they play those songs from Fall Out Boy and the White Stripes.

If I ever find out who this Delilah was, she better watch out for the ten thousand bullets that have each have her name on it.

Hey there, indeed.

Now, okay, you Texans really loved Lady Bird. Even the hard core sports freaks were mourning her the day after. When I first heard the news the other day I thought they said Larry Bird (which would explain the mourning sports freaks) and when heard it a second time I was wondering what the fuss was about Hank Hill’s dog (which would not explain the mourning sports freaks).

Anyway.

Thirty and two- just remember that.

Especially if you come across someone passed out on the floor and is not breathing.

Thirty compressions and two breaths for CPR up from fifteen compressions, so you will be freaking tired after several sets.

So I am not saving your life until I have a good warm up stretch so I do not pass out after a set or two of thirty compressions and two breaths.

While we are at it, the American Health Association’s CPR training now consists of a guy on a DVD talking you through the steps. Sorry, but that does not cut it.

Oh, well.

I am not boycotting 7-11 and the Kwik-E-Mart promotion. And I am not stopping you from going either. I thought it was a great promotion and I am curious as hell to see what Krusty-O cereal tastes like. And I even enjoy the Apu character. But I will not be supporting the promotion as it does pigeon hole our Desi friends as two dimensional caricatures (the Apu character does have some depth, but the normal gweilo will not care, that brown guy at the corner store is just another person they will mock because it is what they saw on TV because ultimately, Apu is a Desi as seen from the point of view of a gweilo no matter how hard they try).

As someone who is pigeon holed as being super smart with computers (well, I do know how to turn the machine on), knows kung fu (I watch the movies but I am not a martial arts master) and has canine for supper (just like Apu I am vegetarian), I know the annoyance of being stereotyped. So you can go to 7-11 if you want to, I will stay away for now (and besides- it has been at least a decade since I even walked into one anyway, when was the last time I craves a Squishy?).

Speaking of TV things, I am currently catching up on series three of Hustle which has become one of my favourite shows, whose producers also make Spooks/MI-5 (another favourite) and to whom I ask the following: Where is Life on Mars? I know there is an American remake coming soon, but come on! Give us the original on DVD. I am really anticipating this show and even the sequel Ashes To Ashes.

There is an article at the LA Times about the place where I used to work (http://www.latimes.com/news/local/ventura/la-me-archie9jul09,1,7854253.story?coll=la-editions-ventura&ctrack=1&cset=true – reproduced in full below) primarily about the place where I used to work and specifically about the therapy dog who I knew was the size of a small horse and is now the size of a big horse. It also talks about Vicki Murphy who was one of the most dedicated people there (and one of the nicest and always had some candy for me).

Funny that two years after I left there and after I left California that the article would just pop out of nowhere and drive me back to thinking about the place. There were frustrating times, maddening times and worse times. But there were also good times and good people there who at the end of the day were just about making sure the kids felt safe. There are some great people there and I just wish the article would just talk about them more (not to take away from Archie who also does great work there).

And why is it that there are things all over the place that are reminding me of home? I was watching the show Psyche which is set in Santa Barbara and name drops the 805 and Ventura. I spoke to someone named Camarillo (no kidding- and she wondered why the hell I moved to Texas. But then again, she was in Missouri). And then there is the article about the dog.

SO.

Two years in Texas for me.

How about that?

That LA Times article [with some commentary from me in brackets]:

Archie? He's the Dog Star

The 165-pound Newfoundland works his magic daily with abused and neglected children at Camarillo's Casa Pacifica. Only his drool is 'yucky!'

By Mary Engel, Times Staff Writer, July 9, 2007

“When we see really large creatures, we tend at first to be taken aback. But Archie is a very lovable-looking and acting dog.” - Howard Miller, a therapist at Casa Pacifica

[Howard is a great guy, who took time out of his day to say good bye to me on my last day; he is especially effective with tweens, making his therapeutic techniques very accessible for that age group]

The toddlers spot him the instant he steps out of his office. They swarm him like bees [the dog, not Howard], shouting his name:

"Archie! Archie! Archie!"

