Bläeckfisk is the Swedish translation for the word octopus. I am not Swedish, but I do own a lot of furniture from Sweden and I like octopuses while admiring their multi-tasking ability. I would like to travel to Sweden at some point, plus I think it is a pretty cool looking word. Anyhow, speaking of words, I guess you could say that is why we are here. Words are the foundation for way we try to wrap our thoughts around everything in the galaxy. The tendrils that lead to emotions and curiosity. I am not here to solve the mysteries of the universe, just to discuss words in general. Specifically words written by other people and have been printed off and slapped between two slices of thin card stock. Many of these sandwiches go on to bigger and better things, some bigger and better than others. So, I guess we will be talking about those as well. If you share an interest in words or enjoi seeing what they can look like in action....välkommen! (Swedish for welcome.)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

F24: Lincoln-Directed by Steven Spielberg

"Don't waste that power."

What a waste. I was really looking forward to seeing this biopic on the Legendary 16th President, but this film simply fell flat. It was stuffy and drab and confusing and most certainly not entertaining. Daniel Day Lewis might very well be the best actor in my lifetime to cross the silver screen and he is a believable Honest Abe. He lumbers around solemnly raconteuring about stopping slavery and scheming ways to garner the necessary delegates needed to pass the 16th Amendment. His acting, along with Tommy Lee Jones' protruding portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens, is commendable and most likely will garnish nominations for upcoming awards. I feel like he did his part only to be let down by the direction of Steven Spielberg. 

I will give Stevo credit for his attention to detail and his selection of a costume designer, as those two aspects of this movie (outside the previously mentioned actors) are just about the only positive things I can say. The garrulous rhetoric, while being most likely very historically accurate, was mind numbing and extremely hard to follow. I did not go to the movie house today to learn about what happened during this terrible stretch in our Nation's past, but rather to see a portrait of a man many people consider one of our country's greatest heroes. Too much time was wasted not focusing on Lincoln but rather the tumultuous events and people that surrounded him. I understand that it is a fine balance of events and character development that make great biopics great, but this one simply did not have it. This film was a wasted opportunity to really commemorate the legacy of dear Mr. Lincoln and was stodgy to say the least. Just because you take a legendary actor and give him the part of a lifetime does not mean that it is going to translate into a great movie and I really struggled to find the pulse of this picture. Instead of wasting two Abe Lincoln's at the theater, I would recommend grabbing the book that was used to loosely guide that events of the film, Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It is worth your time and its pages bring Abe to life in a way that is both enduring, heartfelt and riveting. Trust me. 


Monday, November 19, 2012

B15: Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks (414 pages)

"Au contraire. It's a delight in the observable beauty of the human body."

Where to begin with this book. Let's start with the word controversial. And redemption. Or lack there of. This book is sure to grab your attention and is a perfect read for any book group out there. It will generate some interesting conversation and quite likely will lead to some heated debates. Meet Kid, a 20-ish year old trying to find his way through life. Kid is observant, nostalgic and wants just to fit in. He loves the idea of being invisible and along with his oldest friend Iggy, a 43 pound iguana, meanders through the streets of a southern Florida town searching for life's answers. He is an arresting character with an unexpectedly salty past; Kid is a registered sex offender.

We follow Kid and a handful of other pariahs into their world of coping with life after committing one of societies worst possible offenses. It is a struggle for them to say the least and while Banks does a skillful job of penning memorable characters and story line, the real crux of this book lies in the theme. Is there anything that a person can do that can be considered unforgivable? Is sometimes redemption unthinkable? Is it possible to have a lifetime of good deeds wiped out with one bad mistake and how long does that mistake need to be punished? Also, to what degree do a person's social upbringing play into the equation? Are we all solely to blame for our mistakes?

Kid meets a character named Professor who does believe in second chances and sets out to find a cure for what led Kid into the life he has now been thrust into. The two forge an unlikely bond and both quickly realize that there is a lot that they can learn from each other. I really admire Mr. Banks for tackling such an unusual topic and for the way that he tries to humanize the atrocities committed within its pages. This novel will get people talking, something that any book worth reading should do. Check it out, it is extremely well written and most definitely worth reading.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

B14: IQ84 By Haruki Murakami (925 pages)

 "Its 1Q84 now. The air has changed, the scene has changed. I have to adapt to this world-with-a-question-mark as soon as I can. Like an animal released into a new forest. In order to protect myself and survive, I have to learn the riles of this place and adapt myself to them."

