Collins and Crouch deliver the goods, as seen in our latest thriller reviews

Collins and Crouch deliver the goods, as seen in our latest thriller reviews

Friday, February 25, 2011

Gritty


I cashed in a little vacation time yesterday around lunchtime and caught an afternoon showing of True Grit, which completed my epic task off seeing all ten Best Picture nominees prior to Sunday's Oscar broadcast.

True Grit is a terrific movie, grittily realistic yet epic, somber yet often funny. I also liked the way it made the Old West simultaneously brutal and magical. In other words, I'm glad I didn't live during that time but realize I probably missed something. So many open spaces, no city lights to mute the view of thousands of stars each night, but also so much danger, both from the natural world and via the limited effectiveness of law enforcement.

I enjoyed seeing all ten Best Picture nominees, happy to discover that, in my view, all ten deserve the attention they're getting. I'd easily place True Grit among the top three or four of the group, though. Even if you're not a huge fan of westerns (I'm not, myself), the performances and storytelling artistry of the film will likely win you over.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

More "Didja knows?"

In the wake of my recent drinking trivia post, here's a little useless but fun general trivia to enjoy with your morning coffee...

Many years ago in Scotland, a new game was invented. Quickly catching on among the menfolk, the game was in short time ruled "Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden." Once the phrase was abbreviated for convenience, the word GOLF entered into the English language.

The first couple to be shown in bed together on prime time television was Fred and Wilma Flintstone!

The average number of people who are airborne over the United States during any given hour is 61,000.

The first novel ever written on a typewriter was Tom Sawyer.

In Shakespeare's time, mattresses were secured to their bed frames with ropes. When the ropes were pulled, the mattress tightened, making the bed firmer to sleep on. Hence the phrase, "Goodnight, sleep tight."

More to come!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Intense, but do-able

Director Danny Boyle's 127 Hours chronicles the ordeal of hiker and climber Aron Ralston, who was trapped for several days in a ravine in 2003, his arm caught between the ravine wall and a boulder that fell into the ravine when he did. Eventually, Aron's only recourse, if he wanted to survive, was to muster his courage and (spoiler alert for the four or five people out there who don't know the story despite it being all over the news at the time) amputate his trapped arm with the rudimentary tools he had at hand.

The movie is skillfully directed, communicating Aron's frustration and- eventually- boredom at his situation without making audience members feel frustrated or bored regarding their decision to see the movie. Well, we do feel Aron's frustration to an extent, which actually makes the big amputation scene (which lasts about two minutes) easier to take, at least for me. By the time we reached that moment, I just wanted the poor guy to be free of that narrow crevice where he was slowly dehydrating and starving to death, so I just said to myself, "FINALLY, just DO it and get out of there!"


But is the rest of the movie kind of boring, you may ask, as it's mostly about a guy with his arm stuck behind a boulder, just passing the time once the shock and pain of the initial accident that traps him is past? The answer is no. James Franco does a great job keeping us involved, as does director Boyle, who varies the flavor of each scene. There are various escape attempts, comic moments as Aron amuses himself by making funny videos with his camcorder, flashbacks to happier times, etc. The ninety-some minutes (not long to begin with) are over before you know it.

So if you think you can take the intensity of the arm scene, I think you'll enjoy the true life adventure that is 127 Hours. My wife declined to see it with me last night, but maybe I can get her to watch it on DVD eventually. Now I only have to see True Grit before Sunday night, in order to say I've seen all ten Best Picture nominees. Wish me luck!

Didja know...?


Although books (and increasingly, movies) are regular topics here at Kindle Taproom, this blog is supposed to have a drinking subtext, too. To service that lately neglected mission, here for your enjoyment is some entertaining (I hope) drinking trivia.

4000 years ago, it was the accepted practice in Babylon that, for a full month after a wedding, the bride's father would supply his new son-in-law with all the mead he could drink. Because mead was a honey-based beer and because the Babylonian calendar was lunar-based, this period was initially called the honey month, which shortly evolved into the term honeymoon.

In English pubs, ale is ordered in pints and quarts. So, in old England, when customers got unruly, the bartender would yell at them, "Settle down and mind your pints and quarts!" You can probably see where this is going: this is the origin of the phrase "Mind your P's and Q's."

To continue our look back at England of years past, in olden times English pubs served ale in ceramic mugs with a whistle baked into their rims or handles. Why? When customers needed a refill, they would simply signal the barman by blowing into the handy whistle right there on their mugs. Thus, hundreds of years later, we often hear a person describe his need to quench his thirst as, "needing to wet my whistle".

