A penny saved is ridiculous.

A penny saved is ridiculous.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Wordy request

What good is sitting in a cozy bar with a nice drink if you can't pull out your phone and play a little Words With Friends?  So, in order to make sure I have enough active games to keep me busy (and, no, I'm not always in a bar when I play), I'm inviting readers to start some games with yours truly.

My Words With Friends name is PhilaSpenser, so please feel free to use that information to get a game going with me.  You can also use the game's chat function to say hello and tell me you're a loyal Kindle Taproom reader.  Not that I'll go easier on you during our sure-to-be heated gameplay.

By the way, my Words name refers to the fact that I'm originally from Philadelphia and that Robert B. Parker's Spenser is one of my favorite fictional detectives.  I know, I know-- I really didn't work that hard to come up with a clever name. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Report from The Shire

We caught The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey last weekend, so I thought I'd check in about it.  We did an across-the-board upgrade that day.  We upgraded to IMAX.  We upgraded to 3-D.  We upgraded to high frame rate (HFR).  We couldn't have spent any more money seeing this movie if our lives depended on it.  So, after all that, how was it?

The movie itself was terrific.  Great characters, great action, an absorbing story, all working together to make the close to three hours fly by.  I've never been a big basher of George Lucas, but this particular prequel trilogy looks like it will get everything right: reminding us of everything we loved about the original franchise trilogy while carving out its own, equally wonderful story.

The 3-D was done well, free of silly coming-at-you effects, and concentrating on subtle, artful immersion of the audience into the drama at hand.  It definitely added another level of fun to the movie.  Of course, I've never been a big basher of 3-D as most movies employ it these days, so keep that in mind when deciding whether to see it yourself in 3-D.

Ah, now to discuss the new 48-frames-per-second high frame rate (HFR) technology.  Contrary to some of the things you may have read, HFR does not result in a cheap, shoddy looking image in any way.  More specifically, the process itself isn't cheap and shoddy, and it doesn't make the subject matter being filmed look cheap and shoddy.  But it does make everything look more real, like you're standing right there on the set with the actors.  That means- and this is important- you're not going to get the rich, burnished colors and moody lighting that, say, director of photography Roger Deakins provided for the gorgeous Skyfall

To try to put it another way, HFR largely removes the layer of artful cinematography movies usually provide and puts you right there in Bilbo's hobbit hole and on the many rickety wooden bridges and walkways our heroes seem to be constantly running across while some menace or other is chasing them.  In some ways, because you're right there, it is amazing, but other times I felt like I wasn't getting my money's worth.  Where was the painterly pallette of colors and light?  Where was the sometimes subtle, sometimes overt use of that pallete by a skilled cinematographer?  In the end, HFR, at least in this movie, reminded me of quality, high-end videotape: the result was very realistic, but often not terribly artistic.

But, yes, I'm glad I experienced the HFR process first hand, and I'm definitely glad I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  I'll definitely be there opening day next year for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.  But will I be in the HFR line?  We'll see.  I have about a year to think about it! 

Review postscript: To be full disclosure, my wife had no problem with the HFR process, finding it fascinating and especially liking how it made all the outdoor scenery really pop.  And, like me, she also enjoyed the 3-D and the movie itself.  So, who knows, maybe my concerns relating to HFR are just film geek ramblings and nit-picking.  I'll keep an open mind for the time being.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Mindful tip

The jokes and high energy in the entertaining animated feature Megamind come out of a cute conceit: what if every type of boilerplate character you've ever seen in every superhero story all of a sudden questions his or her motivations and role in life? So here we have a super villain who starts wondering why he's a villain, a villain's henchman wondering why he's content to be a henchman, characters who are supposed to be heroic who decide they just want to slack off for a while or (in a third act tour-de-force) even be villainous.

And, oh yes, there's also a cute Lois Lane-type reporter character who questions why she always has to be the one being rescued and pined over by the guys in capes.

Peppered throughout all this are lots of affectionate pokes at every remaining convention of the superhero genre that the characters I just mentioned weren't already addressing. Imaginative character designs, good action, and a decent little story round things out.

In the end, Megamind is sort of like Pixar's The Incredibles (which I also liked a lot), only tighter and funnier.  It's well worth seeking out on disc, streaming or download services, or your cable system's On Demand function, which is the way I saw it.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

In the crosshairs

I'm sure the Kindle revolution helped fuel the creation of this entertaining little book. After all, would author Andrew McNess have actually sat down to write more than a hundred enthusiastic pages about a James Bond film that most people, even most Bond fans, consider second-tier or even third-rate among the long-running series, if he knew he'd only get the usual tiny readership of most self-published or small-press books?

He had to say to himself, "Well, I'll put the book on Kindle, too, so that'll make it worth writing."

Well, whatever got him going, I'm glad Mr. McNess wrote James Bond In Our Sights: A Close Look At "A View To A Kill". As I was never one of those Bond fans who dismissed the film out of hand, it was fun to read Mr. McNess put into words why I, and likely many others, have always perfectly enjoyed the movie, which features Roger Moore's 7th and final performance as Agent 007.

In six concise but meaty chapters (chapters 001 through 006-- how did the author resist not having a chapter 007?), the author discusses the movie's plot, characters, the master plan of the villain, the more laidback and paternal approach to James Bond provided by both the story and Mr. Moore's portrayal, and all sorts of other aspects of the film. Immersive from beginning to end, the book as a whole strikes a good balance between solid film criticism and a breezy, fun read.

If you are one of the people who never really liked this movie but- as a Bond fan- are thinking of reading this book anyway, Mr. McNess may just convince you to move 1985's A View To A Kill at least a couple of notches up in your personal ranking of Bond films. But even if he doesn't, you'll likely still enjoy his conversational approach as he tells you why he likes the movie so much.

You'll also enjoy the trip down memory lane, as the book brings up (at least once or twice each) every Bond film from 1962's Dr. No to 2008's Quantum of Solace (he even mentions 2012's Skyfall, though the movie wasn't complete and available for him to see at the time of the book's writing). I enjoyed how Mr. McNess bounced the various films' aims and approaches off one another, in service of further explaining why A View To A Kill made the choices it did.

I would say it's fairly easy to write a book about a movie everyone loves and reveres. I guess that's why there are so many books about Lawrence of Arabia, Vertigo, Pulp Fiction, and the original Star Wars trilogy. So kudos to Mr. McNess for thinking that he and he alone loving a film was reason enough to sit down and write a book about it. The freshness and audacity of his idea certainly pays off in the quality and readability of the final product.