[The dog’s real name is Archibald Something Something- I forget what the full name was]

He drops to the ground, eye-level with 3-year-olds. They lean into him, hug him, climb on him.

At Casa Pacifica, a Ventura County oasis for abused, neglected and emotionally disturbed children, patience and calm aren't just virtues; they're job requirements. Archie has worked at the leafy campus in Camarillo for two years, and he doesn't flinch when small hands pull his ears and wandering fingers poke his nostrils.

[The little ones do not restrict their poking to just animals that walk on four by the way. Bipeds get as much attention when it comes to poking]

Instead, he bestows slobbery kisses with a pink tongue as large as a hand towel.

"Yucky!" the kids squeal, hugging the 165-pound dog all the harder.

Archie was Vicki Murphy's idea.

[Vicki is one of the non-frontline staff at Casa Pacifica who exemplifies and personifies the purpose and cause of that children’s shelter. She works very hard for the place and what’s even better- she also knows and appreciates the hard work of the front line staff. Plus her daughters look like supermodels- Hi Ashley!]

Her boss, Steven Elson, a psychologist and Casa Pacifica's executive director, was initially skeptical of so-called therapy dogs. Her husband was doubtful for different reasons; he knew where the massive canine, who looks like an extra-fuzzy black bear but is actually a Newfoundland, would spend nights and weekends.

[Steve Elson can sometimes seem aloof and distant from the goings on at the place and it sometimes seems as if he is sheltered from any bad news there. He does a good job there, though and is a nice person, but he is all business, all the time and drives a nice car]

But Murphy, 51, Casa Pacifica's director of operations and development, had watched dogs work magic with children before. A former private school teacher, she once raised a puppy in her classroom. The second-graders took turns walking Rudy, a Labrador retriever, and learned not to rock their chairs on his paws or tail. If dogs could teach privileged children about responsibility and nurturing, Murphy mused, maybe they could help kids whose human role models had failed them utterly.

[Hah! I love the fact that she went from helping privileged children to children who have next for nothing.]

Besides, she'd said to her husband when they picked up the 9-week-old Archie, then a cubbish 26 pounds, "How big can he get?"

Private donors bought the dog and have kept him in kibbles - eight cups a day, or almost 30 pounds a week.

Operated by a public-private partnership, Casa Pacifica looks more like an upscale camp than a shelter for youngsters who sometimes arrive with gashes and broken bones.

[Sad but true about the gashes and broken bones]

[I also have had adults who knew nothing about the place ask me how they could get reservations to the place, like it was a five star resort or something.]

It has 45 beds for emergency placements: infants through 18-year-olds rescued from abusive or negligent households in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. They stay an average of two months before returning to their families or being placed with relatives or in foster homes.

[HAH! I came up with that statistic. No really, I did.]

The campus also has a school and a 28-bed residential treatment center for seriously emotionally disturbed 11- to 18-year-olds who have exhausted the foster care system. A typical stay is about 15 months.

[Reality Check: the kids at the shelter, school and residential treatment center can get very annoying, abusive and generally think they are better than you. So, they are just like normal kids, just more extreme. So, give kudos to anyone who works in a similar place]

[Reality Check II: Remember where the kids are coming from, if we all had their experiences, we would an extinct species. And just like you the kids have good days and bad days, with way more good than bad. It is just that the bad days stand out]

[Reality Check III: Yes, there are kids you just want to take home and adopt though that is highly not recommended. I had a cousin who worked for a similar place in Orange County did that and it did not end well]

Murphy chose a Newfoundland for Casa Pacifica after researching breeds. Newfies are gentle, playful, lovable galoots whose devotion to children has earned them accolades as natural baby-sitters. According to the American Kennel Club, "Sweetness of temperament is the hallmark of the Newfoundland."

[Newfies, especially ones with the right coat, also look exactly like Chewbacca]

Their strengths made more of an impression on Murphy than other characteristics. Like their massive size. Or their tendency to drool.

Some children are initially frightened of Archie. They quickly get over it.

"When we see really large creatures, we tend at first to be taken aback," said Howard Miller, a Casa Pacifica therapist. "But Archie is a very lovable-looking and acting dog. Immediately the kids sense someone who is warm and cuddly. Being near him gives them a great sense of security."