Interesting trivia, wouldn't you say? Now, is anybody ready for a refill?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Flicks


I caught a few movies over the past Presidents Day weekend. I might write a little more about each of them, but for now I'll share some quick thoughts. And away we go...

Via Netflix, we watched New in Town, a 2009 romantic comedy starring Renee Zellweger and Harry Connick, Jr. She plays a tough corporate type who is sent to a small Minnesota town to whip a local manufacturing operation into shape (as well as to pare down its employment rolls) and he plays the local union rep who wants her to see the workers as people and not cost centers. Renee's and Harry's characters initially butt heads but then... well, do I have to tell you? Anyway, I found this to be an unremarkable but painless comedy, and I give it a soft recommendation for home viewing as long as no real cost or inconvenience is involved.

Duplicity, also released in 2009 and also finally caught by me via Netflix, stars Julia Roberts and Clive Owen as two industrial spies who are romantically involved. The gimmick here is that they often trust each other even less than the people they're spying on. Is their love the real thing or is one or both of them planning to betray the other for a big payday at the end of their latest caper? Watch this sharply written and stylishly shot film to find out. Kudos to writer/director Tony Gilroy (the man behind Michael Clayton) for a job well done.

Finally, in theaters, we saw The Fighter yesterday, the gritty, entertaining and true story of Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg), a boxer trying to make a success of himself while having to deal with competing forces among his family and friends, all of whom have varying ideas about which way his career should go. Things get even more complicated when Mickey hooks up with a sweet but headstrong girlfriend (Amy Adams) who, yes, has her own ideas for Mickey. Great acting all around, and a story that's both intimate and larger than life, combine to make this a winner. I can see why it recently received a Best Picture nomination.

That's it for now on the movie front. I hope to see both "127 Hours" and "True Grit" sometime before Sunday, if the theater times work out. That way I'll be able to say I've seen all ten movies nominated for Best Picture prior to the Oscar ceremony on February 27. That's something I shoot for every year but don't always attain. I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Arrival

Well, my new Kindle 3 arrived today, and... well... it's a cute little sucker. So thin and compact. But the biggest thing I've noticed? The screen contrast is dramatically better than my Kindle 2's contrast. The darks are so much darker and the light background behind the text is so much lighter. And the sharpness of the words and images is so much more, well... sharp. And this is coming from someone who had no major complaints about my previous Kindles.

All kinds of other observations to come, I'm sure, but for now I'm going to get to know the device a little more. Oh, my new Belkin case (which also arrived today), is very nice, too. Well-padded yet sleek, conservative but still sporting a little flair. I like it.

As I said, more to come.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bit the bullet

Okay, I finally made a few clicks at Amazon yesterday and ordered a Kindle 3 (and a nice Belkin case). I really didn't need a new Kindle, but I sorta wanted one. Also, I figured that if I'm going to run a blog called Kindle Taproom, I should at least have the latest Kindle.

I picked two-day shipping, so I should have my new Kindle tomorrow. Of course, I'll tell you all about it (I'll probably get several posts out of it, in fact). And I guess I'll have to change the photo at the top of the internet version of this blog. I already have a cute idea for that.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Blast from the past


Here's something I might do from time to time: reprint an old book review I originally wrote for another venue (usually Amazon), describing a title that you can currently purchase on Kindle.

The following is a review of Robert B. Parker's "Hugger Mugger", a novel in his "Spenser" series that came out in 2000. The review was written that year, too, for Amazon. I like this review because it casts a somewhat more critical eye on this favorite series of mine, playing down my usual fawning a little. Anyway, here it is...


Alfred Hitchcock explored the same themes over and over again (the wrong man accused; the trials and tribulations of being an icy blonde; how to deal with an overbearing mother, etc., etc.) but he did so in films that were as different from one another as could be. Psycho was nothing like North by Northwest which was nothing like The Birds, and so on.

Robert B. Parker explores the same themes over and over, too (his themes usually being the nature of honor, the nature of fidelity and how it can survive in a hedonistic world, and how all crimes seem to harken back to family dysfunction and other shaky psychological underpinnings). The problem with Parker in recent years is that he has not sufficiently done the Hitchcock thing: he has not hung his themes on sufficiently different stories and plots. In other words, Parker the artist was doing fine but Parker the craftman was marking time in many ways.

I am happy to say, however, that Parker the craftman worked a little harder in Hugger Mugger to give us something a little different. Gone (mostly, anyway) is the Boston locale of practically every other Spenser adventure; and members of the usual supporting cast are seen in small doses or not at all. The result is a freshness we haven't had in a while. We get to see some new scenarios and different types of characters; and we get to once again see, for the first time in a while, extended scenes of Spenser the introspective loner.