And who knows, it may even turn you into a defender of the Roger Moore Bond films, even those later ones where spoilsports complained that he was "way too old" for the part. Yes, Mr. McNess may yet teach you to respect your elders!

James Bond In Our Sights: A Close Look At "A View To A Kill" is available on Kindle for $7.69.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Scars on the soul

While classifying this collection as part of the crime genre is probably accurate, Marcus Sakey's excellent Scar Tissue: Seven Stories of Love and Wounds is really a book of intense character studies that just happen to involve crimes. That's because the things that happen in this immersive book are fueled by the characters' haunted pasts, not so much the requirements of the genre.

I enjoyed the opening story the best, The Days When You Were Anything Else, which involves a father having to deal with a ransom demand for the return of his estranged daughter. The father's guilt and regrets regarding his past history with his daughter inform all his actions to rich and startling effect, leading to a gutsy, unpredictable, yet honest conclusion. But all the stories are very good: dark, emotionally complex, and satisfying.

I purchased this book when author J.A. Konrath promoted it on his blog, informing readers that not only was it a great collection of stories but that Mr. Sakey was seeing to it that major proceeds from the book would go to a worthy charity. So, the book didn't even need to be that good for me to feel positive about purchasing it. Of course, I was pleased to discover that it was indeed very good.

In addition to the seven stories here, there's an introduction at the outset by Mr. Konrath, individual introductions to each story by Mr. Sakey (which nicely illustrate the evolution of his writing career), and, at the close, a few brief previews of Mr. Sakey's novels. So, even with the inexpensive price, you get a decent amount of reading material here.

But, more importantly, it's good reading material. Give Marcus Sakey's haunted characters a chance to get under your skin. You won't regret it.

Scar Tissue: Seven Stories of Love and Wounds is available for $2.99 on Kindle, with the proceeds going toward the fight against pediatric cancer.  Amazon Prime members are also eligible to borrow the book for free.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Fun pumpkin use

Presented here for your pleasure is a glamour shot of a Pumpkin-Tini, which Alison recently ordered at Kyma, a terrific seafood restaurant located just outside Adamstown, Pennsylvania.

The restaurant's Pumpkin-Tini contains (according to the Kyma menu) vanilla vodka, Kahlua, pumpkin spice liqueur, homemade pumpkin puree, and half-and-half, and is served in a martini glass rimmed with cinnamon sugar. 

Readers of this blog know that I'm more of a classic cocktail kind of guy, but I'm always amused by the flavored martinis Alison likes to order, and I have to say that my sample sip or two didn't taste bad at all.  Yes, it was more like a dessert than an adult beverage, but it was flavorful, not too sweet, and there was a nice autumnal air about the whole affair.

There was lots of extra drink left in the shaker, too, which is always a plus.  Alison was able to refresh her glass several times throughout the meal.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

On the road again

On this fine September morning, here are a few amusing bumper stickers I've recently seen in my travels...

It's not whether you win or lose, but how you place the blame.

A fool and his money can throw one heck of a party.

We are born naked, wet, and hungry. Then things get worse.

Red meat is not bad for you.  Green fuzzy meat is bad for you.

Members of Congress should wear uniforms like NASCAR drivers, so we can identify their corporate sponsors.

Politicians try so hard to get re-elected because they'd hate to have to make a living under the laws they've passed.

Xerox and Wultitzer are merging into a new company. It'll make reproductive organs.

99% percent of lawyers give the rest a bad name.

Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.

The latest survey shows that three out of four people make up 75% of the population.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Get stirred

I enjoyed J.A. Konrath's Shaken, the previous Jack Daniels thriller just fine, but was glad to get back to more traditional (that is, not multiple timeline-oriented) storytelling this time out with Stirred, its immersive, epic follow-up.  Stirred does throw us one curve ball, however: this time Konrath teams up with fellow thriller writer Blake Crouch to deliver this ambitious, stirring (sorry, couldn't resist) story.

And stir you up this book will likely do. I mean, c'mon: the main antagonist is essentially a serial killer and a James Bond villain rolled into one, and- as if that isn't enough- you also get a handful of supporting serial killer characters who were strong enough to be the main villains in past stories individually produced by Stirred co-authors Konrath and Crouch.

And why am I comparing the central killer to a James Bond villain? Because he uses his vast resources to buy a small corner of a dilapidated city and convert it to his version of Dante's Inferno, complete with writhing, tortured souls (previously captured from a tour bus!), who are chained to everything. Then he goes after the people he really wants to torture, namely Jack Daniels and her friends- and drops them into that booby-trapped, deadly world, for his own amusement. Crazy stuff.

And get this: Amid all the horror (and there's a lot of it) you still get this series' usual big laughs, clever banter, and touching character moments, to help break up all the torture, murders, and dismemberments. Oh, and how's this for another distraction from the dark doings: Jack Daniels spends the whole novel about to give birth! Which, come to think of it, functions as both a distraction from the horror and an underscoring of it. After all, would you want the kicking baby in your belly to be born in a dungeon full of corpses?

And about the co-author thing: Blake Crouch must write a lot like J.A. Konrath, and have many of the same obsessions and thematic interests, because this two-author book isn't schizo at all. It just feels like the latest J.A. Konrath Jack Daniels thriller, just bigger, better, and more intense.

I was skeptical when Crouch and Konrath decided to combine their characters and situations into one universe, thinking it was a problematic, self-indulgent idea probably generated from too many beers at a mystery writers convention. But this final (for now) Jack Daniels book, where Konrath's heroes meet Crouch's baddies really turned out to be intense, moving, page-turning fun.

Who would have thought Kindle time could be so cool?

Stirred is available on Kindle for $3.99, or is free to borrow by Amazon Prime members.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Attention, cola lovers

Alison often orders drinks based on what looks interesting behind the bar.  In this case, we were recently having a bite at the P.J. Whelihan's in Lehighton, Pennsylvania, and a bottle of Three Olives Super Cola Vodka caught her eye.  She asked our barmaid what kind of drink could be made with it.  The barmaid smiled and said she'd make her something good.

The result is the drink in the photo, which was comprised of the Three Olives Super Cola Vodka mentioned above, Three Olives Vanilla Vodka, grenadine (didn't catch the brand), and Diet Coke, served over ice and artfully garnished with a Maraschino cherry and a slice of green apple.  The Mason jar-style glass was also a nice touch, I thought.

