What are your favorite types of books and beverages when you're in an autumnal mood?

What are your favorite types of books and beverages when you're in an autumnal mood?

Monday, January 31, 2011

Stuff seen recently


I caught a few movies over the past week or so, and here are some brief observations on what I thought of them. Enjoy!

1962's Lonely Are the Brave (seen via a Netflix DVD) is a terrific Kirk Douglas movie about a mildly unlawful but basically likable cowboy having a really tough time making it in the modern world. Gena Rowlands and Walter Matthau lend great supporting performances to the proceedings, as does Douglas's wonderful horse.

2009's The Unborn is a well-crafted, genuinely creepy horror film about a young woman being haunted by her twin who died next to her in the womb, or more specifically, by the evil spirit who tried to unsuccessfully inhabit the twin and is now gunning for the young woman. Also saw this via Netflix.

George Romero's Survival of the Dead (2009) is an okay horror film about two feuding families living on an island off the coast of Delaware, and how the zombie apocalypse is complicating their feud. This odd but watchable film is the latest in the director's "Dead" series. I saw this via a DVD that a friend lent to me, and didn't like it quite as much as Diary of the Dead, the previous film in the series. Still, it's worth a look for horror fans.

My wife and I braved the icy roads and took in The King's Speech at a local theater this past weekend. Longer review to follow, but for now I'll tell you that we found the movie to be fascinating, intelligent and very moving. We highly recommend the film, especially to those who hold out for high-quality fare when it comes to the inconvenience and expense of traipsing out to the movie theater.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Fun time


Barbara Allan's Trash 'n' Treasures cozy mystery series is a good bet when you're in the mood for light and flighty mystery fun. Antiques Maul, the second book in the series (it follows Antiques Roadkill), is no exception. Was an ex-math teacher turned antiques mall proprietor mauled to death by her pet pit bull, or is the truth a bit more complicated? Brandy Borne and her ex-husband, son, and mother are thrust into the mystery at hand, and are going to discover the truth whether they want to or not.

The whole affair is lighter than it sounds, with many goofy asides (especially by Brandy's mom). Preventing the series from totally tipping over into light frothiness is the fact that Brandy is still haunted by the serious mistake that cost her her marriage and sent her packing home to mother for rest and recuperation. I like that aspect of the series... who says a light cozy mystery series can't have a touch of darkness and edge?

Barbara Allan is, of course, the pseudonym of the husband and wife writing team of Max Allan Collins and Barbara Collins. Knowing of Mr. Collin's razor-sharp, to-the-point, and often violent mysteries (nothing cozy about them), it's kind of fun to see him work (and quite nicely, too) in a genre known for eccentric characters and frequent silliness. Though I only occasionally read cozy mysteries, I'm sure I'll return to the world of Brandy Borne before too long and see what's up with her and her crazy family.

I purchased and enjoyed Antiques Maul on my Kindle for $4.76. The e-book edition includes a generous excerpt from the third book in the series, Antiques Flee Market.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Relaxed about things

I don't get nearly as excited about the Oscar nominations as I used to. More and more, I simply like what I like and don't care all that much whether personal favorites get official recognition. Still, from time to time little bits of news please me.

Today, for example, it was nice to see Jeff Bridges get nominated for Best Actor for the second year in a row, for his work in True Grit; he won last year for Crazy Heart. I like Jeff Bridges (I enjoyed him in Tron: Legacy back in December) and it would be fun if he becomes the first actor since Tom Hanks to win Best Actor twice in a row.

But I better get crackin'... I've yet to see either Crazy Heart or True Grit. It'd be nice to have them under my belt before the February 27 Oscarcast. Yes, despite my more relaxed attitude about the world of film, I still enjoy watching the Oscars every year, and both films are sure to be discussed by all the pundits during all the pre-show festivities.

Oscar noms


Here are this year's ten nominated films for Best Picture, as announced this morning by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The winner will be announced on Sunday evening, February 27.

1. Black Swan

2. The Fighter

3. Inception

4. The Kids Are All Right

5. The King's Speech

6. 127 Hours

7. The Social Network

8. Toy Story 3

9. True Grit

10. Winter's Bone

I have some work to do between now and the award's telecast, if I want to see all the nominated films prior to the show. At this point, I've only seen four of the nominated films (Black Swan, Inception, The Social Network, and Toy Story 3). Of the remaining six, all are films that I wouldn't mind seeing, with slight reservations laid at the feet of 127 Hours (as I hear the self-amputation scene is really hard to watch).

