Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pride and Prejudice

I did not like this book written by Jane Austen. Mr. Bingley is a wealthy young gentleman, who rents a country estate near the Bennets. He is accompanied by his sisters and his good friend, Mr Darcy. Bingley starts to court 22-year-old Jane, but suddenly leaves, causing her to feel confused and upset. Mr. Darcy is attracted to 20-year-old Elizabeth, but some of his actions cause her to be suspicious of him. Later on he writes a letter to her explaining his behavior and it causes her to reconsider having a relationship with him.

The book was published in 1813 and about 20 million copies have been sold. Charlotte Brontë thought the novel was a disappointment. A 2005 film version was made starring Keira Knightley.

Gran Torino (2008)

This is a solid movie. Korean War vet Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) is a retired old man mourning the loss of his wife. He is grumpy and annoyed by the racial diversity in his Highland Park, Michigan neighborhood and the frequent visits from the 27-year-old Catholic priest. A Hmong family lives next door and after their son (Bee Vang) tries to steal Walt’s 1972 Ford Gran Torino, they demand that he work for the man to pay him back. A local gang is harassing the Asian family and Walt tries to stop them.

I was expecting the story to be about racing. Ahney Her (born in 1992) is beautiful. The film features a predominantly Hmong cast, as well as Eastwood's younger son, Scott Eastwood, playing "Trey". Eastwood's oldest son, Kyle Eastwood, provided the score. The gun Eastwood uses in the film is the M1 Garand, a semi-automatic rifle.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Very Bad Things (1998)

This is a pitiable movie. Before getting married, Kyle (Jon Favreau) goes on a road trip with a group of his buddies for a bachelor party in Las Vegas. Michael (Jeremy Piven) is in the bedroom with a prostitute and accidentally kills her. The group of friends decides not to call the police and instead hide her body in the desert. After arriving back home, Adam (Daniel Stern) becomes paranoid and it causes a fight amongst the men, leading to more problems and threatening to disrupt the wedding plans.

The stripper was played by Taiwanese porn star Kobe Tai.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Land

This is an okay book written by Mildred Taylor. Ever since running away at the age of 14, Paul Logan has had one dream: to be the owner of a plot of land. While growing up, Paul loved and feared his white father, but adored the land he grew up on. After a rash of youthful rebellion, he leaves his family behind and vows to succeed on his own. However, for a black man in 1880s Mississippi this is a difficult task and especially so if you are of a mixed race and aren’t trusted by blacks or whites. He eventually becomes the grandfather of Cassie Logan.

This is a prequel to Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. I thought the most fascinating aspect of the story was that the main character was trying to save up enough money to buy some land so he would have an asset that could generate future income. This is a good example of the American Dream, that through hard work you can move out of poverty and succeed. I was also thinking about how the main character was of mixed ethnicity, and depending on whether he married a black woman or a white woman, it would determine the racial makeup of his descendants. Any person could marry someone from another race and if their children stayed in that race, traces of the original ethnicity would basically be gone after a few generations. Also it’s possible for a line of black men to have a European Y-chromosome, if one of their ancestors was white, or the opposite could happen.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Long Secret

This is an okay book written by Louise Fitzhugh. Harriet the Spy becomes interested when an unidentified person starts leaving notes that seem to be based on bible verses, all over the quiet beach town of Water Mill. She’s determined to find out who is writing the notes. She drags her timid friend Beth Ellen along into some odd and embarrassing situations and keeps track of any information she discovers in her notebook. This is the sequel to Harriet the Spy.

A Gathering of Days

I did not like this book written by Joan Blos. 13-year-old Catherine Cabot Hall started writing in her diary on October 17, 1830, the same day her dad brought it home to her from Boston as a gift. Catherine’s mother died 4 years earlier and so now she is in charge of taking care of the household on their New Hampshire farm. When she receives a disturbing note from a stranger, it creates a conflict with her best friend Cassie. The novel won the Newbery Medal.

What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)

This is an okay movie. Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp) is a young man in Endora, Iowa, who lives with his mentally retarded 17-year-old brother Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio), his severely obese mother, and two sisters. He works at a local grocery store and worries that he will never leave the small town. He meets a young woman named Becky (Juliette Lewis), who is living with her grandmother in a movable trailer. Gilbert worries that his responsibilities at home will prevent him from pursuing a relationship with her, but she learns to accept him and his family.

DiCaprio was already a good actor by age 19, and performed very well in his role. He met some teens with similar disabilities to prepare for the part. It is based on the 1991 novel by Peter Hedges and was filmed in Manor, Texas.