The drink was a bit sweet for my personal taste (I gave it a sip), but Alison liked it a lot.  Anyway, if you think you'd like a drink that pretty much tastes like a combination Vanilla/Cherry Coke with a manageable kick (I think the plain ol' Diet Coke was the lion's share of the drink), you might want to give it a whirl.  And, no, the barmaid didn't have a name for it.  If you come up with a good name, I'll pass it on the next time we're out that way.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A dark shade of pink

With a strong, moody debut novel (The Deep Blue Good-By) and this bang-up follow-up, it's sure been easy to finally slip into John D. MacDonald's classic Travis McGee series.

The fast, taut Nightmare in Pink is set in New York City and its environs and concerns white collar crooks scamming millions from unsuspecting investors. I expected a decent story, and more than got that, but what I didn't expect was a scary one. I mean, horror-novel scary. And I got a kick out of being caught unaware like that.

You see, the crooks here have a very special way of lulling their marks into submission, and, just as chilling, of getting the curious and other threats to their scam out of the way. I won't get too specific, but let's just say these methods involve shady physicians, unsupervised mental health facilities, and certain controversial (even in the early 60's, when this story is set) cranial operations involving long, thin, shiny implements. And, yes, our man McGee gets into quite a spot involving these factors. Will his sharp mind survive the book intact?

In addition to the chills and suspense, other satisfying elements include a nicely drawn friendship between McGee and an old war buddy, an eventual romance with the war buddy's daughter (which gallant McGee tries to resist at first), and McGee's usual, and still fascinating, mental pronouncements about this or that aspect of American life. It helps that McGee's opinions about things still resonate and make us nod in agreement more than forty years after MacDonald wrote them.

It's been said that this series didn't really start to pick up steam until about the fifth or sixth book. If that's the case, those upcoming books must really be good, because Nightmare in Pink and the entry before it are both fine, satisfying reading experiences, laced with thrills, emotion, intelligence, and surprises.

The Travis McGee novels still aren't available as e-books, though that is bound to change soon.  For now, you can enjoy (as I've been) the beautifully produced new audiobook versions of every book in the series, now available at Amazon's Audible website.  Amazon also offers new paperback editions of the books.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Lazy August post

Until I get back to posts of more frequency and substance (honest, there ARE things going on in my mind), here are a few clever bits I gathered from around the internet.  I hope you get some modest enjoyment out of these little nuggets of wisdom and fun.

My wife and I had words.  But I didn't get to use mine.

Aspire to inspire before you expire.

Definition of frustration: Trying to find your glasses without your glasses.

Blessed are those who can give without remembering and take without forgetting.

The irony of life is that, by the time you're old enough to know your way around, you're not going anywhere.

God made man before woman to give him time to think of an answer to her first question.

A friend called a phone number and heard the following recording: "I am not available right now, but thank you for caring enough to call.  I am currently making some changes in my life, so please leave a message after the beep.  If I do not return your call, you are one of the changes."

I was always taught to respect my elders, but it keeps getting harder to find any.

Every morning is the dawn of a new error.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Talking about Spenser

If occasionally bordering on a dinner tribute/fawning feeling, In Pursuit of Spenser: Mystery Writers on Robert B. Parker and the Creation of an American Hero was ultimately a rewarding, and often very entertaining reading experience. It was both informative and a lot of fun to learn that so many writers- including contributors S.J. Rozan, Dennis Lehane, Loren D. Estleman, and Ace Atkins- held Robert Parker's Spenser series in such high esteem, and why.

In particular, it was revealing to find out (via several of the essays here) that Robert Parker's formula of mixing a detective plot with the personal goings-on of the central detective character, and an ongoing supporting cast, was actually quite innovative back in the 1970's when Parker's early entries in the Spenser series occurred.

Before Parker, detectives brooded, drank scotch, bedded occasional women they really didn't give a hoot about, and stayed focused in a razor-sharp way on the case at hand. That wasn't bad for a while (there are some darn good Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler novels that are testament to that), but the genre quickly became limiting and predictable, with only a niche following.

But then Parker came along with The Godwulf Manuscript and things opened up: he kept what was great about the top private eye novels of the past, but let the genre breathe. Spenser complained about life, was concerned about paying the bills, asked normal women out in a normal manner (as opposed to just encountering femme fatales), developed a network of friends and acquaintances that would reappear on a regular basis, and- like so many of us- eventually became part of an ongoing committed relationship. In other words, Parker married the detective genre to general fiction.

That formula may be an obvious and very popular one now, but it was new then, attracting huge numbers of mainstream readers to the mystery genre, paving the way for Janet Evanovich, Sue Grafton, Dennis Lehane, and so many other mystery writers who have achieved mainstream success by emulating the Robert Parker mold of introducing a new detective plot in each of their series entries along with the latest developments in their detective heroes' personal lives.

As well as discussing the above innovation, and a few other contributions of the Spenser series (including the rewards of creative cooking even if one is just a bachelor eating at home), the dozen-plus essays here also discuss Parker's Jesse Stone character, the various Western novels the author wrote late in his career, and the television adaptations of Parker's works. It's all fun to read about.

So, yes, SmartPop Publications and editor Otto Penzler did a nice job here. In Pursuit of Spenser felt like a meaty panel discussion held at a top mystery novel convention. I can't imagine a regular reader of Robert B. Parker, and especially a fan of his Spenser series, not getting a lot of enjoyment out of this book.

I read a handsome trade paperback edition of In Pursuit of Spenser, but if you get the book on Kindle right now, it'll only cost you a mere $1.99.  If you're at all interested, get it now.  That low price won't last forever.

Get shaken

Three different timelines with three different scary scenarios comprise Shaken, a recent entertaining entry in J.A. Konrath's Jack Daniels thriller series, which began several years ago with Whiskey Sour. 

Jumping between 1) an early serial killer case of Jack’s occurring more than twenty years ago, 2) the hunt for another killer set in the recent past, and 3) a grisly confrontation with that killer set in the present day, Shaken sends readers all over the map with the usual Konrath scares and laughs. 

For longtime fans of the series, it was also fun to see history in the making, as we see (in the earliest timeline) how Jack met her future detective partner Herb Benedict, and other notable “firsts”.  The unusual story construction this time out does sacrifice some of Konrath’s trademark fast pacing, but things never get confusing and the jumping around thing was ultimately fun. 
It was kind of weird, though, that dumb luck, not so much Jack’s bravery and skill, plays a big role in her final fate in this one. But I guess I can’t complain too much, as dumb luck often plays a part in our lives, doesn’t it?  Anyway, fun novel, and one that is sending me right to Stirred, its follow-up.
Shaken is available for $3.99 on Kindle, or is free to borrow on that device if you're an Amazon Prime member.  A good deal either way!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Checking in

We'll return to our regularly scheduled blog shortly (I may even try to beat the summer doldrums and make it a little more regular).  But for now, to hold the masses at bay, is a nice little photo of our newest cat, El Diablo, which was taken a few days ago.  Interestingly, the photo snapped only a day or two after we finally had the little guy fixed.  As you can see, he really bounced back fast, and has now happily resumed his playful terrorizing of our other cats (hence, his name).