What do you think of this year's nominations?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bond is back


Pictured here is the cover of the U.S. edition of Carte Blanche, the new James Bond novel by popular thriller writer Jeffery Deaver. To be released in the United Kingdom on May 26 and in the U.S. on June 14, the book reboots the intepid agent 007 as a fresh new intelligence operative in the present day, similar to what the 2006 Film Casino Royale did to the world's most famous spy.

And speaking of the films, the next James Bond film now has an official release date: November 9, 2012. Still untitled, the film will see the return of Daniel Craig as James Bond, with directing duties performed by Academy Award winner Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition).

More to shortly follow on the James Bond literary and film front. There's some fresh, interesting stuff going on for a franchise that's been around for so long.

Monday puns


Presented especially for my readers with more than a few working brain cells, here are some goofy but somewhat literate puns from around the 'net. I don't know why I included a picture of Homer Simpson with this post, as he probably wouldn't smirk at any of these.

An Indian chief was feeling very sick, so he summoned the medicine man. After a brief examination, the medicine man took out a long, thin strip of elk rawhide and gave it to the chief, telling him to bite off, chew, and swallow one inch of the leather every day. After a month, the medicine man returned to see how the chief was feeling. The chief shrugged and said, "The thong is ended, but the malady lingers on."

* * *

A famous Viking explorer returned home from a voyage and found his name missing from the town register. His wife insisted on complaining to the local civic official, who apologized profusely, saying, "I must have taken Leif off my census."

* * *

There were three Indian squaws. One slept on a deer skin, one slept on an elk skin, and the third slept on a hippopotamus skin. All three became pregnant. The first two each had a baby boy. The one who slept on the hippopotamus skin had twin boys. This just goes to prove that the squaw of the hippopotamus is equal to the sons of the squaws of the other two hides.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Dear Diary


2008's Diary of the Dead is a little seen but pretty good zombie movie, utilizing the "found footage" and "characters making a movie on the run" genre of thriller film making popularized by movies like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield. Set in the initial days of a zombie apocalypse (it's mostly left up to the viewer whether director George Romero is re-booting his zombie universe or simply choosing to set this story in the early days of the same timeline he's been exploring for years, with a little artistic license to allow for the use of cell phone cameras, social networking sites, and other modern communication conveniences), we follow a group of students and their professor as they try to make sense of the dead now coming back to life.

The student characters are mostly whiny and annoying, but no more so than similar characters seen in other horror movies (besides, don't unlikable characters often make for the most satisfying death scenes?). Conversely, the professor character is kind of fun, as his main concern seems to be whether the group's latest hideout at any given time has a fully-stocked bar. I think I would worry about a bar, too, if I was on the run from zombies.

Diary of the Dead is slick, fast, doesn't overstay its welcome, and features lots of creepy zombie action (though some of the CGI effects are better than others). The movie looks sharp and clean on standard DVD, and the DVD features a generous amount of special features. While perhaps not up to the classic standard set by his initial zombie films (1968's Night of the Living Dead, 1978's Dawn of the Dead, and 1985's Day of the Dead), the tension, scares, and raw immediacy of Diary of the Dead definitely make it worth a look.

Harmless fun


Okay, for the record, I don't think blonde women are any smarter or dumber than the rest of us. But I do think that some of the blonde jokes floating around out there are definitely pretty funny. Here's a handful that might amuse you...

A married couple is asleep when the phone rings at 2:00 in the morning. The very blonde wife picks up the phone, listens a moment, and finally says, "How should I know, that's 200 miles from here!" She then hangs up.

The husband says, "Who was that?"

The wife answers, "I don't know, some crazy woman wanting to know if the coast is clear."

* * *

Two blondes are walking down the street. One notices a make-up compact on the sidewalk and leans down to pick it up. She opens it, looks in the mirror and says, "Hmmm, this person looks familiar."

The second blonde says, "Here, let me see!"

So, the first blonde hands her the compact.

The second blonde looks in the mirror and says, "You dummy, it's me!"

* * *

A blonde suspects her boyfriend of cheating on her, so she goes out and buys a gun. She then goes to his apartment unexpectedly and promptly finds him in the arms of a fetching redhead.

Well, the blonde is really angry at this discovery, so she opens her purse to take out the gun. But she is suddenly overcome with grief and points the gun at her head instead of at her cheating boyfriend.

The boyfriend yells, "No, honey, don't do it!"

The blonde replies, "Shut up, you're next!"