The River Between Us

This is an okay book written by Richard Peck. A steamboat whistle splits the air one evening, and with it, all is changed for fifteen-year-old Tilly Pruitt and her family. They’ve been living in a muddy little Mississippi River town in Illinois, fearing the approach of the Civil War. Her twin brother Noah has been marching and drilling with the other boys in town, preparing to be soldiers for either the South or the North. The boat from New Orleans docks and two young women walk out. When Tilly’s mother invites them both to stay, everything changes for the family.

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

This is a noteworthy movie. In a small town, where the houses and cars all seem alike, and the neighbors like to gossip, an Avon lady named Peg (Dianne Wiest) decides to visit the castle on the hill to sell her products. Inside she meets a strange man named Edward (Johnny Depp). He was created by a skilled inventor, but the scientist died before he could give Edward proper hands. She decides to take Edward to stay with her family. He is naïve and doesn’t say much, but soon finds release with his masterful skill of cutting hedges.

The majority of filming took place in the Tampa Bay Area of Florida. This was the fourth film directed by Tim Burton to include film scores performed by Danny Elfman; both of them consider this their favorite project. Depp watched several Charlie Chaplin films to get ideas on expressing emotions without words. This was the last live action film role for Vincent Price, who played the inventor; he was a lifelong smoker and died of lung cancer two years after the film was released.

Alien (1979)

This is a solid movie. In the year 2122, seven scientists are traveling in space when they discover a transmission from a desolate planet and decide to investigate. Three of the men set out to explore the landscape and they find some insect-like aliens. When one of the explorers is attacked, the other two bring him back to the spaceship to receive medical care. A life form bursts out of his body and starts to terrorize the crew. Now they must try to quarantine the monster and get back to Earth before all of the crew is killed off.

The film won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. It was inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2002 for historical preservation. There have been three sequels and two prequel films made. The name of the spaceship was derived from the title of Joseph Conrad's 1904 novel Nostromo. A 7-foot, 2-inches tall Nigerian student named Bolaji Badejo wore the costume for the alien. Sigourney Weaver was relatively unknown until this film and it was her first major role.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Heat Lightning

This is an okay book written by John Sandford. Investigator Virgil Flowers is in bed with his second ex-wife one summer night when he receives a startling phone call from his boss Lucas Davenport. A dead body has turned up at a veterans’ memorial with two bullets to the head and a lemon stuffed in its mouth, supposedly a Vietnamese tradition. Flowers suspects that the shooter has a hit list of potential victims. This is the second book in the Virgil Flowers series.

All About My Mother (1999)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable Spanish movie. Manuela (Cecilia Roth) is a single mother who has raised her only son from infancy and nearly into adulthood. One night after watching a play together he is struck by a car and killed. She feels guilty that she lied to her son about his father being dead and the real reason she left him was because he became a transvestite and is now called Lola. She befriends a former nun (Penelope Cruz) who is pregnant, but is dying from the AIDS virus she received from Lola.

The movie won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The ideas about organ donations originated in Almodóvar's earlier film The Flower of My Secret (1995). A Streetcar Named Desire is a 1947 play written by Tennessee Williams. In 1951 a film adaptation was made starring Marlon Brando. The accident scene is based on the 1977 film Opening Night. All About Eve is a 1950 film starring Bette Davis.

Dead Watch

I liked this book written by John Sandford. Controversial former senator Lincoln Bowe is missing. His wife believes that his disappearance is linked to his speech criticizing the current governor of Virginia for his activities with the Watchmen, a Neo-Nazi citizen-activist group. Now she fears for her own life and takes flight. At the request of the White House, Jake Winter, an experienced political operative, takes on the investigation. But the clues he discovers could lead to a scandal that will upset those in power in the federal government.

A Simple Plan (1998)

This is an okay movie. Three men are walking through the snowy Minnesota woods on New Years Eve and discover a crashed plane. Inside they find the dead pilot and a duffel bag containing $4.4 million. They decide not to tell the police and to hide the money until spring to find out if anyone is looking for it. Their greed becomes really strong and they start to turn against each other. At the same time they must try to hide the evidence to avoid being suspected of any crimes.

It is based on the 1993 novel by Scott Smith. The film's revenue was about the same as its budget.

A Christmas Carol (2009)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable movie. Ebenezer Scrooge (Jim Carey) is a wealthy, but stingy businessman who feels contempt for everyone around him. When his business partner dies, he takes the coins off the dead man’s eyes to pay for the burial. On Christmas Eve he is visited by the ghost of his late partner who tells him that if he does not change, he will have a tortuous afterlife, and alerts him that three other ghosts will be appearing, to remind him of how he has led his life and where it could end up.