Oh, I should probably give a shout-out to Old Marple Animal Hospital in Springfield, Pennsylvania.  Great doctors, great staff.  They really made El Diablo feel like a star (not that he doesn't think of himself in that way, anyway).

Up shortly: Thoughts on some of the big summer movies (Including The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises) and a few recent books and audios I've enjoyed poolside.  But be patient, okay?  It's really been nice outside lately.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Hello, "Good-By"

Originally published in 1964, John D. MacDonald's initial Travis McGee novel, The Deep Blue Good-By, mixes lurid treatments of sex and violence with fascinating philosophical observations about life in America in the 1960's. An engaging reading experience, the novel is also pretty dark, as- be warned- not everything turns out well for our man McGee and the people in his sphere.

Of particular interest was the fact that, for a novel originally aimed at young men who purchased adventure paperbacks from drugstore spinner racks back in the 60's, The Deep Blue Good-By is populated mostly by women characters, and nicely fleshed out ones at that (pun slightly intended). Seriously, it was enjoyable to see nuanced, complex female characters, who weren't just there to hang on the arms of "salvage specialist" McGee during the course of his adventures (not that one or two don't do that a little).

I also liked the contrast between the beautiful Florida locales and the dark doings going on there, as Travis McGee tries to recover for his client Cathy Kerr a treasure her late father brought back from World War II but was then stolen by a devious acquaintance of her father. That acquaintance is Junior Allen, who turns out to be quite a memorable villain, first romancing Cathy to find out where the treasure is hidden, then horribly victimizing Cathy and several other women once the treasure is in his grasp.

The philosophy in the book comes from McGee's frequent internal pronouncements (about once per chapter) on whatever aspect of American life is getting under his skin at the moment. Though sometimes a little tiresome, most of McGee's little monologues are kind of interesting, though one has to wonder what adventure readers of the 60's- who probably just wanted a fast-moving atory- thought of all the mini speeches that frequently back-burnered the plot for a few minutes.

Anyway, I'm glad this thriller fan is finally taking on the Travis McGee novels, and look forward to the second book in the series, Nightmare in Pink.

Oh, one more thing: the Travis McGee novels aren't yet available as e-books, but brand new unabridged audiobook versions of all 21 entries were recently produced by Amazon's Audible subsidiary.  They're all read by Robert Petkoff, who did an excellent job with the first book, combining sharp, clear enunciation with depth, nuance, and emotion.  I'm glad I experienced The Deep Blue Good-By on audio, and will likely do the rest of the books in the series that way, too.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Diversions

To help you kick off the weekend, here are a few more puns, along with another completely unrelated photograph of a pretty woman.  Enjoy!

We're going on a trip to the Coca-Cola factory.  I hope there isn't a pop quiz.

PMS jokes aren't funny... period.

When you get a bladder infection, urine trouble.

Broken pencils are pointless.

I tried to catch some fog, but I mist.

England has no kidney bank, but it does have a Liverpool.

I got a job at a bakery because I needed dough.

Velcro- what a rip off!

A cartoonist was found dead in his home.  Details are sketchy.

Venison for dinner again?  Oh, deer!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Kinda funny

A few bumper stickers that recently provided a bit of amusement on the highway:

Earth first!  We'll stripmine the other planets later.

The gene pool could use a little chlorine.

Make something idiot-proof and someone will just make a better idiot.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Holiday tips

I'll probably have more to say about the titles below at some point, but for now I thought you might appreciate a few quick reading suggestions for the upcoming long Memorial Day weekend.  The following are a few books I recently enjoyed.

Robert B. Parker's The Godwulf Manuscript, which I recently revisited on my Kindle, introduced the author's now famous Spenser private detective character to the masses back in 1973.  Close to forty more Spenser titles have followed, with Ace Atkins recently taking over the series following Dr. Parker's passing in 2010. 

See where it all began in this entertaining, immersive tale of murder, organized crime, infidelity (some induced by Spenser himself!), and general unsavory mayhem, set mostly on a college campus.   The author particularly has fun with all the pretentious, self-important officials that populate higher education, using Spenser to bring a bunch of them down a notch.

Finally, re-reading this old favorite for the first time in many years, I enjoyed being reminded that the Spenser of today was once young, brash, and quick-tempered... and constantly on the prowl for women.  Fun stuff!

The Godwulf Manuscript is available on Kindle for $7.99.

*     *     *

A recent enjoyable discovery, The Rook is Daniel O'Malley's offbeat tale of a woman who wakes up with amnesia in a London park, surrounded by a bunch of people that she killed, apparently in self defense.  How's that for a bang-up beginning?

Anyway, the woman eventually figures out that she helps run a government agency that oversees and monitors paranormal activity thoughout the U.K., kind of like the way the Men in Black guys monitor all those aliens secretly living in New York. 

In this cross between Hellboy, The X-Files, and the aforementioned Men in Black, our heroine Myfanwy (pronounced MIFF-an-ee) Thomas, attempts to reacquire her memories while trying to figure out who took them in the first place, and why.  Her strange situation also allows her a second chance at becoming the type of person she always wanted to be but never had the will or courage to pursue. 

Creative, funny, dark, and moving, The Rook looks to be the start of a great series.

The Rook is available on Kindle for $12.99.

*     *     *

Each installment in Max Allan Collins' Nate Heller series has the author's central detective character take on a real-world mystery, or a real-world event with lingering questions, with always fascinating results.  Past events investigated by Heller have included the Lindbergh kidnapping (Stolen Away) and the death of Marilyn Monroe (Bye Bye, Baby). 

In Flying Blind, Collins and Heller look into the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, with Collins' research, speculations, and storytelling grit again delivering terrific results.  I particularly enjoyed how Collins quickly got past the iconic stature of his subject, and- while still honoring her- showed us an Amelia Earhart who was a regular human being, not quite as perfect as the impressive P.R. machine generated by her husband would have the public believe.  

Another bonus of this immersive little thriller is that an obviously fictional romance between Heller and Earhart (who is somewhat estranged from her husband) is just as compelling as the hypothesis put forth about what may have happened to the famous pilot following her disappearance.

