Friday, April 23, 2010

Winter Prey

This is an okay book written by John Sandford. It is winter in the dark Wisconsin woods when a family of three is brutally mutilated and thrown in the ashes of their fire-consumed home. The local sheriff asks Lucas Davenport, who owns a nearby cabin, to help with the investigation. A Catholic priest is considered a person of interest because he was seen driving on the road a few minutes after the fire started. However, he is not considered a suspect because there is no evidence against him and he is known as a very honest man. This is the fifth novel in the series.

Vertigo (1958)

This is a solid movie. Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) is a detective with a serious fear of heights. He feels survivor’s guilt after witnessing the falling death of his partner. He is hired by a wealthy friend to track his wife’s daily routine because of her strange behavior. Scottie begins to fall in love after rescuing her from drowning in the San Francisco Bay. He is later devastated when she falls from a church tower and dies. After a while he spots a new woman with a close resemblance and becomes obsessed with her.

It is based on the 1954 French novel "The Living and the Dead" co-written by Pierre Boileau and Pierre Ayraud. Mission San Juan Bautista was founded on June 24, 1797, and was setup by Spanish missionaries to baptize the Native American tribes of the Ohlone and Yokuts. The British version of the film included an extra scene, mandated by censorship requirements, about Gavin Elster's capture in Europe. During most of the car scenes, the main characters are heading down the inclined streets. The art gallery that is shown is The California Palace of the Legion of Honor and was completed in 1924.

Run for Your Life

This is an okay book written by James Patterson. A young man who is nicely dressed has been slaughtering people in New York City claiming that this is the consequence of not showing respect and manners. However, it soon appears that he is actually targeting specific people. A flight attendant thinks she recognizes the man as a former pilot and Michael Bennett tries to locate him. This is the second novel in the series.

Monday, April 19, 2010

First Test

I did not like this book written by Tamora Pierce. In the fantastic realm of Tortall, Keladry of Mindelan (known as Kel) is the first girl to take advantage of the decree that permits females to train for knighthood. Up against the traditional hazing of pages and a grueling schedule, Kel faces only one real roadblock: Lord Wyldon, the training master of pages and squires. He is absolutely against girls becoming knights. So while he is forced to train her, Wyldon puts her on probation for one year; but Kel is not someone to underestimate. This is the first novel in the series.

Kiss the Girls

I did not like this book written by James Patterson. Two classy men nicknamed Casanova and the Gentleman Caller have been kidnapping, raping, and murdering women in North Carolina. Some of the women are held in an underground bunker to satisfy the sexual fantasies of the killers. Alex Cross’s niece Naomi is one of the missing young women. One of the victims has experience in karate and plans to escape. This is the second novel in the series and was made into a 1997 film starring Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd.

The Calder Game

I liked this book written by Blue Balliett. When Calder Pillay travels with his father to a remote village in England, he finds a mix of mazes and mystery, including an unexpected sculpture built by a famous American from the early 20th century named Alexander Calder. Most of the town does not appreciate the statue, but the young boy is drawn to it because of the unique design and the artist’s name. One night Calder and the sculpture disappear. His friends Petra and Tommy are flown to England to figure out what happened. This is the sequel to The Wright 3.

Violets Are Blue

This is an okay book written by James Patterson. When two joggers are found hung by their heels and drained of blood, Alex Cross must consider the possibility of vampires at work. He must descend into an underground subculture where people even change their teeth to look like a vampire. Two depraved brothers and their “Sire” are on a nationwide killing spree. The mastermind of the murders is someone very close to Alex Cross. This is the 7th book in the series.

The Wolfman (2010)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable British movie. Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) returns to his father's (Anthony Hopkins) estate after learning about the vicious murder of his brother by a strange animal. As a child, his mother had a similar gruesome death and to cope with the stress he was put through tortuous psychological treatments. There are rumors that a werewolf is running loose in the woods. He contacts the gypsies to get more information and witnesses an attack. He is bitten by the beast and becomes a werewolf himself.

This is a remake of the 1941 film starring Lon Chaney, Jr. There is a rare psychological disorder known as clinical lycanthropy where the patient believes he can turn into an animal or already has. The 16th century Chatsworth House was used for the film. Director Joe Johnston has worked on many popular films (usually involved with the art and effects) and this is the first one to be rated R. The DVD will be released on June 1, 2010. The soundtrack was composed by Danny Elfman.