The film seems to have been made mainly to take advantage of the 3-D effects. It is based on the 1843 novella by Charles Dickens. The film was produced through the process of performance capture. Disney had previously released Mickey's Christmas Carol in 1983 and Muppet Christmas Carol in 1992. This was Jim Carrey’s first role in a Disney film. The poster image of Scrooge clinging to the candle extinguisher is similar to the poster for the 1943 film Münchhausen, which shows Albers clinging to a cannonball.

The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)

This is a solid movie based on a true story. Reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) is assigned an interview with Gus Lacey, a strange, middle-aged man who claims to have participated in an experimental military division that studied whether paranormal activities could help to win wars. When Wilton’s wife has an affair, he heads to Kuwait hoping to prove to her that he can do something great. By coincidence he meets Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), a member of the same military unit, who has been assigned on a secret mission in Iraq.

It is interesting when you combine hippies with the military. It is definitely an unusual film. The First Earth Battalion was the name of an idea proposed by Lieutenant Colonel Jim Channon, to implement New Age ideas principles into the military. There have been two major battles in Ramadi, Iraq, in 2004 and 2006, and both involved the military and not private security forces. Lyn Cassady is based on Guy Savelli. General Hopgood is based on Major General Albert Stubblebine III. Larry Hooper (Spacey) is a fictional character.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

I did not like this book written by Kate DiCamillo. Once upon a time there was a rabbit, made out of china, named Edward Tulane. He was the doll of a young girl named Abilene. Although the rabbit could not move by himself, he could think. While on an ocean cruise he is thrown overboard by a mischievous boy and is discovered by a fisherman. He continues to be transported to different places and families, and eventually winds up in a toy store.

I found the basic idea of the story, about a toy’s journey throughout the country, to be interesting. A film version is expected to be released in 2010. The one hundred years old doll in the toy shop is likely based off the main character in the 1929 novel Hitty, Her First Hundred Years. The ocean liner the Tulane family travels on is the Queen Mary.

The Road to Memphis

I liked this book written by Mildred D. Taylor. In 1941, Cassie Logan is 17-years-old and still in school. She is thinking about attending college and likes to read about the law. She is starting to realize that some young men are attracted to her. When her friend Moe beats up three white tormentors, the police search the countryside for him. Cassie, her brother Stacy, and several of their friends, decide to smuggle him into a different state to avoid being caught. On the road trip they experience mechanical failures and racism. This is the 3rd novel about the Logan family.

The Hanged Man’s Song

This is an okay book written by John Sandford. Kidd’s friend, Bobby the super hacker, has been murdered. When Kidd goes to Bobby’s house to investigate, he finds the battered body, but the souped up laptop is missing. The murderer is still at large and now has access to secret information about a large group of people. Kidd must dodge the FBI and other hackers as he tries to get the data back. This is the 4th novel in the Kidd series. The Hanged Man is the twelfth trump card in most Tarot decks; its symbolism reflects the crucifixion.

In America (2002)

This is a solid Irish movie based on a true story. After the accidental death of their 2-year-old son, a young Irish family moves to America to start their new life. With very little cash and the uncertainty of finding jobs, Johnny (Paddy Considine) and Sarah (Samantha Morton) settle into a rundown New York high-rise, relying on ingenuity and their close-knit family to maintain an upbeat outlook. On Halloween, the girls are allowed to go to their neighbors in search of candy. They meet a reclusive African man (Djimon Hounsou) who is dying of AIDS and develop an unlikely friendship.

The film is dedicated to director Jim Sheridan's brother Frankie, who died at the age of ten. The story was written by Jim and two of his daughters.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant (2009)

This is a pitiable movie. Two teenaged friends are talking together outside when a car pulls up to them and tosses out a flyer advertising a traveling magic show. Darren (Chris Massoglia) is fascinated by spiders and steals a brightly colored one that is poisonous and it bites his friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson) causing him to go into a coma. To save his life, Darren agrees to become a vampire and unknowingly breaks a 200-year-old truce between two warring factions.

It is based on the book series The Saga of Darren Shan by Darren Shan. Some of the filming was done in New Orleans City Park. John Marshall High School in Los Angeles and Lusher Charter School in New Orleans were also used. Cormac Limbs was turned into a female character named Corma in the movie. Darren's love interest in the novels is Debbie Hemlock. Ken Watanabe is a Japanese actor who appeared in Letters from Iwo Jima and The Last Samurai.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Devil’s Code

This is an okay book written by John Sandford. Kidd is an artist and computer specialist who makes most of his money in illegal pursuits. When a programmer friend dies under mysterious circumstances, Kidd sees no reason to get involved, until his hacker code name starts showing up on government most-wanted lists. Reluctantly, he realizes that he must figure out how to protect his information, so he can avoid going to prison. This is the third novel in the Kidd series.

