Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable movie. Three gun slingers are trying to locate a buried treasure of Confederate gold during the Civil War. A bounty hunter named Blondie (Clint Eastwood) teams up with Tuco to scheme the authorities out of reward money. Tuco becomes upset with the deal and decides to take Blondie as his hostage. In the desert they meet a dying bandit who tells them where to find the treasure. Angel Eyes discovers both of the gunmen and forces them to lead him to the stash of coins.

The film starts and ends well, but the majority of the film is slow and drawn out, especially during the Civil War scenes. The theme song is well known, but is overused. This film is known as a spaghetti western because it was directed by an Italian film maker. This is the third film in the Dollars Trilogy. In the theatrical trailer Angel Eyes is referred to as The Ugly and Tuco as The Bad, due to a translation error. The U.S. version was 16 minutes shorter. Norway originally banned the film, but then allowed it in 1982.

He Shall Thunder in the Sky

I liked this book written by Elizabeth Peters. In 1914, Ramses Emerson works undercover to gather intelligence for the British military, at the start of World War I. Nefret returns after recovering in a hospital in Switzerland, and explains her strange behavior. Percy Peabody plans to seek revenge on the Emerson family. The family is also confronted by their long time nemesis, the Master Criminal Sethos.

This is the 12th novel in the series. The title comes from a translation of The Judging of Horus and Set from a papyrus. The novel's climax coincides with the First Suez Offensive, the attack launched by the Ottoman Empire on the Suez Canal in January 1915.

The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

This is an okay movie. Three American brothers are learning to trust each other and hoping for a life changing experience while traveling by train through India. Francis (Owen Wilson) is the oldest and likes to be in control. He wants their final stop to be at an abbey where their mother is staying, but he hasn’t told the others. Peter’s (Adrien Brody) wife is pregnant, but he is not ready to be a father. Jack (Jason Schwartzman) is the youngest and has written a short story he claims to be fiction, but is similar to their lives.

The film is funny and there is some interesting imagery, but overall it was rather strange. The French song that plays during the credits is called “Les Champs-Elysees” by Joe Dassin. The DVD includes a 13-minute short film called Hotel Chevalier, which serves as a prelude to the original story. The film explores forbidden love, parental abandonment, and sibling rivalries. The director said he was influenced by the 1951 film The River. There is a train in India named "Darjeeling Mail."

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Falcon at the Portal

This is an okay book written by Elizabeth Peters. In 1911, Amelia’s adopted son David is now married to her niece Lia. The family learns that someone impersonating David has been selling high-quality fake antiquities. They discover the body of an American girl in the shaft of a pyramid they are excavating. They try to solve both mysteries and discover there is a connection between the events. This is the 11th novel in the series and the title refers to Horus.

Rocky (1976)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable movie. Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is a Philadelphia club fighter who seems to be going nowhere. He likes to visit a shy woman named Adrian, who works at a pet store and eventually convinces her to go on a date. When he is approached to fight the boxing champion Apollo, he must put in many hours of training. During the match he shows that when you believe in yourself, you can accomplish much.

The film was also written by Stallone. It spawned five sequels. Apollo Creed is based on Muhammad Ali. The props department mistakenly changed the color of Rocky's shorts. The front steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art are now referred to as the Rocky Steps because of this film. In 2004, John Kerry ended his primary campaign at the foot of the steps. The movie won three Academy Awards for: picture, director, and editing. The famous theme song is called "Gonna Fly Now" and was composed by Bill Conti.

The Ape Who Guards the Balance

This is an okay book written by Elizabeth Peters. In 1906 the Emerson family is staying in England, when Amelia and her son decide to attend a protest to allow women to vote. Upon arriving in Egpyt, Ramses buys a papyrus from a questionable source and it turns about to be the Book of the Dead. It also appears that someone is trying to attack Amelia.

This is the 10th book the series. The title refers to the Egpytian God Thoth. In 1995, Kent Weeks discovered an extensive tomb in the Valley of the Kings built for the children of Ramesses II.

Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

This is a moderate movie. Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) is the socially awkward owner of a small business that distributes novelty toilet plungers. He is constantly hassled by his seven sisters, who want him to be more social and go on dates. Barry decides to call a phone sex line to console his loneliness and practice talking with a woman. The company turns out to be a scam located in Provo, Utah, and they start to harass him.

This was the first film where Adam Sandler deviated from his usual mainstream comedic role. The keyboard instrument he finds is known as a harmonium; first invented in 1842. The frequent flier story in the film is based on the true experience of David Phillips. He bought over 12,000 servings of pudding (at a price of $3,000) and earned enough miles to fly roundtrip to Europe 31 times. The word "love" appears as a bruise across Barry's knuckles when he punches the map in his office.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Seeing a Large Cat

This is an okay book written by Elizabeth Peters. In 1903, Amelia Peabody and her family are sent a ominous message telling them to explore tomb 20A, however according to their maps, there aren’t any tombs with a letter in their title. Donald Fraser has become obsessed with finding the tomb of a princess and starts to believe he is receiving messages from her. "Manuscript H" is introduced to share the private thoughts of Ramses. This is the 9th novel in the series.

Guardian of the Horizon

I liked this book written by Elizabeth Peters. A previously missing journal from Amelia Peabody is discovered and covers the 1907-1908 season. While staying at their summer home in Kent, England, they are visited by a mysterious messenger who claims that a malady has hurt his family. They travel to Sudan to explore the Lost Oasis, where the Meroitic civilization once thrived. This is the 16th novel in the series.

