A penny saved is ridiculous.

A penny saved is ridiculous.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Good little film

My wife Alison and I just caught a cute little film via Netflix: Thomas McCarthy's 2003 drama, The Station Agent. This is a film decidedly not for everyone. A dwarf (played by Peter Dinklage, a real-life little person), inherits a train depot out in the boonies from his deceased boss (they had both worked in a small shop that sold and repaired model trains) and promptly moves into the depot to get away from all the stares and other nonsense people like him have to deal with on a daily basis.

The rest of the movie is basically Fin (Fin McBride is the character's name) dealing with the fact that no one leaves him alone once he moves into the remote depot in the wilds of New Jersey... not the guy who runs the coffee truck (played by Bobby Cannivale), who inexplicably sets up every morning in the deserted area near Fin's new residence, or the somewhat distracted artist covered with paint spatters (Patricia Clarkson) who seemingly is the coffee truck's only customer. They're both fascinated with Fin, first because of his dwarfism but later because he demonstrates (despite his efforts to be left alone) that he's an interesting guy, and kind of nice to be around. Soon, they (and a couple of others) don't even notice he's a dwarf and just want to get a little of his attention. You see, they're all misfits, too, if not in an immediately recognizable way like Fin.

Like I said, it's not a complicated, densely plotted movie, and many will likely cop a "what's the point?" attitude. But, if you can enjoy watching everybody becoming a little richer and perhaps happier from their new associations with each other (even Fin), this might be worth your time. In my view, The Station Agent is offbeat, funny, not too serious (though there are some serious moments), and overall a warm, resonant hour and a half or so. We liked it and you might, too.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A cute one

A wife asks her husband, "How many women have you slept with?"

"Only you, darling," the husband proudly replies. "With all the others, I was awake."

Hospital visiting hours are from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Hello, new Kindle!

Amazon announced the new Kindle 3 today, which will be available in late August. I won't describe all its features, as you can read about them easily enough at Amazon's web site. But I will observe that Amazon has, I believe, made all the right moves with the latest generation of its dedicated e-reader.

For one thing, Amazon is doing just that: keeping the Kindle a dedicated e-reader, and not adding a ton of functions that have nothing to do with e-reading, in some kind of futile attempt to compete with Apple's iPad. Nope, Amazon realizes that the iPad is dazzling and wonderful, but sometimes a device that's smaller and lighter and more durable might be just what the doctor ordered if all you want to do at a given moment is read some books or periodicals. I love my iPad (the first Apple product I ever owned), but it does make me appreciate the ease of carrying and using my Kindle 2.

Other immediate impressions? I love the fact that Amazon has made the Kindle 3 even smaller and lighter than the already svelte K2, but didn't reduce the size of the screen. I also like the choice of two colors. If I decide to go for a K3 (heck, I probably will), I'll likely select the elegant graphite-colored choice. I also think the new price points were a smart move: if you want, you can get a new Kindle for as little as $139. Wow.

I'm sure I'll have more to say on the new Kindle 3 (Amazon isn't using the "3" in the title, actually, just calling it the next generation Kindle) in the days to come, but for now I think it's doing pretty much everything right, both with the product itself and the marketing of it.

What are your impressions? If you already own a K1 and/or a K2, does this new model intrigue you enough to upgrade? Or, if you haven't taken the e-reader plunge yet, will this new Kindle finally seduce you into doing so?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Hammer time

Being a longtime fan of writer Max Allan Collins, it was a treat being offered The Big Bang for review. Thankfully (though no big surprise), I liked the book a lot, avoiding the awkward situation of having to write something negative about a favorite writer's work. But, really, a new Mike Hammer novel? How hard was that going to be to like? Not very, I said to myself, and I was right.

The other part of the equation here, of course, is the great Mickey Spillane. The Big Bang was born of notes and an outline by Mr. Spillane and some literary elbow grease by Mr. Collins. The result is a seamless and entertaining tale, set in the nineteen sixties, involving drugs and its growing influence on both urban life and organized crime.

Though I enjoyed The Goliath Bone, the previous collaboration between Mr. Collins and Mr. Spillane (who entrusted many of his notes and outlines to his friend Mr. Collins shortly before his death), I liked this one a little better. For one thing, the sixties setting places Mike Hammer in his prime, so we don't have to deal with the creaky bones and speculations about retirement that peppered the other book, which was set post 9/11 and involved the terrorism issue. There's nothing wrong with an old Mike Hammer, and I'm glad we got to see him, but give me the younger, more vital urban knight any day.

Mr. Collins does a nice job here bringing home Hammer's complex personality. And it is complex. Though he's pretty much a front-and-center conservative right winger when it comes to issues of justice, people often forget that Mike Hammer is fairly easygoing and open minded when it comes to other social issues. For example, though Velda is his one true love, Hammer enjoys sleeping with consenting women and often tries to line 'em up for his friends, too. He's pretty relaxed about most aspects of society, in fact, and is known to be a soft touch when someone needs a favor. Just don't ask him to coddle criminals.

Anyway, The Big Bang offers everything one looks for in a Mike Hammer novel- the mystery, danger, violence, women, and urban moodiness- with enough polish and enthusiasm to make it all sparkle like new. Oh, yes- you also get another Hammer trademark: the memorably dark ending. Not to relate too much, but I think the ending will be debated among Hammer fans. I sort of had a horrified smirk upon finishing the last page, which isn't a bad result upon completing a Mike Hammer novel. Still, I wouldn't be surprised if there's some debate about the many semi-innocents who are essentially thrown to the wolves at story's end for, in Hammer's mind, a possible greater good. Is Hammer's decision (and, sorry, you'll have to read the book to learn more about what I'm talking about here) too harsh for even Mike Hammer? Maybe. Maybe not.

