A penny saved is ridiculous.

A penny saved is ridiculous.

Friday, January 13, 2017

This and that

Happy weekend, everyone.  Hope you'll all make it a good one.

If you're looking for a decent movie to watch this weekend, you could do worse than Hidden Figures, a solid and entertaining biopic about three unsung heroes of the U.S. space program.  Think The Help combined with The Right Stuff and you'll have a rough idea of what you'll getting (though the women of Hidden Figures have a slightly better social standing and aren't persecuted quite as much as the women in The Help).  Anyway, good movie.

I notice that author William Peter Blatty passed away earlier this week.  To pay tribute to the author of so many moody and entertaining works, try listening to the 40th Anniversary Edition of his most famous novel, The Exorcist, which was produced a few years ago and is read aloud- and very well- by Mr. Blatty himself.  I listened to it last year and really enjoyed it. Still a very creepy book, and- as a bonus- it's a nice time capsule on life in New York City in the 1970's.

My literary and audio projects for 2017?  First, I'm going to finish my 2016 project and read or listen to the last few James Bond novels written by John Gardner in the 1980's and 90's. To paraphrase the old movie ads about Sean Connery, Simon Vance IS James Bond in the audiobook versions.  But, alas, not all the Gardner Bonds are available on audio, so thank God for Kindle.  I also want to finish up John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee series, which I'll continue doing on audio as Robert Petkoff does a really nice job reading them.  And, who knows, I may even get caught up on John Sandford's terrific Prey thriller series, which I've been enjoying again lately after a hiatus.  I will also lean towards audio on that series, as narrator Richard Ferrone has made Sandford's cop characters truly his own.

See you all next week!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

It's coming

The upcoming Twin Peaks revival finally has a release date and episode count.  Showtime will being airing episodes from the new 18-episode season on Sunday, May 21.  The program will continue storylines from the first two seasons of Twin Peaks that aired on network TV in 1990 and 1991, as well as the 1992 movie, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

Unfamiliar with the scary, crazy, funny, and surreal Twin Peaks?  You can currently view the first two seasons on Netflix, and the 1992 movie isn't that hard to find, either.  If you watch an episode or two and like what you see, you'll have just enough time to get all caught up before the May premiere of the new season.

You could also read Mark Frost's 2016 novel, The Secret History of Twin Peaks, which is meant to be a sort of bridge between the older stories and the upcoming new ones.  It's said that the audiobook version of the title is quite something, featuring many of the original actors from the show reprising their roles.  I'm probably going to check out the book in one form or another, after shortly re-watching all the original episodes and the movie.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Male bonding

A project of mine last year was to read or listen to all the James Bond novels written by British thriller novelist John Gardner in the 1980's and 90's.  I had read a handful of them when they were originally published and had liked them, so my project last year was to reacquaint myself with the ones I had enjoyed and to finally get to all the ones I hadn't back then.

The project went pretty well, aided by the fact that quality audio recordings of most of books are now available.  Actually, the project is still going on.  I read the first two entries (actually using my old hardback copies from way back when), Licence Renewed and For Special Services, as they for some reason aren't yet available on audio. Then, periodically throughout the year, I listened to the next several books on audio, enjoying the excellent new productions read by Simon Vance offered at Audible.com.

I listened to Icebreaker; Role of Honour; Nobody Lives Forever; No Deals, Mr. Bond; Scorpius; and Win, Lose, or Die.  Then I switched back to old-fashioned reading for Licence To Kill, a novelization of the 1989 James Bond Film, but also written by Mr. Gardner.

I enjoyed all of these titles.  Gardner's Bond novels, the first major attempt to revive and continue the Ian Fleming series, are all solid spy novels, but laced with enough of the glamour and big-set pieces we've become used to in the movies.  They're a lot of fun, at least the ones I've revisited and visited for the first time last year.  I still have a handful to go.

Licence To Kill was the odd duck.  It didn't feature an original Gardner Bond story, but his adaptation of the (pretty good, I thought) movie story.  But what Gardner did was alter certain aspects of the story to make it fit into the main Fleming/Gardner James Bond literary timeline.  I'll have to write a bit at some point about the results of that experiment, which were interesting but uneven. The novel also didn't have the richness and nuance of the other Gardner novels, as he had to keep up the breakneck pace of the film story and include the humor and over-the-top plot developments, which perhaps worked better on a movie screen than in a book.

But, all in all, this project has been worthwhile, and I'm looking forward to finishing off the last several John Gardner James Bond novels in 2017.  Stay tuned for more discussion of them.

All of the John Gardner "James Bond" novels are available on Kindle. All but the first two books in the series are available, at very nice prices, at Audible.com.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Tra La La

We saw La La Land this past weekend and liked it well enough.  The movie marks a return to theaters of the classic Hollywood musical... you know, a movie where the characters suddenly beak out into song to express their emotions, with some nice dancing usually thrown into the mix, too.  It was fun.

Of course, every few years someone takes a stab at an old-fashioned movie musical, so La La Land isn't a totally unique return to the form.  Another recent example is a Woody Allen film of a few years back called Everyone Says I Love You.  I thought that one was pretty good, too.

Speaking of Woody Allen, I thought it was interesting that La La Land and Woody's latest film, Cafe Society, feature pretty much the same plot, or at least the same theme and development of that theme.  Maybe I wouldn't have immediately noticed if I hadn't (coincidentally) pretty much seen the two films back to back, the former on Amazon Prime and the latter at our local AMC.