The entertaining, relentlessly interesting Flying Blind is a great way to brush up on a famous public figure who you proabably don't know as much about as you think.

Flying Blind is available on Kindle for $7.99.

*     *     *

It was great fun to forget about the iconic Stanley Kubrick movie and just sit back and read, with no pre-conceptions, Stephen King's early novel The Shining

Somehow I never read the book before now, and I really got into this tale of a man troubled by severe personal and professional demons, further fueled by his barely-under-control alcoholism, who soon meets up with real demons when he and his family agree to be caretakers in an old, grand hotel while it's closed for the winter. 

A scary tour-de-force follows, but one that contains more realistic elements than you might expect.  We quickly see that Jack Torrance is, like any of us, trying not to let personal doubt, weakness, or petty resentments keep him from performing his duties and responsibilities.  In Jack's sad case, however, a little too much of those things, coupled with a few too many bad decisions and judgements, leads to disaster.

Of course, to be fair to Jack, various evil entities living in the Overlook Hotel constantly nurture his growing instability.  In a different situation, would Jack have eventually gotten his resentments and anger under control?  We'll never know.

Anyway, not to be cold about it, but Jack's downfall is your gain, as the ever-building developments in The Shining will really keep you turning the pages.

The Shining is available on Kindle for $8.99.

*     *     *

Have a great Memorial Day weekend, infused- I hope- with some great reading!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Great hotel stay

My friend Bill and his wife Kathy recently caught a movie they enjoyed, and Bill sent around an e-mail about the experience.  I thought Bill's concise thoughts and entertaining opinion would be appreciated by "Kindle Taproom" readers, so I'm sharing Bill's e-mail below.

Kathy and I saw The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and loved it.  It is tender, touching, and very, very amusing.  It is also an illustration of how superb acting, writing, and direction can transform and elevate ordinary, even threadbare, material to something special.

The acting ensemble is extraordinary.  Standouts are Judi Dench and Tom Wilkinson.  The latter is particularly effective as a British High Court Judge who goes to India to settle some unfinished business.  His understated yet compelling performance is an example of art concealing art.  And Maggie Smith?  You will be happy to know that she contributes yet another eccentric but deeply lovable character to her glittering gallery of portrayals.

I should also tell you the film contains no violence, no explosions, no car chases, no kinky sex, no vampires, no robots, and no tie-in with a fast food chain.  All it has is intelligence, wit, and charm, and that proved quite enough for us.

Thank you, Bill!  This sounds like a winner to me.  Even though, like the rest of America, I really enjoyed "The Avengers", sometimes a movie a little less... bombastic, is in order.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Cute

Recently spotted on a message board outside a local restaurant:

We promise you the fastest service around, no matter how long it takes!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Mildly amusing

A few cute puns made their way into my inbox the other day, so I thought I'd share the best of them with you.  By the way, the picture of the pretty woman that accompanies this post has absolutely nothing to do with the topic, but I thought I'd include it anyway (it's good to be the boss).  Anyway, let's get started...

I changed my iPod's name to "Titanic".  It's syncing now.

When chemists die, they barium.

Jokes about German sausage are the wurst.

I know a guy who's addicted to brake fluid.  He says he can stop anytime.

How does Moses make his tea?  Hebrews it.

I stayed up all night to see where the sun went.  Then it dawned on me.

The girl said she recognized me from the vegetarian club, but I never met herbivore.

I'm reading a book about anti-gravity.  I just can't put it down.

I did a theatrical performance about puns.  It was a play on words.

They told me I had Type-A blood, but it was a Type-O.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Goodbye

 My grandmother, Mae Menta, passed away a few days ago on May 12, at the ripe age of 100 (she got her money’s worth, as my dad aptly put it). It’s funny, but reading the comments in the online guest book associated with her obituary, I had to grin to myself at all the references to her warm heart, kind smile, and the like. And, sure, my grandmother had all those things and more, in abundance. But that’s not the grandmom Menta I like to remember.

My favorite memories of my grandmother usually involve a no-nonsense woman dispensing sit-up-and-fly-right advice to the children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, who routinely (you better believe it) needed such straight talk. Yes, Mae Menta was warm and loving, but when you needed to hear something, boy, you heard it, straight no chaser.

She also had a biting sense of humor, and a sharp sense of when to use it. Once, about fifteen or twenty years ago (when she was a mere 80 or so), there was some family gathering or other at my grandmother’s home in South Philadelphia. One of my cousins, about 19 or 20 years old at the time, was sitting around the dinner table with us, and was in a foul mood over something (he was usually a nice young man, but you know how young people get sometimes). Anyway, at one point my cousin said something curt and disrespectful to my grandmother, which immediately silenced the table.

Did my grandmother act hurt and dejected, and wait for everybody to leap to her defense? Nope. Without missing a beat (a professional stage performer couldn’t have timed it better), she eyed him like a laser beam and said: “And what the Hell’s the matter with you? The girlfriend didn’t come across last night?”

There was shock, dropped jaws, and hear-a-pin-drop silence. But then, slowly, the laughter came, and then outright guffaws around the table, even from my cousin, who couldn’t believe his grandmother had actually said that. Of course, grandmom's little zinger was the exact thing needed in that situation, and my cousin and everybody else were fine and happy during the rest of the meal.

That’s the grandmom Menta I remember, a woman who could speak for herself, thank you, and knew how to take care of business. I’m sure I’ll come to miss the smiles and the warmth, too, but for now, I’m going to wrap myself in those memories of her sharp wit, biting intelligence, and no-nonsense attitude.

So, Salud, grandmom! Don’t let them give you any Hell up there. Not that I really need to worry.

A moment in time

Life is about the small, pleasurable moments, and here's one my wife Alison recently had: enjoying a caramel apple martini during a recent visit to Johnny's Steakhouse in Stevens, Pennsylvania.

While I'm more of a straight-up classic martini guy (if you're progressive enough to consider a vodka martini "classic"), Alison usually enjoys flavored cocktails, and she thought this one was a winner.

If you're curious about its ingredients (or maybe want to see if your local bartender can replicate the yummy end result), here is what's in Johnny's very popular caramel apple martini:

Absolut vodka, apple schnapps, butterscotch schnapps, cranberry juice, a maraschino cherry, and a squirt or two of butterscotch syrup inside the glass.

It's almost worth making the drink just to look at it. It looked really pretty sitting on the cherry table in subdued lighting, while we were enjoying our dinner.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Ruminations

I really enjoy the random thoughts that people post at the web site "Ruminations.com". Here's a sampling:

Why does there need to be an anti-bullying lobby? Is anyone pro-bully?