* * *

A blonde is bragging about her knowledge of state capitals. She proudly says to her friend, "Go ahead, ask me, ... I know 'em all."

The friend says, "Okay, what's the capital of Wisconsin?"

The blonde replies,"Oh, that's easy .. it's W!"

* * *

Question: What did the blonde ask her doctor when he told her she was pregnant?

Answer: "Is it mine?"

* * *

Bambi, a blonde in her fourth year as a UCLA Freshman, is sitting in her U.S. government class when the professor suddenly calls on her. He asks Bambi if she knew what Roe vs. Wade was about.

Bambi ponders the question, then finally says, "That was the decision
George Washington had to make before he crossed the Delaware."

* * *

Returning home from work, a blonde is shocked to find her house ransacked and burglarized. She telephones the police at once and reports the crime. The police dispatcher broadcasts the call on the radio, and a K-9 unit, patrolling nearby, is the first to respond.

As the K-9 officer approaches the house with his dog on a leash, the blonde runs out onto the porch, shudders at the sight of the cop and his dog, then sits down on her front steps, shaking her head. Putting her face in her hands, she moans, "I come home to find all my possessions stolen, call the police for help, and what do they do? They send me a blind policeman!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Endings


Somewhat strangely, James Swanson's Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's Corpse is a book of epilogues to other, bigger stories, rather than a book telling its own complete, centralized story. Specifically, you get the epilogue to the life of Abraham Lincoln and the epilogue to the story of Jefferson Davis' reign over the short-lived Confederate States of America. And, of course, these two epilogues also work together as a final epilogue to the American Civil War in general.

Being a book of final details about these epic topics, I got the sense that the author had a lot of fascinating research left over from his writing of Manhunt (his book about the pursuit of John Wilkes Booth in the days following Lincoln's assassination), and maybe from his other Civil War studies, too, and wanted to do something with it. Hence this book. I don't know if that's the case or not, but whatever the origin of Bloody Crimes, I enjoyed learning about Abraham Lincoln's meticulously-planned final goodbye to the people of the United States, and to a lesser extent, the last days of the confederate administration, as it was on the run throughout the south.

Details abound. Depending on your personal views, you'll either enjoy or tolerate the author's generally sympathetic description and view of Jefferson Davis and his cause (I was in the latter camp) and his slightly too emphatic criticisms of Mary Todd Lincoln (again, I was in the latter group... though, to be fair, by all accounts the woman wasn't exactly a box of chocolates). But, whether or not you agree with the author's personal take on the events described (which he doesn't exactly ram down your throat in any event), he did do his homework on the objective events that took place, resulting in a fascinating tale- tales, actually- covering the events of mid-April to mid-May, 1865.

As well as worthwhile reading experience in itself, the epilogue nature of Bloody Crimes makes it a valuable companion piece to any number of books covering the main events of the Civil War. It would also be a good book to read after viewing Ken Burns' classic multi-part documentary on the topic. I certainly enjoyed my week or so with the book.

I actually listened to the audiobook version of Bloody Crimes, excellently read by the actor Richard Thomas, which I downloaded from Audible.com. The book is also available on Kindle for $14.99.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

When love fades

Last night my buddy was sitting on his sofa watching TV when he heard his wife's voice from the kitchen...

"What would you like for dinner, my love... chicken, beef, or lamb?"

He said, "Thank you, I'll have chicken."

"You're having soup, moron," she replied. "I was talking to the dog."

Bein' green


One of the things I neglected to mention in my previous discussion of The Green Hornet was the cost of seeing it: $30 for two people! Yes, my wife and I saw the movie in 3D, and I was expecting some sort of premium 3D pricing, but $30?? And for a silly, marginally entertaining movie like The Green Hornet?

The 3D effects were fine, by the way, giving the movie that extra bit of value-added ooomph to put it over the top and make it worth seeing in a theater. But still, sheesh... 30 bucks. I guess it's no coincidence that the color green figures so prominently in both the movie's title and the cost of seeing it.

Until now, I've been lucky enough that the price of movie tickets has been sort of invisible to me... when we want to see a movie, we just go see it. Now, with these bloated 3D prices, cost will now be something to at least think about for a moment or two. And that's sort of a sad thing. Does reality have to intrude into everything?

Okay movie


Myself, if I was the producer of a Green Hornet movie, I probably would have gone for a different flavor than the current Seth Rogan vehicle. Likely, I would have aimed for an understated, cool 60's vibe (maybe even setting the movie in the 60's), with a cool jazzy score (lots of deep bass notes), snappy dialogue, and spare action (so it would really stand out when it eventually showed up). But that's me.