London Bridges

I loved this book written by James Patterson. A Russian terrorist nicknamed the Wolf is threatening to destroy London, Washington, D.C., New York, and Frankfurt, Germany if he is not paid several billion dollars in ransom. Detective Alex Cross knows that it is only a matter of time before they detonate the bombs, because they already attacked a rural area in Nevada. Cross is also stunned to learn that Geoffrey Shafer, the Weasel, is helping to carry out the attacks. This is the 10th novel in the series.

Four Blind Mice

This is an okay book written by James Patterson. Detective Alex Cross is contemplating retirement when his partner John Sampson comes to his door and explains that one of his Vietnam buddies is about to be wrongfully executed. There is a strong case against the soldier, but murder is out of character for him. Cross learns of other cases and thinks there are three killers setting up former soldiers. He must uncover new evidence and stop them from hurting anyone else. This is the 8th book in the series.

Wicked Prey

This is an okay book written by John Sandford. A group of robbers have come to Minneapolis during the 2008 Republican National Convention. They have a list of the wealthiest patrons and which hotel the visitors are staying in. Investigator Lucas Davenport’s adopted daughter Letty is also planning to interview a young prostitute. Her pimp blames Davenport for his handicap and is willing to hurt his daughter to get revenge. This is the 19th book in the series.

Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher

This is an okay book written by Bruce Coville. One day, a young boy named Jeremy Thatcher is trying to run away from some kids who are hassling him, and discovers a magic shop. Inside, the salesman doesn’t seem very excited to have a customer. Jeremy sees a colorful globe and buys it for only one quarter. When he gets home he learns that he now has a dragon egg. There are instructions on what to do with it at the next full moon, but Jeremy must keep it a secret from his family and friends. This is the second book in the Magic Shop series.

The Book of Eli (2010)

This is a noteworthy movie. Thirty years ago a nuclear war brought destruction to Earth, killing millions of people and destroying buildings. Clean water and food have become very rare. A man named Eli (Denzel Washington) hears a voice telling him where to find the last remaining King James Version of the Bible and instructing him to go west where the book will have significant value. Near the end of his journey, he enters a town where a despot (Gary Oldman) thinks he will have more power by reciting verses from the Bible.

In The First Book of Samuel, there was a High Priest and Judge named Eli. He blessed Hannah to become pregnant and she gave birth to Samuel. Denzel Washington is three years older than Gary Oldman. The film was shot in New Mexico. The DVD will be released on June 15, 2010.

For a Few Dollars More (1965)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable movie. Manco (Clint Eastwood) is a bounty hunter hoping to get rich by capturing or killing criminals. His next target is Indio, the leader of a treacherous gang, because the reward is $10,000. However, sharp shooter Colonel Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef) is also interested in the prize. Now they must decide whether to join forces, because separately their chances of success are very slim.

This is the second film in the Dollars Trilogy. The set for the town of El Paso is still in the Almería desert and has become a tourist attraction. Manco is Spanish for "one-armed" because the character almost exclusively uses his left hand. An Italian parody film was released in 1966 called For a Few Dollars Less.

A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

This is an okay Italian movie. A drifter (Clint Eastwood) wanders into a Mexican border town where two families are fighting to gain power; on one side is the Rojo brothers and the other is the family of the sheriff. The stranger decides he can profit from the feud. He witnesses Mexican soldiers transferring gold, being killed by the Rojo family. He spreads a rumor that two soldiers survived and it causes a gunfight between the families.

This is the first film in director Sergio Leone's Dollars Trilogy. It was influenced by the 1961 Japanese film Yojimbo. The film was shot in Spain. Leone wanted to capitalize on the popularity of western films in Europe. The director did not speak English and Eastwood had to communicate through a translator. Stephen King was influenced by this film when writing his 1982 novel The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger. The 1996 film Last Man Standing, starring Bruce Willis, was also influenced by this movie.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Rules of Prey

I liked this book written by John Sandford. The “mad dog” killer is insane and very intelligent and he is terrorizing the Twin Cities. He targets attractive women with brown hair and tries hard to not leave behind any evidence. Lieutenant Lucas Davenport is a motivated cop who will use any method to outsmart the murderer. This is the first novel in the series.

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)

This is a solid movie. After the violent deaths of his wife and young son, Missouri farmer Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood) is on the run, chased by a band of killers. He likes to work alone, but is constantly meeting people who need his support. While staying in a fortified ranch house they are ambushed by the Redlegs from Kansas.