Wow. What a book. Having just finished this masterpiece, I feel like I have completed a mental marathon. This work by Murakami is exhausting, ingenious and transcends the art of story telling. While this piece of literature may not be for everybody, it will go down as one of my favorite reads of all time. Words do little justice to describe the overwhelming feeling you get when you are into the book, or rather sucked into its vortex. Too be honest, I am not even sure how to sum up what I just read. But there in lies the magic of this story. This is a book about possibility. And how a human being could possibly dream up the web of details that create this story, is beyond beyond.

The bones of this book are structured around a lost relationship between the two main protagonists, Tengo and Aomame. Set in Japan in 1984, these two characters lead completely ambiguous lives apart from each other. Tengo is an aspiring novelist, Aomame an aspiring assassin. The two were once classmates in elementary school and have been separated for some twenty years, when a series of events begins sets in motion the process of their lives crashing back into one another. Young Tengo is asked to ghostwrite a fairy tale that reveals a little too much about a insidiously secret religious group and Aomame is assigned the task of dispatching the leader of the same group. Their lives are coincidentally thrown upside down and what they believed to be reality is now changed forever. Once the dust settles, they are no longer in the year 1984 (Murakami's homage to another one of my favorites) but rather in the year IQ84, where anything is possible. I can't say enough about how much I loved this book. It is epic, poetic, sexy, hypnagogic and truly an engaging work of art. This book is a must addition to any library and it something that you will not easily forget. It is more that just a love story, it is an experience. Domo arigato sensai Murakami, domo arigato.

Monday, September 24, 2012

F23: The Master-Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

"You are simply awful. A true scoundrel in every sense of the word."

Let's pretend that this movie hasn't been discounted as a time period drama and that Philip Seymour Hoffman doesn't look just like L. Ron Hubbard. Or that the pseudo religion started by PSH's character in this film doesn't sport the same eerily similar tendrils of Scientology. Or that there are not any people in the world that intellectually molest others into believing their far fetched dogma with promises of a grander existence. Lets take this film for what it is: exceptional. The Master will become one of the most talked about pictures of the year once award nominations start being garnered and frankly I am a little surprised at the lack of protest from members of Scientology regarding how their movement is portrayed or even at the very least, what this film is insinuating.

The movie is simple. And dry and brooding and poetic. We are introduced to Freddie Qwell in the opening scenes and quickly learn that he is a tragic, war torn figure willing to drink just about anything he can get his hands on to help him cope with life. Joaquin Phoenix delivers a masterful performance of this memorable character and should hopefully finally take home some hardware for his talents. While out on a drunken escapade, Freddie winds up stowing away on a small charter boat headed for NYC. On board is the surly Lancaster Dodd, a self proclaimed astrophysicist-writer-philosher sent from space to save mankind from our true animalistic selves. Dodd is played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, one of the greatest actors alive in my humble opinion. PSH is a Jedi and his role in the movie is easily worth your time and money. In fact I wish there was a tip jar at the picture house. After Dodd establishes the "Cause", what follows is the unpredictably twisted relationship between Lacaster's cult and the criminal minded Qwell. While this movie may not be the most exciting, riveting, action packed film you see, it will by far stage the highest level of acting you will come across this movie season. PSH and Phoenix are truly remarkable craftsmen and watching their interactions on screen is joy. This review could have taken several different turns as what lies at the heart of this movie is something worth talking and thinking about. While you are here to read reviews and not my rants on human maniputlation, I will end with this: see this film. Then get out there and find somebody to rant about it to. Kaboom.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

B13: The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (325 pages)

"I climbed the steps and rapped with the knocker a few times. The echo trailed off inside, like ripples on a pond. Fermin, who had assumed a respectful silence and looked like a boy on his first day of school, turned to me anxiously."
Fermin and Daniel and the Cemetery of Forgotten Books are back in a book that I have been waiting years for. Carlos Ruiz Zafon is a favorite author of mine and his Shadow of the Wind title is near the top of my all-time favorites. He does not disappoint in this sequel, shining the spotlight on the affable, skirt chasing Fermin and diving into his murky past. When we first met this lovable character he was in tattered rags and his body a sack of bones. Daniel, our spirited protagonist takes him in and nurses him back to life. We now know why Fermin was in the state he was in and what he was coming from that dreaded night that Daniel happens to stumble upon him. After an insidious character shows up at Daniel's bookshop, the past of Fermin begins to come alive, unearthing all of his past secrets that the author has created for us via flashback.