All that contributed to an enjoyable reading experience. Yeah, I kinda missed Hawk, but I'm sure he'll be back next time. I only hope that Parker the craftsman continues to attempt to show us new things in the next Spenser title, as he did here. All those Boston restaurants and those descriptions of how Susan eats like a bird are kind of fun, but they can get somewhat tiresome, too!

Okay, back to 2011. If "Hugger Mugger" sounds interesting to you, you can pick it up and enjoy it without reading the "Spenser" titles that come before or after it. It's currently available on Kindle for $9.99. This is a little pricey for a mystery that originally came out over ten years ago, I'll admit; $5.99 or $6.99 would seem a more realistic price point. But the wacky world of Kindle pricing is a topic for a whole other post!

Oh, in case you're curious: the hope expressed in the final paragraph of the review was somewhat fulfilled. Several "Spenser" novels in the wake of "Hugger Mugger" went off in compelling new directions, plotwise. But some were also content to play in the sandbox of tried-and-true plot and character scenarios. But on that last point, don't we all like a little comfort and familiarity in our favorite series? Ah, there I go with my apologist fawning again!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Divine Scrabble


Hmmmmm, maybe life isn't all random stuff, and there's a guiding force quietly shaping things from behind the scenes. Otherwise, how do you explain the following...

If you take the word PRESBYTERIAN and rearrange its letters, you get this: BEST IN PRAYER.

The letters in ASTRONOMER can be rearranged into MOON STARER.

The letters in DESPERATION can be turned into A ROPE ENDS IT.

Rearrange the letters in THE EYES and you get THEY SEE.

This one goes back a few years, but is still cute. With a little re-ordering of its letters, GEORGE BUSH becomes HE BUGS GORE.

Start off with THE MORSE CODE, switch the letters around, and you get HERE COME DOTS.

Here's a particularly good one. With a little rearranging, the letters of DORMITORY become DIRTY ROOM.

Start with SLOT MACHINES, move a few letters around, and you get CASH LOST IN ME. Another good one!

With a little letter jumbling, ANIMOSITY becomes IS NO AMITY.

Another funny one: when you move the letters of ELECTION RESULTS around, you come up with LIES- LET'S RECOUNT.

With a little letter shuffling, SNOOZE ALARMS turns into ALAS! NO MORE Z'S.

A DECIMAL POINT can be rearranged into I'M A DOT IN PLACE.

THE EARTHQUAKES can be turned into THAT QUEER SHAKE.

Another clever one: the letters of ELEVEN PLUS TWO can be moved around to become TWELVE PLUS ONE.

Of course, I had to save the best one for last: If you start off with MOTHER IN LAW, you can move its letters around to form... (drum roll, please)...
WOMAN HITLER. Gotta love that one.

Isn't it reassuring to know that a mysterious power has seen to it that divine guidance and the secret truths of the universe are available all around us if we only take the time to be more observant?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Space gore


Based on a series of videogames, the direct-to-DVD animated film Dead Space: Aftermath features a plot you'll either find comfortably familiar or painfully derivative (I kept going back and forth). In any event, the story revolves around a cold, calculating corporation and its cold, calculating scientists using a bunch of U.S. Marines-style space soldiers to test out the effects of some kind of mysterious space artifact, an artifact that horribly mutates anyone who comes in contact with it.

Of course, the evil corporate types think that the artifact's powers can be harnessed and controlled, despite the fact that all evidence indicates that it simply turns anyone who comes in contact with it into a hideous, slobbering monster. See what I mean, though? If you've seen all the Alien and Resident Evil movies, you've pretty much seen this.

Still, the production is polished and well-produced, with the different animation segments nicely organized and presented (as each surviving Marine flashes back to the events leading up to the carnage that killed virtually everyone on their ship, a different Japanese director takes over the storytelling for that segment). Just be warned, the creators were given free reign over the amount of violence and colorful language they wanted to employ to tell the movie's story. And they chose to use a lot of both.

I predict that fans of the Dead Space videogames will likely enjoy this film, with animation and science-fiction fans (I'm in this group) probably finding it at least tolerably interesting. Everyone else will most likely peg it as shrill and unpleasant. In other words, the movie is definitely aimed at a niche audience. If you're not in that niche, steer clear.

Just released, Dead Space: Aftermath is available in stores and via online retailers for about 15 or 20 bucks, or for a little more if you go the Blu-Ray route.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Overkill

I'm now reading a Stephen King book on my iPad, and I'm starting to feel that reading a catchy horror title or entertaining thriller on that device is akin to being served a hotdog with the works on your family's best china.