Prodigal Summer

This is an okay book written by Barbara Kingsolver. The story is about three different families, who all have a connection, living in a small town in Kentucky near the Appalachian Mountains. Deanna Wolfe is a reclusive biologist living in a cabin and tracking the coyotes who have started to disappear. Lusa Landowski is a young woman from the city who recently married a farmer. There is also a pair of elderly neighbors who disagree on a variety of topics including pesticides and religion. The chapters contain one of three titles alternating based on which person is being discussed.

There are some interesting discussions about the bible, biology, and southern culture. The author earned a Master's degree in ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona. She is a member of a band called the Rock-Bottom Remainders which includes other famous writers such as Dave Barry and Stephen King.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

This is a solid movie. Voldemort has started to unleash destruction into the Muggle world, while Hogwarts is under tight security. Dumbledore prepares Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) for upcoming dangers and explains that the dark lord preserved his life in magical artifacts called horcruxes. Professor Horace Slughorn is brought out of retirement because of his expertise in potions and his knowledge of Tom Riddle. Harry suspects that Draco (Tom Felton) has dark plans and spies on him.

The graphics in the destruction scenes were well done. I enjoyed the ending, although it was sad. It is the sixth film in the series and is the second in a row to be directed by David Yates. It was originally set to be released in November 2008. Hero Tiffin plays the 11-year-old Voldemort, and he is the nephew of actor Ralph Fiennes who played the adult Lord Voldemort in the previous two films. The attack on the Weasley's home, called The Burrow, does not occur in the books.

I have now seen 800 movies!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Lolita (1962)

This is a moderate movie. British professor Humbert (James Mason) has recently arrived in Ramsdale, New Hampshire and while looking for a place to rent, meets a young widow (Shelley Winters) who invites him to stay. At first he is reluctant to move in, but is persuaded to stay. He plans to marry the woman so he’ll be close to her flirtatious teenage daughter (Sue Lyon).

It is based on the 1955 novel by multilingual Russian author Vladimir Nabokov. The 1980 song "Don't Stand So Close to Me" by The Police mentions the book in the line "Just like the old man in that book by Nabokov." Sue Lyon was only 14 when she was selected for the role and 15 when it was released. The film left out most of the sexual content and director Stanley Kubric said if he had known that in advance he probably wouldn't have made the film. Many of the outdoor scenes were shot in England. A remake was released in 1997.

Maria Full of Grace (2004)

This is an okay Columbian movie. 17-year-old Maria (Catalina Moreno) finds out she is pregnant, but she does not want to marry her alcoholic boyfriend and isn’t sure what to do with the baby. She is fired from her job at a flower factory after arguing with her boss about the number of breaks she is allowed, because she feels sick. While traveling to Bogotá, she finds a guy who convinces her to become a drug mule, someone who smuggles drugs into the United States by swallowing them.

The film was done well, but the story is sad and some of the content is disturbing. The title refers to the Hail Mary prayer asking for intercession from the Virgin Mother of Jesus. In the 1985 Supreme Court case United States v. Montoya De Hernandez, the court ruled that border agents can detain a traveler if there is compelling evidence that they are smuggling contraband. Thurgood Marshall was one of only two justices that dissented. Smuggling drugs into the US through the method of swallowing capsules is more common for heroin.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

The Wailing Wind

This is an okay book written by Tony Hillerman. The Golden Calf case seemed like a typical scam gone wrong, when wealthy Wiley Denton confessed to police that he shot a swindler that had tried to trick him. However the rich man’s wife also went missing. When papers are found that suggest a connection between a new homicide and the old case, Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn is brought in to investigate.

It is the 15th novel in the Navajo Tribal Police series. Hillerman lived in New Mexico and in 1996 was considered the 22nd wealthiest man in the state. He died on October 26, 2008 due to heart failure at the age of 83.

Point of Origin

I did not like this book written by Patricia Cornwell. Virginia’s chief medical examiner Kay Scarpetta investigates a series of arson murders. She suspects that her old nemesis Carrie Grethen is involved after the felon escapes from a mental institution. This is the ninth book in the series.

The Titans

I did not like this book written by John Jakes. Jeptha Kent is a reporter for his family's newspaper. About 9 years ago, he and his wife separated and she took their sons and remarried. Jeptha is an abolitionist, while his wife's new husband supports the Confederacy. Mr. Kent and his eldest son end up supporting opposite sides during the Civil War. This is the fifth book in the Kent Family Chronicles.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Lost World

I did not like this book written by Michael Crichton. Six years after the previous events, a wealthy researcher named Richard Levine decides to investigate rumors of living dinosaurs in Costa Rica. He finds a sample and sends it to mathematician Ian Malcolm who is recovering from injuries caused on a previous expedition. He flies to Costa Rica with engineer Jack Thorne to rescue Levine and examine the island. Two of Levine's precocious students also sneak onto the flight.

It is the sequel to Crichton’s previous book. Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a novel in 1912 with the same title as this one, about an expedition to an isolated Central American location where dinosaurs are discovered that survived the massive extinction. There are some differences with the 1997 film adaptation. Hammond died in the first book. In the film Malcolm goes out to rescue Sarah Harding, instead of Richard Levine. Ian and Sarah's relationship ended when she went to Africa. At the end of the novel the dinosaurs are expected to die off because of a condition similar to mad cow disease.

“L” is for Lawless

I did not like this book written by Sue Grafton. Private investigator Kinsey Millhone is asked by her landlord to help a neighbor pursue a military burial for his grandfather by finding evidence of his service. When the man's apartment is robbed, she follows a mysterious woman from her hometown of Santa Teresa, California, to a hotel in Dallas, Texas, to a house in Louisville, Kentucky, trying to discover what a small group of criminals is looking for.

This is the twelfth novel in the Alphabet series.