I just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance... by putting my car into reverse and leaving the scene of an accident!

Screw socks... where does all the Tupperware go?

I'm really excited for tomorrow, when I get to spend $100 buying all my clothes back from the dry cleaner.

Death is right around the coroner.

Check out the web site for yourself. It's fun.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Listen up

I just received an e-mail from Audible.com announcing that unabridged recordings of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee mysteries, all 21 of them, are now available for download. The availability of uncut readings of all the entries in this lauded series has always been the Holy Grail of audiobook enthusiasts, and now the anticipation is over.

Full disclosure: I've only read a few of these excellent mysteries before falling under the spell of Robert B. Parker's Spenser series way back when, but I really liked what I experienced. It'll be great to finally catch up with this series and all the great titles I missed, via the convenience of audio.

Someone named Robert Petkoff reads all 21 titles in these newly-released productions. The fine actor Darrin McGavin read a handful of the McGee mysteries years ago for audio, but he didn't do anywhere near all of them, and the titles he did were abridged. Mr. McGavin is sadly gone now, anyway, so here's hoping Mr. Petkoff is a worthy successor. I'm betting he's fine.

Every title in MacDonald's series has a color in its name, the first entry being 1964's The Deep Blue Good-By. Other titles include Nightmare in Pink and The Green Ripper. The series concluded with The Lonely Silver Rain in 1985, due to the passing of Mr. MacDonald after a long, productive career that encompassed scores of books.

So, all you audio enthusiasts, get cracking! I want you all up to speed when I start discussing this series from the beginning in a month or two. An added incentive to pick up these downloads is that the Travis McGee series is not yet available on Kindle!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Quoth the raven: wait for cable

The Raven, a fictional horror thriller featuring the non-fictional literary figure Edgar Allen Poe, was well crafted and never less than adequately watchable, but I really expected more. While calling the film cartoony and childish would be way too critical, I thought there was a broadness and simplicity to the proceedings that made the movie veer away from some potentially very interesting waters.

I'm just thinking aloud here, but I would have loved to see a fictional Poe film set in the months prior to his death in 1849, one that made a genuine attempt at showing viewers what Poe was like, what demons bedeviled him, that sort of thing. The device of the fictional detective story involving Poe could have illuminated the non-fictional aspects of his life, aspects that contributed to his tragic, premature death.

But, no, here we get a sanitized, generally likable Poe with only the barest nods to the man's excesses, depression, and hardships. To be fair here, the film at least mentions that Poe lost his young wife to tuberculosis and that the tragedy still haunted him. But not all that much, according to this movie. There also isn't much grittiness or realism in the depiction of Baltimore in 1849, even though numerous crime scenes in bad parts of town are depicted. There was more moody darkness in the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies.

Finally, worse than the broadness evident in the depictions of characters and locations, the movie didn't even give poor Poe the dignity of his inherent flaws when it came to his death. In other words, flattering or not, Poe's demons and weaknesses were part of who he was and why he died, and that should have been shown in the movie. But, no, here we are given a contraption-like plot development (I won't get more specific in case you're planning to see the film) that's responsible for Poe dying. I don't care that the plot contrivance paints Poe and his demise in a better light (to the point of making him downright heroic, in fact). In the end, the revisionist history seemed disrespectful. Let the poor man have his demons and weaknesses.

Plusses? The movie's production design was lavish; the death traps built by the mysterious killer were suitably creepy; there's generous discussion and quoting of Poe's work (especially his poetry); John Cusack did a good job (given the limitations of the script's approach to his character); and I strangely admired the film's willingness to present no-holds-barred gore and violence. On that last point, the ads were selling an adult-oriented horror thriller and we were given an adult-oriented horror thriller. I appreciated that.

I just wish the adult approach extended beyond the violent, intense aspects of the production. The Raven is an okay movie that could have been so much more.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Hunger sated

I suppose I should go on record with some kind of opinion about The Hunger Games, both book and movie, now that the movie is finally beginning to fade from sight after several spectacular weeks at the top of the charts.

Actually, I don't have an extreme or unique opinion of any kind on this matter. Simply put, I thought The Hunger Games was a pretty good book that was adapted into a pretty good movie. There were some things I thought the book did better than the movie and some things I thought the movie did better than the book, but overall I liked both just fine.  I can't say I absolutely loved the book or movie, but I thought both were solid and perfectly satisfying.

I might go into some of the things in the book and movie that caught my fancy in a future post, but for now I'll just say that it was refreshing to see, in both versions of the story, a narrative aimed at young teens that A) was genuinely interesting to this non-teen, and B) carried a decent amount of emotional complexity and dark thematic material.

While the story construction and pacing are all over the map in the final two books in the series, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, both books had some particularly interesting ideas and plot points that I'm looking forward to seeing dramatized in their inevitable film versions. Many of those elements center around the idea that, sadly, opportunism isn't always limited to the activities of the "bad guys".

So, as said at the outset, if you haven't already checked out The Hunger Games, either book or movie, try one or both out. The book is a click away on Kindle (currently going for five bucks) and the movie is still in a lot of theaters.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Bond news


Some interesting literary news was released yesterday. Ian Fleming Publications announced that William Boyd (pictured), the award-winning author of Restless, Any Human Heart, and many other novels, has been engaged to write the next James Bond novel.

Interestingly, the novel will feature a "classic Bond" and will be set in the late 1960's. So much for the re-booted Bond presented by Jeffery Deaver last year in Carte Blanche, eh?

The full press release is floating around the internet for those who want to read it, but this post contains the gist of the announcement. The as-yet untitled novel (with no plot details yet released, either) will be published in Fall 2013 by Jonathan Cape in the UK and HarperCollins in the United States and Canada.

The next James Bond movie, Skyfall, will reach U.S. movie screens this coming November.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Opening Pandora's box


The Pandora Radio app is a favorite among tablet and other mobile device users. Most of you know the deal: you open the app, type in the name of a favorite recording artist, and Pandora will instantly create a radio station that plays the work of that particular artist, and- here's the part that impresses people when they first hear about the service- also presents the work of additional performers you'll probably also enjoy.

For example, if you ask Pandora to create a Frank Sinatra station, you'll hear lots of Sinatra, but also a lot of Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, and Mel Torme. Terrific, huh?

Well, it is until you start listening for a while and you stumble upon Pandora's true genius: turning a limitation into a selling point.