Zafon is a very simple writer of impeccable technique and has mastered the art of character development. All of his stories are intriguing and set against backdrops that reek of adventure. This book is no different and is really a series of fascinating characters that have something unfortunate in common. They have all been arrested and set to rot away in the city dungeon for being outspoken against the dreaded Franco regime of 1940's. Thieves, authors and bohemians alike attempt to weave together a patchwork of humanity in the struggle to survive their individual sentences and the wrath of Warden Valls. Valls is memorable villain who is every shade of odious imaginable. If you have not read Shadow of the Wind, I would highly suggest pulling up and ordering it stat, along with this sister novella. I promise you will enjoy them both immensely and Carlos Ruiz Zafon will become someone whose work you fall in love with.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

F22: The Bourne Legacy-Directed by Tony Gilroy

"Reds, greens and blues! Where are you keeping them?"

 Treadstone. Blackbriar. Viral genetic behavior modification supplements. Linking code that activates structural consistencies in a subjects physical makeup. Yawn. What a letdown this movie was. Being a huge fan of the Bourne franchise, I feel this latest and hopefully last installment is not worth your money. The film is too concerned with plot development and strays from the equation that made the previous films so stellar. With all due respect to the Philippines, gone are the sexy locations that we have come to expect from our beloved secret-agent-but-who-am-I-really series. The new main character, Aaron Cross, spends too much time playing tiddlywinks out in the remote wilderness instead of delivering lethal karate chops to the throats of his aggressors.  The director waited too long to launch him into action and lost me after the first 30 minutes.  You will be confused and just when you think you really have no clue what is happening, your befuddlement is untangled with some ridiculous turn of events. And don't even get me started on the ultra bad guy who is brought in from a similar sister training program to hunt Cross at the end of the film. He was laughable, as were the white pants he sported while jumping from roof top to roof top in hot pursuit. I will save everyone some time on this review and cut to the chase. This movie is flat out boring. Those fans of Jason Bourne will be disappointed and I strongly recommend waiting for DVD, at least then you can have instant access to snacks and alcohol. Boooooo.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

F21: The Dark Knight Rises-Directed by Christopher Nolan

Dear Christopher Nolan,

Just wanted to thank you for all your hard work the past decade and for bringing something very dear to my childhood to to life. Batman has always been my favorite comic book character and I have relentlessly hoofed it down to see every attempt at bringing him to life on the big screen. Michael Keaton was a classic, George Clooney a clown and Val Kilmer something in between. Casting Christain Bale was an amazing choice, especially considering the direction you were going to be the whole project. He is gritty, savvy and shines brightest when harboring the broken down spirit of a man with nothing to lose.

This last installment was not my favorite of the trilogy, but it wow was it good. I understand that it takes time to wrap up a series of films and the way you connected to dots and had the entire plot come full circle was brilliant. Your penchant for story telling is top shelf and I admire your ability to develop characters like no other. Your latest villain, Bane did not really show up too much in my comics, but I sure do wish he had. Mr. Nolan, he was bad ass. Not just surface bad ass, but throughout the core of his character, which you so expertly flushed out, he was incredible. He was no Joker, but I loved what you did with him, as well as how you introduced the Catwoman to the story. Anne Hathaway was another stellar casting choice and I really enjoyed her take on the iconic enigma. Hello, leather jumpsuit!

What can I say about your action sequences? I am pretty sure you did not really blow up that football field with Heinz Ward running back a kickoff, but yesterday you had me hook, line and sinker. Your vision for creating stunts and scenes that have not been seen before is implausible and this last installment was truly a magnificent achievement in film making. Your Batcave was dark and sinister and quite a change from Adam West's version with all the super computer boxes hogging the floor. I don't know how you do it Mr. Nolan, but everything about your film is visually ridiculous.

Again, thank you so much for all that you have poured into this trilogy. I have come a long way since running around the house in my Batman Underoos, and it was great to see how you evolved my beloved Batman into something that I could appreciate and love while being in my 30's. I will be looking forward to sitting down someday to uncork this masterpiece with my children and relive the prodigious story that you have told us about a man named Bruce Wayne and his involvement with the League of Shadows. Till then, I will be waiting for your next project to come out. I am sure it will be wicked.



Saturday, July 7, 2012

F20: Savages-Directed by Oliver Stone

"There is just something wrong with your love story baby."

I was really looking forward to this film, but must say that it was really disappointing. Who wouldn't want a little stickem up-drug runnin-rpg blasting-love triangle kinda film on a Friday afternoon? I thought it sounded like a good idea, but this movie simply falls flat. While some may call Oliver Stone a visionary, he takes this simple plotted film and attempts to stretch into something epic. Epic it is not. I appreciate his attempt and while the man sure as hell can direct a bad ass action scene, this movie crawls and inches its way on. And on. And on. And on. And on. And on. And alright already boys, get moving and rescue the girl. She has and we have for that matter, suffered long enough. It did barely enough to keep me in my seat till the end, which was 2 hours and 45 minutes away from the opening spot.