Wired teenagers walk out their frustrations next to Archie. Lonely adolescents sit beside him on the green lawn, arms draped across his broad back. Kids who are having trouble in school practice reading aloud to him, choosing from a library of books about Newfies.

A toddler who was 11 months old when she arrived at Casa Pacifica spoke her first word there: "Archie."

[True Fact: Dogs are more lovable than most people; they are more lovable than me at least]

As for the drooling, Murphy and the other staffers have learned to live with what the kids call Archie's "schnarf."

[On one of his days off Archie ate Schnarf - much to the dismay of Lion-O and much to the delight of the other Thundercats]

Murphy bought stacks of white cotton shop towels, and everyone from the receptionist to Elson keeps one nearby to wipe slobber off walls, desks and laps.

[If Ericka is still the receptionist there, let her know I said hi. She looks like a supermodel, too]

A local quilting group has made 20 Newfoundland-size bibs, embroidered with Archie's name or phrases such as "World's Greatest Smoocher." He has a Valentine's bib and one for St. Patrick's Day. For the Casa Pacifica "prom," Archie wore a tuxedo bib with a boutonniere.

[The Casa Pacifica prom is a real prom, except the kids do not have to pay fifty dollar tickets; it begins at 6pm and is over by 8pm and there are no trips to hotels afterwards. Oh, and the DJ and/or entertainment usually is pretty cheesy- one year they had a Madonna impersonator]

Dog people don't need proof that a wagging tail can salvage even the worst day. But researchers at UCLA Medical Center have actually quantified the therapeutic value.

A study presented at the American Heart Assn.'s 2005 scientific conference monitored heart and lung function and stress hormones in 76 heart failure patients randomly assigned to one of three groups. In the group visited by a dog, anxiety levels dropped 24%, compared with a 10% drop in patients visited by a human volunteer and no drop in those with no visitor.

Today, UCLA's People-Animal Connection, or PAC, is one of the oldest and best-known animal-assisted therapy programs in the country. More than 60 trained volunteers and their dogs visit 450 patients a month at the university's Westwood and Santa Monica hospitals.

"Patients have said these visits make them happier, less anxious and isolated, and less scared," said PAC director Jack Barron, whose golden retrievers, Joey and Sam, specialize in transplant and psychiatric patients, respectively.

Even doctors, nurses and other hospital staff members put in requests from time to time, not for a patient but for themselves, Barron said.

At Casa Pacifica, Archie starts each day by greeting everyone who works there. Unfolding from the back seat of Murphy's Chrysler in the morning (her husband was right about those nights and weekends), he pokes his big, square head into every office before posting himself at the door to await the children.

When he isn't napping in Murphy's office, he snores next to the director's desk. Casa Pacifica's Christmas card last year featured a photo of Archie, a red scarf around his neck, a little girl at his side.

[He eventually ate the little girl]

[Okay, I kid]

Elson's reservations melted, even after Archie ran up some expensive medical bills.

Like many large breeds, Newfies are prone to joint problems. Most recently, Archie blew out his hip playing with Tallulah, Murphy's Shih Tzu, a silken-haired dog about the size of a loaf of bread.

Donations paid for the repairs. As Archie recovered, handmade get-well cards covered Casa Pacifica's walls and doors. The kids missed him. Home alone, the dog howled.

Murphy decided that work was the best medicine, and so Archie limped back to the office, his leg in a cast. And children who had known great callousness in their lives treated the giant canine with exquisite tenderness.

[And besides- happiness is a warm puppy]
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
mary.engel@latimes.com
[One post script: Newfies also have webbed toes, love the water and especially swimming. It is not recommended that you get a Newfie unless you have a swimming pool or access to a body of water. Newfies have also been known to be trained as life guards. I saw a group train at Lake Castaic once. Those horse sized dogs sure can be gentle.]
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TFORMERS

Once upon a time in the not-too-distant future (in distant days longing to sense it all so clear):

Seen (finally and I can now stop talking about it): Transformers

Bumblebee peed on one of the humans- which is the worst part of the movie.