I do admit that the flavor/theme that the producers did go for in the current film- namely, what if an irresponsible, immature buffoon and his only slightly more mature friend are suddenly driven to become superheroes- is also sort of interesting, and that the movie explores that angle entertainingly enough. But for me, the incessant goofiness got a little old.

On top of that, when the Green Hornet and Kato finally grow up a little and show some adult smarts and maturity, we're suddenly shunted into a huge, overwrought action sequence that takes up the whole last part of the film, preventing the movie from focusing on their new, less grating personas. Regarding that last action sequence, again, I would have preferred spare, clever action (this isn't the Justice League, after all) rather than seeing the Hornet-mobile riding a service elevator up to the 40th floor of an office building and then tooling around a newspaper's editorial office amid automatic weapons fire from an army of goons.

But again, that's just me, and I'm definitely not saying that the movie is shoddy or dull or poorly crafted. It just chose an approach- broad humor, broad action- that some people will like more than others. My wife, in fact, thought it was a refreshing change from the usual melodrama of other superhero movies. Maybe you will, too.

And, you know what? Seeing that there are plenty of superhero movies that are done as straight-up (or mostly straight-up) dramas, like the current X-Men and Batman movies, I don't mind all that much that an occasional light, funny riff on this type of material, as seen in The Green Hornet, comes down the pike now and again. But let's keep it the exception to the rule, okay? After all, do we really want to return to the old days of "Holy spaghetti and meatballs, Batman-- the Pasta King is loose in Gotham!"

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Meet Joan Rivers


You don't have to be a huge fan of Joan Rivers to enjoy the 2010 documentary, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, but it helps if you at least think she's sometimes extremely funny (I do). It also helps if you have a fascination with the lives and behind-the-scenes preparation of famous performers (again, I do). In any event, I enjoyed this succinct, entertaining film, recently out on DVD, and if you're any kind of documentary or biography fan, you might, too.

The three things in the movie that resonated the most with me were: 1) Learning that Ms. Rivers, like many famous performers, still drags along the insecurity of her earliest, hand-to-mouth period, often to the point of still worrying where her next meal is coming from, 2) Seeing that fame is hard work, with Joan constantly trying to come up with new gags, jokes, and observations to fill up her act, and 3) the well-chosen clips of her stage performances, which deliver the right balance of funny and revealing.

Between the above, all the old black-and-white TV clips of Joan breaking the comedic glass ceiling, and the fascinating juxtaposition of a woman who freely admits she needs to be surrounded by luxury yet spends considerable time delivering bags of food to the needy, you'll likely be as absorbed in the proceedings as I was. As the film's title testifies, Joan Rivers is indeed a piece of work, and one well worth visiting via this compelling little profile.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Tale of a gallant sailor

A young woman in New York City is so depressed that she decides to end her life by throwing herself into the fast-moving currents of the waterfront.

But just as she's about to jump from the docks, a handsome young man quickly grasps her arm and stops her.

"You don't want to do this," says the concerned man. "You have so much to live for, even if you can't see it now."

The woman looks unconvinced, so the man tries another angle. "Look, I'm a sailor," he says, "and we're off to Europe tomorrow. I can stow you away on my ship, where I'll take care of you, bring you food every day, and keep you happy."

The woman mulls it over. With nothing to lose, combined with the fact that she has always wanted to go to Europe, she finally accepts.

That night, the sailor brings her aboard and hides her in a small but
comfortable compartment in the vessel's hold. Every night from then on, he brings her three sandwiches and makes love to her until dawn.

Three weeks later, though, the woman is discovered by the captain of the vessel during a routine inspection. "What are you doing here?" the captain asks the surprised woman.

"I have an arrangement with one of the sailors," the woman replies sheepishly. "He brings me food and I'm getting a free trip to Europe."

"I see," the captain says.

Her conscience then gets the best of her and the woman adds, "Plus, he's screwing me."

"He certainly is," replies the captain, "This is the Staten Island Ferry."

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Clever

Message spotted on the back of a cement mixer I was driving behind earlier today:

Get a load of this!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Cars and computers


For all of us who feel only the deepest love and affection for the way computers have enhanced our lives, the following news item may be of interest...

At a recent computer and technology expo, Microsoft head Bill Gates reportedly compared the computer industry with the U.S. auto industry, smugly stating, "If General Motors had kept up with technology the way the computer industry has, we would all be driving cars that cost $25.00 and got 1,000 miles to the gallon."