Meet Ben and John. Ben and John grow cannabis. Lot's of it. They run their indy drug business in Laguna Beach, Ca and both date a girl named Ophelia, played by Blake Lively. Soon their operation attracts the attention of competing Mexican drug cartels and they are forced to accept an absorption or suffer the predictable consequences. Their plan to flee to Indonesia is foiled when Ophelia is kidnapped and held hostage, forcing them into upholding the proposed business arrangement. They conform, but hatch a rescue plan after about an hour of screen time and chaos ensues. Salma Hayek is cast as an unconvincing jefe running the Mexican operation from Tijuana. Other than the action scenes, the only other aspect worth mentioning is Benicio Del Toro's character which he plays to a T. One of my favorite actors, in this film his character is utterly despicable. Playing El Jefe's mullet rocking, bull whip cracking leading henchman, Lotto is abhorrently cruel with his methods. Bencio's talent is obvious and was one of the reasons why I did end up staying. When the ending finally did come, I can say that I enjoyed the mini twist Mr. Stone tossed in there, but more so the fact that it was finally over. Skip this one friends, or at the very least wait till released on DVD so you can take breaks. Trust me, you will need them.


Friday, June 29, 2012

F19: Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter-Directed by Timur Bekmambetov

"Judge us not equally, Abraham. We may all deserve hell, but some of us deserve it sooner than others."

History, violence and vampires. What a concept. This movie adaptation of the popular book hit movie houses this week and was quite interesting. It is not for everybody, but for a hybrid genre of historical fantasy, it reeks of awesomeness. Honest Abe wielding a custom silver crusted axe, battling the forces of darkness? Yes please! The title pretty much sums up the entirety of what this film covers and while it lacks depth, the special effects are stellar. Director Timur Bekmambetov had a real challenge on his hands turning this film into something worthwhile, as it could have just as easily become a rotten egg of an experience. The casting was terrific, the backdrop of a U.S. Capital in its infancy and the civil war scenes all were extremely well done. This movie is really a testament to what special effect companies are able to achieve these days and the fight scene that took place in the middle of a stampede was downright ridiculous. Muting the color palate also gives this movie the gothic edge it needed and I really enjoyed how historical events were taken and injected with a little twist of dred. If you are looking for a little escape from the real world and are in need of an action fix, check out of Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter. It is worth seeing.


Monday, June 25, 2012

F18: Moonrise Kingdom-Directed by Wes Anderson

"I am missing a Khaki Scout. I am letting you know only as it is required by protocol."

Wes Anderson is not a director, but rather a mad scientist of his craft. I love his organic approach to storytelling and his sarcastically glum and drab style. Watching one of his movies is like sitting in a funky, hidden coffee shop that’s walls have been strangely muraled by some unknown visionary. You are not sure what to say about the art, but you just know that it is brilliant. He is really unlike any other director out there, and this latest movie of his is exceptional.  His movies are best remembered for their charming yet dark characters and the two leads in Moonrise Kingdom, Suzy and Sam surely belong in the pantheon with such legends as Steve Zissou and Chas Tennebaum. 

Sam is a Khaki Scout. Or ex-Khaki Scout I should say. He is roughly 11 years old.  And unpopular. Quite an accomplished water colorer, Sam has coke bottle glasses and builds a mean campfire. 

Suzy is also roughly 11 years old. She is left-handed. Suzy has three annoying brothers, loves science fiction novels, listening to music and blue eye shadow. Where ever she goes, her trusty binoculars go with, along with her pet kitten.

These two share an unlikely encounter during the school play and hatch a plan to go and live together out in the wilderness. Their disappearance does not go unnoticed and soon a savory cast of characters is on the warpath trying to find them and put an end to their budding romance. Edward Norton plays the Khaki Scout leader and is priceless tromping around the forest in short shorts and knee high socks. Bruce Willis crushes the role of pathetic downtrodden police officer, while Harvey Keitel will have you smirking with his depiction of the commanding founder of the Khaki Scouts. This movie has everything you will not be expecting a summertime flick to have and is a must see. It is fresh, enchanting and awkward, like all great Wes Anderson movies are. Skip the blockbusters and see this, stat. Thank you Mr. Anderson, you are a genius.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

B12: Ghost in the Wires by Kevin Mitnick

"sdkgnkiju n kdsmiwejfj23j232 3t49t94j9ejfjskvsd vsdvsgjsro ogorsgoj43j994j3j5809."