Other than that it is a solid B-Movie, the kind that is related to Godzilla and other monster movies. You can complain about all the faults of the movie all day and have still some left over to talk about the next day. There are plot holes aplenty; some pretty far fetched coincidences, lapses in logic, some fake looking CGI at times, an abrupt ending but then again, you have to remind yourself that you are watching a summer movie about giant robots.

Movies about giant robots for now are nothing but spectacle, explosions and looking cool. You need a lot more movies about giant robots smashing stuff before you can get something with more depth like the Gundam and Macross franchises (which yes- both have some pretty stupid entries, but for the most part, they take an uncompromising look on war and the effect is has on all sides).

So- giant robots bashing each other and the fleshlings stuck in the middle.

I have an inkling that this movie will soon be the cool movie to hate- like how Star Wars and Star Trek are treated nowadays.

The Bad and the cheesy:

Reviews of the film from some of the hardcore fans. Were there that many latch key kids out there that grew up watching this movie? Reading the fan reviews, so many of them refer to Optimus Prime as the father figure who taught them how to live life. I did not get that. Prime was cool-yes, but I do not remember any life lessons imparted upon me when I watched the show.

Exactly how did the Secretary of Defense and friends defeat Frenzy?

Jazz- he will never live up to his profile. He was always listed as the head of Special Operations with operatives of his own (and taking the most dangerous missions himself) and an expert on learning alien cultures. None of his incarnations have ever exploited that. He is essentially the Jack Bauer/James Bond of the Autobots who hides his capabilities behind his cool exterior. But he gets ripped in half?

Megan Fox = Butter Face. Sorry, but it has to be said. Plus how many of you saw that her hotwiring skills would be put into use later on?

Robots in Disguise: Just look for the (mostly) garishly coloured vehicles if you want to find the Autobots (bright green ambulance, bright yellow car and yes- the Peterbilt with the flames). If you still cannot find them, they can be seen hanging out in FULL robot form at Griffith Park in broad day light. Like there are not always a million people there. At least the Decepticons mean business both in robot and alternate forms (even the boombox bot who I was worried would be an annoying gremlin but turned out to be more effective as a spy and menace).

Decepticons = Daleks. They just live for their purpose, which is to serve their leader Megatron and EXTERMINATE stuff. But at least they did it well.

Sparkplug Witwicky and Wife: The parents of Spike (never Sam) were annoying as hell and I hated how the movie ended with them hamming it up. Plus I am disappointed that a giant foot did not squish Bernie Mac.

Transforming noise was only used once. Although in my head it was used all the time the alternated forms.
They did not utilize the original theme song anywhere in the movie.

“We are autonomous robotic organisms from the planet Cybertron but can call us Autobots for short.” – I am glad that there is no explanation as to why their nemeses were called Decepticons. Or why giant alien robots had names like Jazz or Ratchet.

Bumble Pee. Nuff Said. I just wish they lit John Turturro on fire while they were at it.

That abrupt end to the battle of down town Los Angeles. At the last second Spike shoves the Allspark up Megatron’s chest and it just happens to destroy him? Makes no sense doing such a risky move.

Some bad CGI: especially at the end scene when it was too obvious.

The good:

The Transformers in general: For the most part, the GCI worked and the bots looked great. The designs grew unto me and they did work and were believable.

Optimus Prime: Just awesome. It would not be a Transformers film without him and more importantly the voice of Peter Cullen. I think he sounded more like a benign Venger than the original Prime, but it was still unmistakably Optimus Prime, lips and all, which did not bug me at all. Plus, was that the Matrix in his chest?

Autobots, Roll Out! - This phrase was used very effectively.

The Autobots. Great idea to make them the underdogs and out numbered. It was very effective how they sacrificed so much in protecting Spike and holding back against the Decepticons so that collateral damage is kept to a minimum. Although their characters were not defined, there was enough in each to give them individual personalities unlike the Decepticons (with the exception of Megatron, even Starscream was just a lackey until the end when he retreated leaving his compatriots to rot at the bottom of the ocean).

The ride home on the freeway: Okay, how many of you thought that black mustang in the fast lane was going to start walking all of a sudden?

The Battle of Down Town Los Angeles: is there anything left? Michael Bay needs to do The Authority as his next movie.
The inevitable sequel: Constructicons, Dinobots and Soundwave, oh, my? Yes, please. That one video online of Grimlock smashing his way through a building was just too cool.