But, hey, debate can make a book fun. And it was already fun to begin with. After all, how can you not a like a Mike Hammer novel with a major set piece depicting a hopped-up-on-LSD Hammer (his coffee was spiked) taking on a small army of hoods, as hallucinations swirl around him.... and Hammer is still kicking butt.

If you like Mickey Spillane, Mike Hammer, Max Allan Collins, or any combination of the previous, pick up The Big Bang. You'll have a bang-up time.

Though I read this one the old-fashioned way (in print!),The Big Bang is available for $9.99 on Kindle. It'll read just fine either way.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Checking in

Okay, I'm back from jury duty and one or two other recent diversions, and I look forward to updating my handful of loyal readers on what's been going on and what I've been reading and seeing. As they used to say in the funny papers, watch this space. News, reviews, cynical observations and other goodies are on the way!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Makes you wonder

Only in America do drugstores make sick people walk all the way to the back of the store to pick up their prescriptions, while healthy people can conveniently buy their cigarettes right in the front.

Only in America do people order double cheeseburgers, large fries... and a Diet Coke.

Only in America do we leave cars worth thousands of dollars in the driveway and put our useless junk in the garage.

Only in America are hot dogs sold in packages of ten and hot dog buns are sold in packages of eight.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Words of wisdom

A couple of bumper stickers we found amusing:

Borrow money from a pessimist... they don't expect it back.

It's lonely at the top... but you do eat better.

More on the way.

Fan the flames

My wife and I caught The Girl Who Played With Fire this past weekend in our nearby art house theater. While the first movie in the already-filmed trilogy, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, was more of a straightforward mystery story injected with two fascinating central characters who solve the mystery, this second movie involves a mystery that is much more directly related to those central characters.

Here, the journalist played by Michael Nyqvist is a colleague of two of the murder victims, and the edgy investigator and computer expert played by Noomi Rapace has a personal connection to both the third victim and, quite possibly, the killer. More a moody thriller than the first film's outright mystery story, the movie still satisfies and makes one look forward to the third film, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, out this October.

All three of these films are Swedish-language productions (with English subtitles here in the U.S.) adapting Stieg Larsson's trilogy of mystery novels. The literary version of The Girl Who Played With Fire is available on Kindle for $7.99.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Last night, just as the 11:00 p.m. news started, I glanced down at my iPad and saw that it was happily communicating the fact that it was 10:48 p.m. It was a good twelve minutes off from the actual time! How the heck can that happen? The thing constantly connects- via wifi or 3G- to all kinds of web sites and apps that keep track of the right time, and it's been constantly demonstrated to me that my iPad always knows exactly what city, state, and timezone it's currently residing in. So what gives?

The Date & Time area in Settings is set to Set Automatically (I checked), so I don't know how this happened, or when. The time must have jumped the track recently, I'm guessing, or I would have noticed it earlier. Anyway, I fixed the time, but now I'm watching things closely to see if it drifts again.

Has anyone else had this problem?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Another DVD tip

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo combines several genres- an Agatha Christie style whodunit, a serial killer thriller, a foreign art house drama, an edgy Eurotrash movie, and an American style buddy adventure- into a fine, compelling film that assumes that audiences don’t need endless action and a relentless pace to stay interested. While I had no problem with the subtitled, Swedish language version of the film I saw in the theater, the DVD offers both that version and a dubbed English version, which is actually fairly polished. Sometimes horrifying, sometimes very moving, always interesting, this film shouldn’t be missed.

Stieg Larsson's original novel, on which the film is based, is available on Kindle for $7.15.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Bad bank, good thriller

Shady business deals involving staggering amounts of money, suspicious businessmen in nice suits, and a handful of underpaid civil servants trying to blow the lid off unsavory international banking practices: it's all here in The International, a 2009 thriller starring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts, now available on DVD.

Initially complicated and a little dry, The International ultimately develops into a fine, gripping thriller, especially for those who value intelligence and sharp direction. Director Tom Tykwer realizes that huge action scenes aren’t the movie world’s only source of thrills and suspense, preferring to tighten the screws on viewers via observation and character-based moments. As a result, the few action scenes on hand (most notably, a memorable sequence set in the Guggenheim Museum) have significant impact. If Alfred Hitchcock had directed a few more international political thrillers toward the end of his career, he probably would have turned out something quite a bit like The International.

The film looks and sounds amazing on standard DVD and there are a variety of fascinating extra features, as well as a commentary track. Give this one a whirl.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

I like it

The new graphite-colored Kindle DX, now available for pre-ordering at Amazon, looks pretty sharp, doesn't it? The dark outer casing is really classy-looking. What's more, the Kindle DX- whichever color you want- has been reduced in price to $379.

It's nice to see that Amazon apparently isn't losing enthusiasm for its various Kindle devices. For a while there it looked like all its attention was shifting to the Kindle experience- selling electronic versions of books for customers to read on whatever device they preferred- rather than spotlighting the innovative Kindle device itself. Nice to see that's not entirely the case.

As much as I love my iPad, my lighter, more durable Kindle (I have a Kindle 2) still has a big place in my reading life. I'm definitely curious to see what Amazon comes up with for the inevitable Kindle 3.