You see, within a month or two of enjoying say, the Frank Sinatra station, you'll discover that the real reason that Pandora mixes in a lot of artists working in the same genre of Sinatra is because, well, it simply doesn't have enough Sinatra songs available to fill a station with just Sinatra. It's the same two dozen Sinatra songs. And the Tony Bennett station (if you create one) doesn't have enough Tony Bennett material to just play Tony Bennett, and the Ella Fitzgerald station doesn't have... well, you get the picture.

See it now? Pandora's ingenious solution to this dilemma was to divert listeners' attention from its limited playlists by making it seem like the service's padding of individual stations with other artists' songs isn't a short-sighted budget solution but something cool: the ability to create a tailor-made radio station for those who like a particular artist.

The related discovery I also quickly made is that the Frank Sinatra station- which plays the music of Sinatra, Tona Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, and a handful of others- is exactly the same as the Tony Bennett station- which plays the music of Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and a few others. Which is the same as the Ella Fitzgerald station, which plays the music of Fitgerald, Sinatra, and... well, again, you get the picture.

There's a lot less "tailor-made" creating going on when one discovers- to give a nod to classical music enthusiasts for a moment- that the Beethoven station is exactly the same station as the Mozart station.

And, again, when you scrutinize each individual artist? It seems to be the same twenty-five songs. Maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but I really do hear a lot of repeated songs if I listen to large blocks of Pandora during the course of a week.

Pandora Radio is still fun on my iPad and on my wife's Kindle Fire, and yes, occasionally Pandora does seem to add some new songs from an artist's backlog. But I just want to let Pandora know that someone out there has noticed the bit of polish and spin it mixes into the description of its service. And I can't be the only one.

Anyway, I'm in the mood for some movie music, so I think I'll put on the John Williams station I created. And I guarantee that within twenty minutes I'll hear Williams' Jurassic Park theme and Jerry Goldsmith's theme from Rudy. Guaranteed. Sigh, and I don't even like Rudy.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Edgy fun


Thanks to Netflix's streaming service, I've happily discovered the perverse joys of Archer, an animated spy spoof that's currently unspooling its third season on basic cable's FX channel. I'm halfway through the first season and the episodes just keep getting better.

The show is something, combining perverse (often downright filthy) humor, stylish animation, and spy stories that are actually dramatic and involving. The plots, however, always take a back seat to the outrageousness of master spy Sterling Archer, who works for a government agency mostly populated by beautiful but very neurotic women. The show plays fair, though: the handful of men at the agency are pretty neurotic, too.

While there's lots of variety to the plots, most episodes on some level involve Archer contorting and manipulating the latest crisis or mission to give him the opportunity to bed one or more of his female co-workers, or ditch them because it's time to move on. I never said Archer was a sweetie. But, don't worry, the women aren't doormats and usually figure out Archer's angles and act accordingly.

Incidentally, Archer gets away with a lot of his craziness because his intelligence agency, ISIS, is headed by his mother, who is too busy covering up her ongoing affair with the head of Russia's intelligence service to find the time to run a tight ship at home.

Stylish animation and music, great voice acting, decent action plots, outrageous humor (the show isn't for the kids), and frequent, genuine sexiness make Archer a winner. If you're in the right frame of mind for this sort of thing, definitely give Archer a whirl.

The early episodes of Archer are available in a variety of formats, including various streaming services and DVD.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Dark but good


Val McDermid's The Mermaids Singing is a decent, fast-moving serial killer thriller that thankfully pays as much attention to its likable police investigator characters as it does to the frequent and disturbing sexual crimes on hand. Otherwise the novel, based in London and its environs, might have been a bit too much to take.

The friendship between police detective Carol Jordan and serial killer profiler Doctor Tony Hill, which quickly develops when Dr. Hill is called in to help the police with a string of killings in the gay community, is a particuarly enjoyable aspect of the novel. Interestingly, however, that friendship and developing flirtation is complicated by the fact that Tony is tormented by his own unusual sexual problems when he isn't trying to unravel the weird sexual predilections of the killer he and the police are chasing.

With frequent changes in viewpoint- sometimes the story is told from Tony's point of view, sometimes Carol's, and often via the killer himself- the story avoids one particular flavor, which keeps the reading experience fresh. Again, though, readers should be warned that some of those flavors are fairly dark and brutal.

The Mermaids Singing, which originally came out in the mid-1990's, has since spawned several more novels featuring Dr. Tony Hill and police investigator Carol Jordan. I plan to check them out at some point, as- darkness and all- this was an enjoyable crime story.

The Mermaids Singing is available on Kindle for $7.99.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Post-modern Post-Its


Amazon recently sent me a supply of a new Post-It Notes product for my thoughts. I filed my observations with Amazon and, what the heck, I might as well share them with you, too.

This is a cool product. You get the reliability of regular Post-It Notes (quality paper, good stickiness, no problems removing the notes from whatever you had attached them to when their job is done), combined with bright, offbeat paper colors, a quirkily fun miniature cube shape, and cute fruit imagery on the sides of the cubes.

Admittedly, the three-inch by three-inch size doesn't allow for long notes, and writing on the top of a fresh cube can be a little dicey because there's no place to rest your hand on the limited writing surface, but those aren't real problems. Just keep your notes short, and peel and place your notes before writing your messages.

There's really not much else to say. Post-It Notes have always been a great little item, and it's nice to have a new version of them that adds some fun and flair to their useability and convenience.

These colorful fruit-themed Post-It Notes are available on Amazon and wherever Post-It Notes products are usually sold.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Kids, a clown, and carnage


I recently got around to Stephen King's mammoth 1987 horror thriller, It, which inexplicably this longtime King fan had never cracked open until now. Well, I shouldn't say inexplicably, because I'm sure it had something to do with that adjective mammoth combined with an adjective I often use to describe myself: lazy. Anyway, I finally got to the book and I liked it, often quite a bit.

I didn't love it, however, finding it to be the first King story I've read that didn't fully justify its generous length. It was also peppered with a few elements that sort of annoyed and/or frustrated me, again a new thing for me with King.

But first let me be a gentleman and list a few of the many things I liked about this tale of seven kids who take on an elemental evil hiding out in the sewers of a Maine town in 1958 and then come together as adults in the 1980's to take it on again. I liked the characterizations of the kids, who were sympathetic and interestingly complex, and the way King makes it clear that the ways children are raised inarguably have impacts on their personalities that will follow them for the rest of their lives. I liked the individual scenes of horror, which are effective, scary, and imaginative. I enjoyed comparing the personalities of the kids with the personalities of their grown-up counterparts.