The film is based on the 1973 novel The Rebel Outlaw: Josey Wales written by Forrest Carter. There was a farmer named Bill Wilson from Missouri who was neutral about the Civil War until a confrontation with Union soldiers turned him into an outlaw. The Sacking of Osceola occurred on September 23, 1861, when Senator and general James H. Lane led a force of 1200 troops to drive Southern sympathizers out of Missouri.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dear John (2010)

This is an okay movie. In 2001, John (Channing Tatum) is on leave from the military and visiting his father. At the beach he recovers Savannah's (Amanda Seyfried) purse after it falls into the ocean, and they start talking. In only two weeks they fall in love, but he has to return to the army and she is going to college. After the September 11th attacks he decides to re-enlist, but they keep in touch by writing letters. After a few years she decides it is time to move on and gets married to an older man with an autistic son.

It is based on the 2006 novel by Nicholas Sparks. The film has the second highest grossing for Super Bowl Weekend (only behind a Hannah Montana concert film). It also has the highest opening out of six film adaptations of Nicholas Sparks' novels.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Rough Country

This is an okay book written by John Sandford. Criminal investigator Virgil Flowers is on vacation at a long anticipated fishing competition when he is interrupted by news of a murder. The local police force is already busy looking for a missing 15-year-old girl, so Flowers is brought in. A woman was shot while rowing a kayak near a women’s only resort. The problem is that there is very little evidence and everybody is a possible suspect. This is the third book in the Virgil Flowers series.

Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)

This is an okay movie. An unhappy housewife (Kathy Bates) is visiting her husband’s aunt in a nursing home when she meets and befriends another old woman (Jessica Tandy) who likes to share stories about her family. Many years ago a young woman named Ruth was visited by her friend Idgie and discovered that Ruth was pregnant, but her husband was very abusive and helped her to escape. Several months later he tried to kidnap his baby son, but was killed during a fight. An investigator tried to discover the truth, but was hampered by the residents’ refusal to help.

It is based on the 1987 novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe written by Fannie Flagg. The book includes lesbian content and Ninny Threadgoode dies at the end of it. The film was shot in Juliette, Georgia, but the author based the story on Ironsdale, Alabama, and a cafe that was run by her great-aunt. The movie was successful at the box office and had the 11th highest revenue of films released in 1991.

Double Cross

This is an okay book written by James Patterson. Kyle Craig is sentenced to life at a maximum security prison, but vows that he will escape. After four years he finally hatches a plan that works. There is a second fugitive, nicknamed the Audience Killer, who creates elaborate spectacles for killing his victims so that many people can witness the crimes. Now Alex Cross must follow the clues to try and stop both of these monsters. This is the thirteenth book in the series.

Eyes of Prey

This is an okay book written by John Sandford. Minneapolis Lieutenant Lucas Davenport is feeling depressed and unfocused, but he is summoned to track down a serial killer who has a disturbing obsession with the eyes of his victims. At first it seems like an isolated case when the wife of a prominent physician is murdered, but then a second woman dies under similar circumstances. The police have a main suspect, but he seems to have solid alibis for all of the crimes. This is the third novel in the series.

Snatch (2000)

This is an okay British movie. During a high stakes robbery in an Orthodox Jewish district in Belgium, a precious 87-carat diamond is stolen by courier Frank Four Fingers (Benicio del Toro) for his American crime boss, Avi. Turkish (Jason Statham) is trying to grow his boxing business and hires Gorgeous George for a fight, but he is injured and so Mickey O'Neil (Brad Pitt) is brought in to replace him. Avi is worried that his courier is going to lose the diamond in a boxing bet and so he flies to London to protect the gem.

There are a lot of similarities with Guy Ritchie's previous film, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

In the Bedroom (2001)

This is an okay movie. Frank is a young man who plans to attend college for architecture, and is dating a woman a few years older than him with two children. She is separated from her violent husband. Frank is encouraged by his parents to leave the woman because of all the baggage in the relationship, but he refuses to do so. Her ex comes over to her house one night and after getting into an argument, shoots her new boyfriend. Frank’s parents are distraught and are told that the outcome of the trial is uncertain.

The film is based on the 1979 short story Killings written by Andre Dubus. It went on to become the highest grossing film that never reached the top 10 on the weekly charts. It was also the second most successful film this decade to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival (only behind Napoleon Dynamite). The title is in reference to a lobster trap.