While this much talked about autobio may not be the most eloquently written book, the subject matter makes it worth reading. Kevin Mitnick is a legend. Just about everybody in the computer world knows and fears his name. Best known for his circumventing talents and auspicious ability to manipulate, Mitnick is an hacker extraordinaire. Using a primitive ham radio to intercept police information and to hijack the local McDonald's drive through frequency, Kevin began hacking in his early teens. His journey has been an entertaining one and still to this day he is able to seduce cyber security barriers, while making a comfortable living doing it.

When most people think of the term hacker, more times than not they associate identify theft, fraud and embezzlement with the subject in question. What I found to be piquing with Kevin Mitnick was how his passion for computer hacking was never for financial reasons. He was able to gain access to just about any blip of data he so choose, only to store and stash the intel on some unsuspecting out of state server. Even more interesting are the methods used to manipulate workers with in the targeted company and how Kevin was able master the art of "social engineering". Having done some research on a particular individual, he would contact them on site and pretend to be out in the field with some sort of emergency that required the download/upload of source code he wished to acquire. Often times speaking in a hurried tone that emulated a potential crisis, he was granted access for simply sounding believable. What follows is a true cat and mouse game of life on the run, stuffed with blank birth certificates, cloned cell phones and late night rendezvouses. Rendezvouses. That doesn't quite sound right, but I'm rolling with it. Sorry, I digress. Yes this book is a bit geeky, but I would certainly say that it is an adventure worth digesting. At the very least it will give you something to think about when setting your online passwords. Check it out.

Friday, April 6, 2012

B11: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (608 pages)

"You should have no sense of guilt about having had relations with me. You see, Mr. Okada, I am a prostitute. I used to be a prostitute of the flesh, but now I am a prostitute of the mind. Things pass through me."

Haruki Murakami is a wizard. Reading his work is like using a kaleidoscope to peek into the dream of  a lost poet. The words seemingly drip off the pages, float down and burrow themselves into your skin. You will remember this book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and would highly recommend it to anyone in search of something different. For it revolving around such a simple plot, the story is imprinted with depth that is often lacking in many books clinging to "Best Seller"  lists churned out by major cosmopolitan cities. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is really a collection of savory characters that all come into contact with our unorthodoxly ordinary hero, Toru Okada.

After Toru and his wife Kumiko's cat goes missing, Toru sets out on a mission of self discovery that ultimately will dump his life upside down. A prostitute, a brooding teenage girl and an old Manchurian War general enter into Toru's world and each provides a piece of a key that will be needed to unlock Toru's potential. He soon becomes a product of these encounters and now needs their perspectives to help him locate his wife who has gone missing without a trace. This book is a heroic attempt at using history, sex, politics and human interaction to tease out life's true purpose and to give meaning to the meaningless. So much in our life revolves around the people we meet along our own journeys and this book will definitely cause you to reflect on some of the more interesting characters you may have come across in your own time here on Earth. It is beautifully written and while it has an austere backbone that creeps throughout, this book will be a fantastic addition to any library. Read it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

F17: Hunger Games-Directed by Gary Ross

"Hope is the only thing more powerful than fear. A little fire is effective and a spark is fine....... as long as it is contained."

This is a stellar movie and about as good of an adaptation of a beloved book that I have seen. There were a few minor adjustments to the plot and the elimination of a character or two, but overall I loved everything about the Hunger Games. The visual experience of life in the districts and the depressing nature of dystopian Panem was incredibly well executed. Whoever was in charge of casting also deserves some praise, as I thought all the characters were perfectly cast for the motley crew of characters Suzanne Collins spawned in her books. Donald Sutherland was a wicked President Snow. Arrogant, insidious and calculating. Woody Harleson's character Haymitch could have been a wee more of a drunken train wreck, but I enjoyed him as Katniss and Peeta's mentor. Jennifer Laurence became Katniss Everdeen and I believe she embodied the crux of the character to the fullest. Strong and innocent. Provocative yet deadly. Rebelliously devoted to those that she holds dear. In short, a prodigious female protagonist that kicks ass.

While I did really enjoy this film, there is definitely something very disturbing about the whole idea behind the Hunger Games. Set aside the futuristic predictions of what society could be like and how oppressively controlling the government could end up being. I think what bothers me the most is that this movie was based on books that kids are reading. Is revolution and televised murder appropriate for our youth? I get that there is a lot out there in the world and we as a society have become more and more desensitized to violence with each passing year. Sure, vicious adventure stories depicting sacrifice have been around for thousands of years (Collins has been noted as using the Greek Myth of Theseus and the Minotaur as inspiration), but I can't help but wonder how much is too much? What's to come from these impetuous spores that we are embedding in our kids? Seems like every few months we hear of some youth who picks up violence, stashes it a trench coat or backpack and trots off to school, only to unleash it on his/her innocent peers who just happened to show up that day trying to learn something.