Anyway, both movies are about career-driven people who fall in love, then have to balance the needs of their careers and their relationships.  And in the end (mild spoiler here), both films give us a kind of melancholy, "Be careful what you wish for" ending.  Neither movie has a total downer conclusion (don't worry about that), just sort of a wistful, "Did I make the right decision?" kind of thing, regarding their careers and relationships.

Oh, and I don't think either movie stole its plot from the other, as both were in production at roughly the same time. It's just one of those coincidences that happen from time to time in the world of entertainment. I do recommend both movies, by the way.  Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are great in La La Land and Jesse Eisenberg and Kristin Stewart are equally good in Cafe Society.  Though the latter couple's job was a little easier, I think, as they didn't have to periodically break into a song-and-dance number.

Friday, December 30, 2016


Just a quick post before I leave for the long weekend to wish everyone a Happy New Year.  I hope 2017 brings good things to all of you.

Oh, another quick entertainment tip before I go (to augment the batch of them in the previous post). We caught Woody Allen's latest, Cafe Society last night on Amazon Prime (where it's now streaming), and I found it to be charming and funny, and one of Woody's better recent efforts.  Starring Jesse Eisenberg and Kristin Stewart, this one is mainly about that one special love: how we chase it even when it's wrecking other aspects of our lives, and how we still miss it even when we find something equally good that's arguably better for us.

And while the story is ultimately a little melancholy, it's also very funny at times.  I especially liked the subplot about the Eisenberg character's gangster brother, who thought all problems, even if it was just a guy playing his radio too loudly, warrants a bullet to the head and a burial in a building foundation.

Set in Hollywood and New York in the 1930's, the movie is also beautifully shot and has lots of great classic American music.  Anyway, you could do worse with an hour and a half or so of your life than watching this.

Again, Happy New Year, and see you in 2017!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Brief Asides #7

It's been a while since I've done a "Brief Asides" column (and no snarky comments about how it's been a while since I've done a post of any kind), but let's get back on the bike, shall we?  Here are some quick comments about a few things I've read or seen lately...

Rogue One takes a little while to get going, but by the second half turns into as good a Star Wars movie as you could want.  It's really interesting how it manages to be both grim and uplifting at the same time.

On the audiobook front. I've been listening to a bunch of John Sandford's Prey thrillers lately.  Try them out: they all have strong thriller plots, laced with cleverness and excitement, as well as lots of entertaining cop banter.  I'm glad I still have about nine or ten of these left before I'm all caught up.

If you're looking for a thoughtful movie this wintertime, try Manchester By The Sea.  Starring Casey Affleck, who plays a lonely janitor called back to his old hometown to take care of a family issue, this quiet introspective film nevertheless packs an emotional wallop in a handful of key scenes.

I've seen the first two episodes of The Crown on Netflix.  The show is about the early reign of Queen Elizabeth (the one who is actually still on the throne).  Excellent production values, sympathetic characters (yes, even though they're pampered royals) and fascinating biographical details of various famous figures make this a very entertaining show, at least so far.

Oh, in a previous post I noted that I was looking forward to the Netflix series Luke Cage, the Netflix documentary Amanda Knox, and the Amazon Prime series Crisis in Six Scenes.  I'm glad to report that I liked all three of these, which were all solid, entertaining efforts.

Warren Beatty's long-awaited film Rules Don't Apply was a pleasant romantic drama, but I have to say that it's probably fine to just wait to watch it at home.  Which you'll probably have to do anyway, because it's pretty much gone from theaters already.

I liked both the book and film versions of The Girl on the Train.  The former was simply a decent mystery story by Paula Hawkins, heavy on character moments, and the latter was a solid, skillful movie adaptation of that story.  Either or both are worth your time.

Doctor Strange was a terrific Marvel movie, sporting a different flavor than Marvel's other superhero films due to its mystical story.  But it's still fast, funny, and fun.

The film Arrival is worth seeing, too.  But I'm still trying to figure out exactly what I saw.  Lots to chew on afterward with this one!

I've been watching a bunch of original comedy specials, featuring various stand-up comedians, on Netflix lately.  A recent good one was Margaret Cho: Psycho.  While still her usual profane and outrageous self, I liked Cho a little more in this outing than previous ones because she was a little less angry and her humor a tiny bit gentler.  Of course, you may not like the show as much as me because of those facets, but to each his or her own.

Anyway, it was great banging out a post again after my little hiatus, and I hope to get back in the habit of regular posts as we enter the new year! Take care, all!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Must-see streaming

Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, etc. are getting to be quite the destinations for exciting, thoughtful, and offbeat entertainment these days.  On today alone (September 30) there are three diverse debuts on two of those services to capture the imagination, and I'm looking forward to all of them.

On Netflix, there's the latest Marvel superhero series, Luke Cage, with all episodes now streaming. Following on the heels of the smart and entertaining Daredevil and Jessica Jones (both also on Netflix), I'm betting this one will be a winner, too.

Over on Amazon Prime, there's Woody Allen's six-episode series, Crisis in Six Scenes, which looks to be fairly funny, and represents Woody's first foray into what is essentially TV in decades.  Kind of neat that Miley Cyrus is in it, too.  Will Woody actually attract some younger viewers because of that?

Finally, back on Netflix, there's Amanda Knox, which is not a series but a one-shot documentary about the infamous Knox murder case.  What's compelling is that Amanda Knox herself is in it, and not just via old news footage.  She seems to be a sort of host and narrator.  Interesting, huh?

Any of these catching your fancy, too?