The Fountainhead

This is an okay book written by Ayn Rand. Howard Roark is a motivated young student who is expelled from the Stanton Institute of Technology because he is tired of all the classical structures and only wants to make buildings based on his own ideas. He heads to New York City to work for disgraced architect Henry Cameron. Another student, Peter Keating, also finds work in New York and builds successful but unoriginal buildings. Even though Keating achieves financial success, he despises Roark. Howard is eventually talked into doing a low income housing project, but when the government refuses to follow his plans, he decides to destroy the building and is put on trial.

I didn't enjoy the focus on architecture and it seemed like Roark did a lot of things that actually hurt his career and ideas, choosing the hardest path whenever he had a choice. Also his individualism didn't have much of an impact on anyone until the end of the novel.

The book was published in 1943 and over 5 million copies have been sold. A film version was produced in 1949 starring Gary Cooper. In the 1987 film Dirty Dancing, waiter and future medical student, Robbie Gould has a copy of the book. In the 2006 film, A Scanner Darkly, a character attempting suicide picks The Fountainhead as an artifact to be found with his remains.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Sherlock Holmes (2009)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable British movie. In 1891, Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) and his assistant Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) rush in to prevent a young woman from becoming a victim of a ritual murder at the hands of Lord Blackwood. Three months later, he is charged with several murders and is hung. Rumors start to surface that he gained supernatural powers from a secret society and has risen from the grave. Now Holmes must unravel the mystery and stop this madman before he causes anymore harm.

The characters are based on the novels and short stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, and the film was directed by Guy Ritchie. The Tower Bridge in London officially opened on June 30, 1894, after eight years of construction. The female character Irene Adler is only featured in one story, "A Scandal in Bohemia." She does not become Holmes' lover, but he is fascinated by her ability to match his wit. The short story, "The Adventure of the Empty House", mentions that Holmes is experienced in a special type of martial arts.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable British movie. Eddy is a successful card shark who can interpret any facial expression. With funding from his three best friends, Tom, Bacon (Jason Statham), and Soap, he enters into his largest card bet. He doesn’t realize that it is a setup when he plays against underworld boss “Hatchet” Harry. After losing, he is given one week to come up with half a million pounds or he and his pals will be disfigured. Eddy’s dad, JD (Sting), refuses to give up his bar to pay off the debt.

The game they are playing at the beginning is called three card brag, which was started in the 16th century and is a predecessor to poker. A television spin-off was made in 2000, but only lasted for one season. Lenny McLean, who starred as Barry "the Baptist", died on July 28, 1998 (age 49) from lung cancer, one month before the film was released. Borough Market, a wholesale and retail food market in South East London is shown in the film.

The Curse of the Pharaohs

This is an okay book written by Elizabeth Peters. Lady Baskerville asks the Emersons to finish excavating a site, because her husband died just before opening a tomb in Luxor. Rumors have been spread that a curse has been released. They leave their young son with relatives and go to the Valley of the Kings. The Emersons meet wealthy amateur Egyptologist Cyrus Vandergelt, hieroglyphics expert Karl von Bork, and reporter Kevin O'Connell. This is the second novel in the series.

The Wanderer

This is an okay book written by Sharon Creech. Thirteen-year-old Sophie is the only girl amongst the crew of the Wanderer, made up of her three uncles and two cousins in her adoptive family. They sail across the Atlantic toward England, to meet Bompie, the kids’ grandfather. Her cousin Cody isn’t quite sure why his father wanted him to come along, as they usually don’t get along. Sophie tells stories about Bompie, even though she has never met him.

The Call of the Wild

This is an okay book written by Jack London. In 1897, Buck, a daring shepherd dog, is kidnapped and shipped to the Klondike gold fields in Canada to be a sled dog. There he must adapt to severe cold, poor treatment, less food, and ferocious dogs or else die. As soon as he becomes attached to his human masters he is sold again. Gradually, Buck returns to his natural wild temperament and gains a reputation for his strength and ability to lead a pack.

The book was published in 1903 and London wrote a similar book in 1906 called White Fang. The Yeehat Alaska Natives are fictional. There have been several film adapations: a 1935 version with Clark Gable, a 1972 version with Charlton Heston, and a 1997 film narrated by Richard Dreyfuss. In the late 19th century, gold was discovered along the Klondike River near Dawson City, Yukon Territory; about 12.5 million ounces of gold has been recovered over the past century.