The Hunger Games is a powder keg of controversial topics and I really hope the parents of our kids out there reading and seeing this movie will take some time to diffuse some of the ideas presented. As an educator, I do admire Suzanne Collins for penning such a magnetic narrative that with out a doubt has hooked many young minds into the world of reading. However, what does that say about our society if it takes a series of books about kids hunting and slaying other kids to convince youths that reading is worthwhile? That being said, if the intended audience age range was higher, this would all be a mute point. Hunger Games was a great movie. It has action, drama and a snatch of romance. The cinematography is wonderful. Top rate special effects and clever camera work create an experience well worth the money you will shell out for admission. I highly recommend reading the books and seeing this movie, if nothing else than to keep your finger on the pulse of what is being talked about in school with our youngsters. Chances are you will become a fan. Judge for yourself and may the odds forever be in your favor.


Monday, March 19, 2012

F16: In the Land of Blood and Honey-Directed by Angelina Jolie

"Do you remember what is was like, before the battles?"

War is relentless. War is ghastly. And grim. And terrifying and something that I will never quite be able to fully wrap my head around. That being said, this really is a must see film. For as savagely brutal as the subject is, there is a whisper of tenderness to this multi layered drama that is worth experiencing. The film begins in pre-war Bosnia-Herzegovina and explores a potential romance between Serbian officer Danijel and a Bosnian Muslim artist, Ajla.  As the militant Serbians begin their ethnic cleansing, Ajla is rounded up with other young  women and sent a commanding strong hold where they are savagely forced into servicing the resident soldiers. Danijel is in charge of the outpost and upon learning that Ajla is now in his camp, risks his own fate by shielding Ajla from the monstrous acts that are being committed each day at the base. What follows is a snapshot of a fragile, forbidden relationship and its struggles to survive in the most dire of circumstances. 

First time director and screen writer Angelina Jolie seizes your attention with a powerfully ominous first scene that formulates the soul of what is to come. This work is essentially a self portrait of war and the horrendous atrocities that follow. War is hard at work killing, raping and humiliating people for nothing more than their belief in different ideas. Entire families are ripped apart and systematically gunned down and covered with earth. Cities are destroyed and memories are stained. Jolie's portrayal of these events are nothing short of numbing and for being such an icon of Hollywood, this film has all the artistic makings of a memorable indy flick. Outside of her choice to have the actors speaking English, there is a real feeling of authenticity to this movie and the eerie way she manipulates silence transforms these tragic events from abominable to haunting. I wish there was never a need to make this film but by reopening the wounds of this conflict, Jolie brings to attention to this abhorrent chapter in our modern history with hopes of teaching people about what took place in the early 1990's in Eastern Europe. Hopefully this film will serve as a reminder of the disastrous effects of war and at the same time remind all of us to treat each other with understanding and empathy. See this movie.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

B10: Destiny of the Republic By Candice Millard (265 pages)

"They must not be knocked down with bludgeons. They must have their throats cut with a feather."

This book is a gem. Like the cover boasts, this book is about madness, medicine and the murder of our 20th president, James Garfield. What is even more amazing than the fact that Garfield's presidency lasted a mere 200 days, is that the wounds sustained by bullets of the mad Charles Guiteau were not fatal. He was unlucky to walk into that train station on the morning of July 2, 1881, but even unluckier to have such an incompetent, pertinacious lead physician that his care was entrusted to. I am no doctor, but surely thrusting your unsanitized finger into a gunshot wound is not the best way to assess the situation. The resulting infection would eventually lead to the agonizing death of a notoriously eloquent man that never intended to be president in the first place.

Millard is promising young writer from Kansas City that attacks this story with passion. It is clear from the opening paragraph that she has an intense love of history and the means to bring it to life. This book is filled with authentic characters who all in some way or another managed to have their fingerprints left upon the unfortunate account of James Garfield; Joseph Lister, whose conviction towards sanitization of medical instruments would someday dramatically shift the way surgeries were performed. The uncanny Alexander Graham Bell gave up precious months of his time to come up with a machine capable of locating the bullet buried inside the bowels of Garfield. Then there is Guiteau. Charles Guiteau was a strange man with an intriguing story behind his road to insanity, hell bent on securing his place in history. Taking these intrigingly surly figures and mixing in the backdrop of an unstable, new formed country, 16 years after the Civil War, we get the makings of a great story. I highly recommend checking this book out as it reminded me a lot of Devil in the White City (a past favorite). You will inevitably learn something new about one of the shortest tenures in the oval office while also gleaning an new perspective on what it would have been like to be a doctor around the late 1800's. History freak or not, this book is worth reading.