Dark of the Moon

This is an okay book written by John Sandford. Ex-soldier and former cop Virgil Flowers is now an investigator working under Lucas Davenport. In Bluestem, Minnesota, a doctor and his wife are discovered shot dead in their backyard. Then an isolated house explodes in a ball of flame, killing its owner, a con man named Judd. As Virgil looks into Judd’s shady past, he finds several possible leads, but is certain that the murders are linked. This is the first novel in the Virgil Flowers series, a spin-off of the Prey books.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Phantom Prey

I liked this book written by John Sandford. When a woman calls in to report that her daughter is missing and there are blood streaks on her walls, homicide detective Lucas Daveport is brought in. The young woman who disappeared hung out with a group of unsavory Goth delinquents. When a second Goth is found slashed to death, the police must look elsewhere for the killer. This is the 18th novel in the series.

Invisible Prey

I liked this book written by John Sandford. On a quiet Minneapolis evening, Detective Lucas Daveport is summoned to one of the most heinous homicide scenes he’s ever encountered. In a wealthy neighborhood, two elderly women have been brutally bludgeoned inside their home with a steel pipe. The only clue is that a few valuable pieces of art are missing, suggesting either drug dealers or art thieves. This is the 17th book in the series.

Talk to Her (2002)

This is an okay Spanish movie. Two men meet at a private clinic where Benigno works as a nurse, and Marco is visiting his girlfriend Lydia, who was gored by a bull and has fallen into a coma. Benigno is in charge of another patient in a coma, Alicia, a young ballet student. When Marco passes by Alicia's room, Benigno approaches him. They start to develop a friendship and talk about their own lives and the two comatose women. When Benigno is accused of rape and fired, Marco tries to maintain contact with him.

Actress Leonor Watling is beautiful. There have been real cases of pregnant women who go into a coma and still give birth, and also women who were raped while in a coma and became pregnant. Benigno means "benign" or "harmless" in Spanish. The film won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. The play "Trenches" shown in the film, is about how whenever a soldier dies, a ballerina rises from the body.

Certain Prey

I loved this book written by John Sandford. Clara Rinker was raped by a co-worker when she was only 16-years-old and she gets revenge on the depraved man. Someone hears about her reputation and takes her on as a paid assassin. Later she is hired by a famous defense attorney and the two women kill a few people and try to avoid being caught by detective Lucas Davenport. This is the 10th novel in the series.

The Way of the Gun (2000)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable movie. Two small-time crooks kidnap a surrogate mother (Juliette Lewis) who is supposed to be carrying the baby of a wealthy couple. The kidnapping turns out to be more complicated than they anticipated when the couple's bodyguards try to get her back. Parker (Ryan Phillippe) is increasingly drawn to the pregnant woman, but tensions arise when his partner (Benicio Del Toro) starts to worry that becoming emotionally attached to her will disrupt their plans for a ransom.

Parker and Longbaugh are the real last names of Butch Cassidy, and the Sundance Kid. Much of the movie was filmed in the streets of downtown Salt Lake City. The ground-level floor of the doctor's office where the abduction scene and shootout was filmed is actually the historic Salt Lake Hardware building. This is the only film that Christopher McQuarrie has directed.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (2009)

This is a solid movie. Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) lives with his father after his mother passes away. He absolutely loves science and creating new products, but is shunned when most of them fail. As the local economy starts to diminish, he decides his greatest plan is to build a machine that will turn water into any type of food. At first, the device is really successful and he becomes a celebrity, but then the device and the food start to go awry and he must prevent a worldwide food storm.

I liked how the reporter and inventor felt misunderstood, but they were very compatible with each other. It is based on the 1978 book written by Judi Barrett. The song "Fight the Power" was released in 1989 by hip hop group Public Enemy and appeared on the soundtrack for Do the Right Thing. This was the first Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Animation film to have an altered logo sequence. Neil Patrick Harris performed the voice for Steve the Monkey.

The Lake House

I did not like this book written by James Patterson. Six extraordinary and genetically altered children are trying to lead normal lives in Colorado. The only time they’ve ever felt safe was when they were together in the waterfront cabin they call the Lake House. And they only people they’ve ever trusted are Frannie and Kit, the couple who rescued them from the unimaginable evil they came from. Their biological parents used IVF to conceive, but a dastardly doctor gave the children birdlike qualities.

This is a sequel to 1998 novel When the Wind Blows. The series Maximum Ride is a spin-off of the two novels, and is intended for teenaged readers.