I also cheered during the many scenes depicting heartless, cruel people in power finally getting their due from the people they regularly victimized and abused. Scenes involving an abusive husband in the modern-day scenes and a horrible bully in the 1950's part of the story immediately come to mind, and there are a couple of other satisying confrontations along those lines, too. And these have little or nothing to do with the horror story at hand; they're just an added bonus.

Now, what aspects of the book didn't wow me as much? The story is constructed so that we continually jump back and forth between the kids battling the creature known as "It" in the 1950's and their re-match with "It" in the 1980's. Because both stories happen simultaneously throughout the entire book and we cut back and forth between them, momentum and drama never really build up in each individual timeline, at least as much as they otherwise could. Also, King comes up with (I thought) contrived reasons for the 1980's versions of the characters to not talk to one another about, or even think about, their original 1950's battle, so as not to spoil things for the reader (for one thing, think "mysterious memory loss").

I also thought the exact nature of what was going on in both battles was ultimately murky, having something to do with a battle of wills on a higher plane of existence, but nothing I could better get my hands around. The weird, godlike turtle creature sitting on the sidelines didn't exactly help matters in that regard.

Finally, all of this- the first battle, the second battle, the individual lives of the characters as kids and as adults- was frequently interrupted by long history lessons about the town of Derry, Maine, the setting of both epic battles (the earthbound parts of them, anyway). The Derry history sections are actually kind of interesting, often detailing horrendous occurrences that the "It" entity instigated, emotionally fed on, or both. But in a story that was already of epic length, I wonder if the information in those sections couldn't have been communicated via briefer mechanisms.

In the end, Stephen King is too talented a writer to not realize exactly what he was doing when he delivered an 1,100-plus page book about a bunch of kids taking on a creepy clown (the monster's preferred form of corporeal existence). Perhaps after being burned by his publishers years before, who made him cut tens of thousands of words from his original draft of The Stand, Mr. King decided to use the clout he eventually earned to write another epic story and make it as long as he saw fit, emphasizing- without interference this time- the immersive experience over pacing and conciseness.

If the results are a little self-indulgent and well... long, so what? It's not like the author writes this way all the time. In my view, 95% of the time Stephen King's books are exactly as long as they need to be, so what's the harm if an otherwise fairly solid King novel, just this once, gives us a couple of hundred pages more carnage, characterization, and details than we actually need? Or, in his zeal to be truly "out there" in some of the cosmic confrontations, we mutter a "huh?" from time to time? Small sins, gentle reader, small sins.

In the end, for me at least, I guess that creepy clown with the sharp teeth pulled this sometimes flawed, sometimes lumbering epic over the finish line.

"It" is available on Kindle for $8.99.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Street smarts


On this fine Tuesday, it's time for a fresh installment of "Wisdom From Around the Web" (spelling and grammar fixes courtesy of your editors here at "Kindle Taproom"). Let's get underway...

Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. On my desk, I have a work station.

A clear conscience is a sign of a fuzzy memory.

Money can't buy happiness, but it sure makes misery easier to live with.

Going to church doesn't make you a Christian anymore than standing in a garage makes you a car.

A diplomat is someone who tells you to go to Hell in such a way that you look forward to the trip.

When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the fire department usually uses water.

A bus is a vehicle that moves twice as fast when you are chasing it than it does when you're in it.

If you're supposed to learn from your mistakes, why do so many people have more than one child?

To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Quite a tree


The Tree of Life, which I recently caught on DVD, drops an epic sequence depicting no less than the creation of the universe and the rise and fall of the dinosaurs, smack dab into the middle of a serious drama covering the joys and tragedies of an American family from the 1950's to the present. I just wanted to warn you: yes, you're getting an Art film here, with a capital A.

Many of the individual sequences of the film are involving, well acted, and- in the case of the "creation of the universe and all life on earth" sequence- quite spectacular. But some may find the lack of a traditional story, and the way the disparate parts of the movie don't demonstrate obvious connections with one another, a little frustrating.

Myself, I admired more than enjoyed The Tree of Life, and have no real desire to watch it again anytime soon. But I'm glad that movies like this can still get made, even if I found this particular movie to be a little dull at times. Anyway, maybe next year I'll check out the film again, after its images and juxtapositions have been percolating in my brain for a while, and see if I have any new impressions.

And, yeah, I already have some ideas about how the creation of the universe stuff ties into the scenes of Brad Pitt yelling at his kids in his backyard, but in the end they're just my ideas. You'll probably have your own. And if that's okay with you, you'll probably like the movie at least as much as I did. But if you prefer all your movies to clearly communicate what they're about, do yourself a favor and steer clear of this one.

The Tree of Life is available in all manner of formats for your home viewing pleasure. I have to say that the standard DVD I watched looked and sounded terrific.

Author's note: Yeah, yeah, I know I said in the previous post that I was going to sum up "The Tree of Life" in a small, capsule review. But I quickly abandoned that idea. A movie like this demands at least a little elaboration, right?

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Playin' some baseball


Happy Wednesday. Here's a capsule review (I'm trying to write more concisely these days) about a movie I said I would tell you about...

Bennett Miller’s Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt, was an enjoyable look at what goes on behind the scenes in the world of baseball. I’m still not quite sure what was so radical about the “new way” Pitt’s Billy Beane character selected players, as he just seemed to think outside the box a little more often than his scouts and advisors did, but then I’m not a huge baseball expert. I did enjoy that it was a sports movie that was generous in its subtlety and light on simplistic moments of triumph. The skillful, effective balance of heart and smarts helped, too.

Next up, "The Tree of Life", which Netflix should deposit in my mailbox in the next day or so. That should be an interesting one to sum up in a capsule review!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Strange, fun diversion


I really should be working harder to catch all the Oscar-nominated films I haven't seen yet, in preparation for Sunday night's Academy Awards. I did catch "Rango" last night, though, via Netflix. The movie is up for a Best Animated Feature Oscar. Here's the quick little capsule review of the film that I just put up at Amazon...

Gore Verbinski’s Rango, featuring yet another quirky, endearing performance from Johnny Depp, is a funny, engaging good time. I enjoyed its skillful mix of surreal craziness and straightforward narrative, neither overpowering the other. Watch for all the great tributes to Hollywood films of years past (even one or two that starred Depp himself), as well as the most obvious one: The film’s plot, themes, and even its main antagonist are cleverly and playfully taken from the classic 70’s drama Chinatown, minus that film’s violence and weird familial relationships (so it’s okay for the kids). Cool animation and character design, too!

Next up, I'll tell you what I think of "Moneyball", up for a Best Picture Oscar (as well as a few others). Netflix promised me that one for Thursday!