Monday, February 27, 2012

F15: Safe House-Directed by Daniel Espinosa

"You know what you are? Well, I know what you aren't."

Surprisingly, this movie was quite good. Most action films released this time of year are best suited for rentals, but this film was rather absorbing. I must confess that Ryan Reynolds is not my favorite nor was I longing to see a movie about a covert CIA "safe house".  That being said, RR was solid and the plot was engaging. The story goes something like this: Matt Weston (Reynolds) holds a backwater, entry post with the CIA in South Africa and is responsible for "keeping house" at a hidden government holding center. Weston is eager to prove himself with something a little more vigorous, when legendary traitor and spy Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) is dropped into his lap for safe keeping. Frost has been swapping intel on numerous intelligence fronts and has been the subject of countless manhunts for the past ten years when he is finally snatched in Johannesburg. Unluckily for Frost, someone he has crossed in the past becomes privy to the location of his holding and unleashes hell to try and silence the slippery operative. Believing this is his one chance to impress the people that be, Weston eludes the ambush and powers across the city with Frost in tow.

This is probably the closest film I have seen to one of my favorite all time movies, Man on Fire (also starring Washington). The gritty, gloomy lighting that this movie was filmed in adds a dark feel to the action and establishes a serious tone to what could have become a silly story line. The acting is admirable, the chase scenes epic and the creative use of the camera angles really consummate a quality movie. Espinosa develops both main characters and takes us along for the ride of their individual self discovery, ultimately leading us in a direction we didn't see coming. It will not change your world, but I really enjoyed Safe House. It's getting cold out there and the movie house is beckoning. If you are going to go, you might as well go see a good one.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

B9:11/22/63 By Stephen King (849 pages)

"We're all mad here was what the Chesire Cat told Alice. Then he disappeared. Except for the grin, that is. As I recall, the grin stayed awhile."
This latest enduring novel by Stephen King may be a touch sluggish but is worth reading. It has been a long time since I have read anything from Mr. King and I feel that the content of this new work is more or less a new frontier for him. Apparently he tried to pen the book back in the 70's but buckled under the weight of research that was going to be required to flush out his historically exorbitant story. I love the topic of anything JFK and admire King for undertaking such a delicate and temperamental topic. Nobody knows exactly what happened that dreadful day in '63 but I am sure everyone can agree upon the fact that if Jack Kennedy lived, our world would be completely different. Would we have gone to Vietnam? Could Regan's Cold War have been avoided? How about the present day tensions in the Middle East? An alive and well 35th president surely would have touched these and undoubtedly many other aspects of our nation's history. These questions lounge beneath the cover of this book and working under the pretext that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman, beckon…..what would the world have been like had “Ozzie Rabbit” been stopped that November afternoon in 1963?
The idea of time travel is not new. However, King puts his own spin on the matter and provides some interesting guidelines.  After stumbling upon a “rabbit hole” Jacob Epping is transported back to the year 1958.  Every time Jacob returns to the future and re-enters the time portal, history is re-set to the original way it was before the initial entry.  As we find out later though, these entries come at a cost and have their own effect on history, or “butterfly effect”. No matter how long you spend in the past, only 2 minutes of real time in the future will elapse. Our 35 year old protagonist sets about making his way from Maine down to Texas with a plan to prevent the assassination of JFK. Along the way he encounters some salty characters ranging from bookies to detectives to murderous types getting ready to commit crimes Jacob knows they are about to commit. As his level of involvement deepens, Jacobs begins to find himself struggling with the distortion of living in this new reality.  Meeting a pretty young lady only adds to his confusion of whether or not he is doing the right thing by proceeding with his plans. Should he stay and attempt to drastically change the course of US history or abandon his quest and return to the comforting confides of the future?
I would recommend this book, but must mention that it is long and at times tediously slow. I am not sure why it was written to be as long as it was, but the ending in my opinion makes up for the several chapters that you will surely breeze over. It is no Fall of Giants by Ken Follett, but definitely a solid read. The topic is absorbing and crawls into your thinking. If you had a chance to go back into history to make some changes, would you? Being my nutty history loving self, I'd be all over it. But hey, that’s just me.

Monday, January 30, 2012

F14: Man on a Ledge-Directed by Asger Leth

"So, what's on your mind?"