And I'm someone who doesn't look down on any genre, believing you can find both great and poor work in any type of book, whether it be a lofty literary release or a page-turning adventure. But there's something about the simple act of reading an enjoyable book on the shiny glass-and-metal technical wonder that is the iPad that just doesn't compute. Bluntly put, it feels like overkill using this amazing device that does a thousand different things to indulge in the simple joy of reading words on a page.

Maybe I'll feel differently if I read something truly challenging on my iPad... you know, a complex work to match the complex delivery system. But I don't think so.

Interestingly, I don't get this feeling when reading a book on my Kindle. In the end, that may be the biggest favor the iPad does for Amazon's device: making it seem quaint, simple, old-fashioned, and comforting, even to those final hold-outs who have so far resisted anything other than ink printed on paper.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Grey skies


Concluding my report on a couple of Best Picture nominated films recently viewed on DVD...

Alternately dangerous, dreary, and tense, Winter's Bone concerns a teenage girl (Jennifer Lawrence) trying to save the few worldly possessions enjoyed by her mother and siblings. Set in the Ozark mountains of Missouri, 17 year old Ree has to find her missing-in-action father and make sure he shows up for a court date; otherwise the bail bonds company will take the modest family house Ree's father put up as his bail collateral.

Ree's search for her father puts her in contact with various dangerous types, most outright criminals and most, unfortunately, related to Ree. And everything is set against a social backdrop maybe one or two small steps above outright poverty.

Despite the grim story and the grim setting, there are one or two rays of hope, a couple of sympathetic characters, and the small chance that things might just work out. I won't say any more, other than the movie isn't as relentlessly grim as the ads and trailers make it look. But it is mostly grim. Oh, I should also report that the story is well told, sensitively acted, and in its own understated way, elegantly produced. I enjoyed it and can see why it made the cut as one of this year's ten Best Picture nominees.

Winter's Bone looks and sounds great on standard DVD and there are a variety of interesting extra features, including about 45 minutes of behind-the-scenes material that really makes you want to hand it to director Debra Granik. Seeing what little she had to work with (small budget, people's actual houses and yards used as sets, the bulk of the actors picked up via a casting call held in a school gym, etc.), it's amazing that Winter's Bone turned out as well as it did.

The accompanying photograph shows Ms. Lawrence looking quite a bit more star-like than she does in the movie. The movie poster for Winter's Bone accompanies my January 25 post, entitled "Oscar Noms".

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Nice pal

Recently overheard as one guy was talking to another at a bar:

"You are such a good friend that if we were on a sinking ship together and there was only one life jacket... I'd miss the Hell out of you and think of you often."

More than all right


As noted previously, several of the Motion Picture Academy's Best Picture nominees are already available on DVD, and we used that opportunity this past weekend to catch a couple of the movies we hadn't yet seen. Here's what we thought of one of them...

The Kids Are All Right is an entertaining little story about the ups and downs of family life, with the only notable off-the-beaten-track aspect of the movie being that the two parents in the family are both women. The movie's one other somewhat unusual element is the eventual involvement of a third parental figure, the formerly anonymous sperm donor who enabled the two women to start a family years before. But even that wasn't too unusual, as additional parental figures are something that straight families also regularly encounter, in the form of ex-spouses and ex-significant others.

There are many reasons to enjoy this smart, engaging movie, but I think it especially helps that the strongest political statement the film makes is not to make a political statement, at least not an overt one. If there's a gay cabal in the shadows trying to use the movie to promote a message, the message seems to be a pretty innocuous one, something along the lines of, "Gay parents walk the same path as straight parents. Sometimes we make good decisions, sometimes we make stupid ones, sometimes we treat our partners well, sometimes we hurt them."

In any event, my wife and I both enjoyed this breezy little drama, which works especially well in the comfortable intimacy of your living room (or wherever you watch your movies at home). In fact, it wouldn't be bad if the movie's characters and scenarios were expanded into a television series... though of course you wouldn't get Annette Bening and Julianne moore to reprise their roles. Both are excellent here.

The Kids Are All Right looks and sounds fine on standard DVD, though- somewhat annoyingly- the "rental only" version of the DVD provided to us by Netflix didn't allow access to the many extras listed on the bonus menu. Viewing the extra features, which look interesting, won't be a problem if you buy or borrow a regular retail version of the DVD, or- for all I know- rent the movie from somewhere other than Netflix.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Film tip

Did you know that five of the movies nominated for an Academy Award "Best Picture" Oscar are already available on DVD? In the comfort of your own home, you can now watch and judge the merits of Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, and Winter's Bone. Just thought I'd let you know that, with minimal effort (especially if you're a Netflix subscriber),you can be fairly up on the competition without even leaving your home.