“ARE YOU LADIESMAN217?”- Funniest line in the movie. As long it is said by a giant robot in an evil, threatening voice.
OVERALL:

I give the movie a solid B. Turn your brain off and discuss the inconsistencies later. But when the movie is on, it was definitely fun to watch.

So what is next for movies based on eighties nostalgia? TMNT came first and was a better movie overall.

GI Joe would be cool- but nothing new as we have all seen movies with ninjas and commandoes (honestly, I was surprised that the army dudes in Transformers did not end up being Joes, actually the movie would have been better it they were- that one dude from the show Las Vegas could have been Duke or Hawk, the ‘Bring It!’ dude was already Road Block, the Hispanic dude, Shipwreck- the spin off would have Megan Fox growing up to be Scarlet, Andrew from Buffy as Mainframe, the Aussie Hottie as Cover Girl, someone brand new as Lady Jaye, Bruce Campbell as Flint and introducing Snake Eyes and the inevitable ridiculous technology of Cobra being based on Cybertronian tech). And no GI Joe movie (live or otherwise) will ever match the awesomeness of the opening sequence of the GI Joe animated movie where they save the Statue of Liberty.

A He-Man movie was already done and a new one would just be as cheesy, no matter how hard you tried.
A Voltron movie would just look like a Power Rangers Movie.

And despite not being an eighties franchise, the upcoming Street Fighter movie would just piss me off as they would cast either a white chick as my favourite character (and supposed lead) Chun Li (they really want Jessica Biel?) or have someone without risk play her like Lucy Lui or Zhang Ziyi or flavour of the day Maggie Q or heaven forbid- Devon Aoki. I would prefer an unknown (or Fann Wong from Shanghai Knights or Grace Park from Battlestar Galactica or even Miriam Yeung or Cecelia Chung or Maggie Q’s HK buddy Anya- but I think these actresses are already all too old to play a young Chun Li; I think one of the HK pop duo from Twins, Charlene Choi or preferably Gillian Chung would do a good job if they play it seriously- they have shown to be able to fake the kung fu pretty well; but my dream actress to play the role would have to be China Chow, if only to see her again on the big screen).

Thundercats? Um, no- unlike the other popular eighties toy franchises (and M.A.S.K. was never popular), this property had no depth to it and the story cannot really go anywhere.

So for movies based on eighties nostalgia, I am only looking forward to the follow ups to Transformers and TMNT only if they can move forward with the story they came up with and not rehash what came before.

And speaking of rehashing:

Also Seen: The Protector with Tony Jaa

If you have seen Ong-Bak, you have seen this movie. Except this movie has a downer ending because [spoiler alert] his beloved elephant is skeletonized. You see how precious his pachyderms are to him (and to Thai culture) and the moment you see the skeleton just pisses you off. Most the fights are too choreographed, the stunts done better before and for me the only highlight was the fight at the temple when he has to battle three different opponents who use different fighting styles. The much talked about four minute single shot was just bleh to me. The pacing is frustrating and made what little plot there was incomprehensible, but then again I saw the US cut and have yet to see the international cut which hopefully make more sense but I am not hoping for much (as I found the US cut of Ong-Bak better than the original Thai cut).

Tony Jaa made a breakthrough with Ong-Bak but went nowhere with the Protector. He has the skills and the potential for his acting was there in the moments he had to emote. He just needs a movie with an effective story and/or hook to propel him forward. Jackie Chan did it with his movies veering into comedy and the comic vulnerability and imagination in his action scenes. Jet Li did it with his nationalistic and spiritual movies. Even Donnie Yen has done it, playing risky characters like the unlikable cop he played in Sha Po Lang and playing smaller but very memorable roles like he did in Hero.

Tony Jaa’s next movie is a sequel to Ong-Bak, which sounds like another step backward for him. Mindless martial arts films can be super fun (see Drunken Master and Fist of Legend and the original Ong-Bak), just please do not photocopy the fight scenes and story structure of your previous film and call it a new film.
A disappointing C-minus (although the temple fight by itself gets an A).
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