In response to Mr. Gates' comments, General Motors promptly issued the following statement to the press:

General Motors found Mr. Gates recent comments on our company very interesting. However, we want to add our own observations on the topic. In our view, if GM had developed technology in the manner that Microsoft has in recent years, we believe that Americans would now be driving cars with the following characteristics:

1. For no reason whatsoever, your car would crash... twice a day.

2. Every time they repainted the lines in the road, you would have to buy a new car.

3. Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason. You would have to pull to the side of the road, close all of the windows, shut off the car, restart it, and reopen the windows before you could continue. For some reason you would simply accept this.

4. Occasionally, executing a course change such as a left turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to re-start, in which case you would have to re-install the engine.

5. Apple would soon produce a competing car that was powered by the sun, was reliable, five times as fast, and twice as easy to drive... but would run on only five percent of the nation's roads.

6. Current dashboard indicators like oil, temperature, and alternator warning lights would all be replaced by a single "This car has performed an illegal operation" warning light.

7. The airbag system would ask "Are you sure?" before deploying.

8. Occasionally, for no reason whatsoever, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key, and grabbed hold of the radio antenna. Again, we would accept this without question.

9. Every time a new car was introduced, car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as your old car.

10. You'd have to press a "start" button to turn the engine off.

Finally, as noted in GM's press statement, when all else fails, you could always call customer service, which would connect you to a foreign country, where you'd be instructed in a foreign language on how to fix the problem in question.

"Yes, it will indeed be a great day when the automobile industry takes a page from the computer industry's book," GM's statement concluded.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Hurray for Hollywood


I ended up seeing 27 movies in theaters in 2010, down slightly from the 30-plus movies I've managed in each of the past few years. Still, 27 isn't bad; it shows that I still make somewhat of an effort to get out and have fun. Most of the movies I saw with my wife, a couple with a friend, and a couple I went to myself.

In the event you're curious, here are the movies I went to see in 2010, accompanied by the dates I saw them, and ratings on how much I liked them. One asterisk/star means I hated the movie in question; two means it was okay but nothing special; three means the movie was pretty good and worth the trip; and four stars/asterisks means I recommend the film without reservation.

Actually, I don't think I saw any one or two star movies this past year. That could mean that either 1) the movies are getting better, 2) I'm getting better at picking the handful of good movies always out there at any given time, or 3) I'm easier to please these days. Maybe it's a combination of all three.

Anyway, here's the list:

1. The Lovely Bones (January 23) ***

2. The Wolfman (February 12) *** ½

3. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (February 15) *** ½

4. Shutter Island (February 20) ****

5. An Education (March 6) *** ½

6. The Ghost Writer (April 10) ****

7. Kick-Ass (April 17) *** ½

8. Iron Man 2 (May 8) *** ½

9. Sex and the City 2 (May 31) ***

10. The A-Team (June 12) ***

11. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (June 19) ****

12. Eclipse (July 2) ***

13. The Girl Who Played With Fire (July 9) *** ½

14. Inception (July 16) ****

15. Salt (August 7) *** ½

16. Toy Story 3 (August 20) ****

17. Eat Pray Love (August 21) ***

18. Piranha 3D (August 22) ***

19. Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky (August 27) ***

20. The American (September 3) *** ½

21. The Social Network (October 15) ****

22. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (November 7) *** ½

23. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (November 11) *** ½

24. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One (November 21) ****

25. Burlesque (December 10) ***

26. Tron: Legacy (December 18) *** ½

27. Black Swan (December 29) *** ½

What do you think of the list? If I can give myself credit for anything, it's having an open, wide-ranging taste in movies. As long as something looks semi-interesting, I don't care if it's a summer blockbuster, a trashy exploitation movie, or an esoteric art-house film. I'm potentially open to seeing anything.

How about you? Did you go out to the movies much last year? If so, what kinds of films motivate you to get off the couch and buy a ticket?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Back


Now that all the hoopla of the past weekend has died down, Kindle Taproom wishes all of you a belated Happy New Year!

Sorry for being a bit of a stranger recently. Being of Italian descent, there were lots of family gatherings over the Christmas and New Year's break that warranted my participation, and being a Philadelphian, there were lots of social gatherings centered around New Year's Day and our famous Mummers Parade that demanded the same attention. Both of these elements resulted in spotty posting over the past week or so.

But don't worry, we're back in action now. Talk to you in a bit!