Consider passing on this ho-hum thriller set in New York City. With very little substance and some silly plot twists, I was mildly entertained by this film starring Sam Worthington. Although the thrill factor is about as riveting as the title of the movie, the premise did keep my attention span in check and my seat in the seat. I am a sucker for caper/heist movies and if you want a nice, fun little outing to the movie house, this may be the movie for you.

We follow the recent escape of convict Nick Cassidy (Sam W.) and his mission to prove his innocence. For some strange reason the opulent Mr. Englander (Ed Harris) has tabbed Cassidy as the fall guy for a little insurance scam centered around the theft of his revered Monarch Diamond. Cassidy claims to have been set up and sets in motion a rather far fetched scheme that has him perched atop a ledge of the Roosevelt Hotel in NYC. Proclaiming his innocence to a frenzied crowd below, Nick threatens to jump. As the police and media focus their attention on Nick, his brother and soon to be sister-in-law are busy penetrating the impregnable defenses of Englander's office building. Which just happens to be across the street from Nick and his ledge. Outfitted with thermal sensors. And infa-red cameras. And a gargantuan top of the line vault. I have no doubt that you will be able to connect the rest of the dots, but while the plot is a little lackluster, to some degree this movie was fun. I wouldn't recommend running down to the movie theater to see it, but if you need an afternoon filler, it is matinee worthy or a solid flick to pop into your Netflix que. Boom.


Monday, January 23, 2012

F13: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close-Directed by Stephen Daldry

"He loved the smell of gasoline and hated tomatoes."

You do not want to miss this movie. Films so masterfully crafted around emotionally devastating events are few and far between and this wonderful movie will get to you. There is a lot I could say about the deconstruction of each individual layer of this picture, but I will say that I loved everything about it and leave it at that. In my humble opinion, movies that transcend memorable and move into the magnificent are why we tromp down to the movie house on weekends and shell out 12 clams in the first place. We slink in, sit down and stare. Sometimes we stir, but most often we don't. This movie is an emotional enterprise that somehow finds its way into your soul. It connects to so many people and so many experiences that I would strongly suggest people of any age to watch it. Tragedy, adventure, reconciliation and the efficacy of the human imagination are the threads that are stitched into this picture.

Oscar himself is not your average tween-ager nor is his alluring relationship with his father Thomas. The two share a passion for the unknown as well as a bond that is endearing to say the least. On "The Worst Day Ever"  (September 11, 2001) Thomas is snatched out of Oscar's life forever. What ensues is a journey of self discovery that takes Oscar zigg-zagging through the boroughs of New York as he tries to make sense of the unexpected new void in his life. Armed with a tambourine, an Israeli gas mask and a mysterious key, Oscar begins his personal odyssey.

Although he is young, Thomas Horn (Oscar) should be considered for some sort of major award this year. After getting noticed for his success on Jeopardy for Kids, he absolutely nails this role. His performance was remarkable and I might even goes as far as to say that it is the best piece of acting I have seen all year long. His role is believable, quirky and heart wrenching, the type of performance that is not easily forgotten. I will be looking forward to following his career and hope he enjoys all of his new found fame. Well deserved young man. Go see this movie, Kleenex optional.


Monday, January 9, 2012

F12: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy-Directed by Tomas Alfredson

"Got a rabbit to pull out of your hat, Percy?"

Do not waste your time with this film. Or the book that it is based on, by John le Carré. There I said it. And man does it feel good. I wanted to blast my disappointment during the film yesterday, but then remember how my pet peeve is people who are rude in movie houses. Seriously though kids, skip this one. This movie about all things espionage and is the complete opposite of why we love spy thrillers. There are no martinis. No kooky gadgets that explode or release smoke.  Fem Fatales that seduce the our secret agent man, only to hit him with a poison dart after a steamy shower scene? Nada. No high stakes poker games, no bowties and no ultra fast car chase scenes. This movie was not sexy, nor was it exciting. It was drab and dull and filled to the brim with confusion. You keep waiting for everything to click into place, and or for things to pick up, but they never do. Even the score was a struggle to digest. I was expecting a vintage spy film cast in the mold of Munich or The Debt, but instead got slapped with an old hybrid of High Street Blues and Matlock.

The premise is this: there is a mole. And that mole that has penetrated British Intelligence and is siphoning off intel to the Russians. Former agent, Mr. Smiley (Gary Oldman) is brought back into the fold to try to uncover the perp. Simple enough plot line. Armed with a star studded cast (Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Mark Strong) this movie should work. Sadly enough, it just doesn't. I should have known better, as I put down the book after 75 pages due to many of the same reasons listed above. The only noteworthy aspect of this project is the brain trust that put together the trailer for this film, hoodwinking my wife and I into believing that this movie would be worth our time and 20 bucks. In short, it was not.