Monday, May 31, 2010

A Scanner Darkly (2006)

This is a pitiable movie. An authoritarian and paranoid government under the guise of national security is trying to stop the widespread use of drugs with a high-tech surveillance system. A very addictive drug known has Substance D made from a blue flower, causes hallucinations and split personalities. An undercover cop (Keanu Reeves) is ordered against his wish to spy on his closest friends to determine if they are also using drugs, but as pressure starts to wear on him, he also becomes addicted.

It is based on the 1977 novel by Philip K. Dick that was influenced by his own addiction to meth. The film used an animation technique called rotoscoping, where live action footage is traced over; the animation process took 15 months. Conspiracy theorist and talk radio host Alex Jones has a cameo as a street prophet.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I, Juan de Pareja

I did not like this book written by Elizabeth Borton de Treviño and based on a true story. During the 17th century when there were great painters like Rembrandt, Spain’s famous painter was Diego Velásquez. He owned an African slave named Juan who would help his master in his studio by preparing paints and stretching canvases. Juan was taught to read as a child and developed a love of art, discovering his own talent. At the time Spain prohibited slaves from being artists, so Velásquez freed him, but allowed him to stay on as an apprentice.

The book won a Newberry Medal in 1966. Juan de Pareja lived from 1606 to 1670. His mother was also a slave. In 1650, Diego Velázquez made an oil painting portrait of Juan. Pareja's most famous work is "The Calling of Saint Matthew" painted in 1661 and it is on display in Madrid.

Scarface (1983)

This is an okay movie. In 1980, Communist leader Fidel Castro opened the port at Mariel Harbor so 125,000 Cubans could flee to the United States. About one-fifth of the refugees had served time in prison, including Tony Montana (Al Pacino). Wealthy drug lord Frank Lopez releases Tony from a refugee camp to kill one of his enemies. Tony soon becomes infatuated with Frank's girlfriend Elvira and tries to convince her to marry him. Eventually Tony takes control of Frank's drug trade, but his lifestyle causes problems for his younger sister Gina and his best friend Manny.

It is a remake of the 1932 film directed by Howard Hawks. With the huge influx of immigrants, the unemployment rate in Miami rose from 5% in April to 7.1% by July. The film is controversial due to the graphic violence and strong language and was originally given an X rating. The video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City has some homages to the film.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Bluest Eyes

This is an okay book written by Toni Morrison. Eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove suffers from a constant tirade of painful insults by both her black and white schoolmates, who find her ugly. More than anything, she yearns for the adoration all the blond-haired, blue-eyed white children receive. Pecola wishes she had the bluest eyes of all, a change that would finally make her attractive. And her life is about to change, but in a devastating way she never imagined and because of someone close to her that she should be safe with.

This was Morrison’s first novel. The book has been controversial due to subject matter involving incest and child abuse.

A Walk to Remember

This is an okay book written by Nicholas Sparks. In the small coastal town of Beaufort, North Carolina, during the late 1950s, Landon Carter is a typical high school senior who wants to have a fun school year before heading off to college. After winning the election for class president he needs a date for the upcoming dance. Most of the girls have already been asked and so he chooses Jamie Sullivan, the daughter of a Baptist minister. She is sweet and very religious and her peers tend to avoid her. Through his interaction with her, he comes to learn what is really important in life.

This was Sparks' third novel. The book was adapted into a 2002 film starring Mandy Moore and I liked it much better than the novel. In the film the main characters meet due to a prank, but in the book it is because Landon needs a date.

The Bonesetter’s Daughter

I liked this book written by Amy Tan. Ruth is a Chinese-American who ghostwrites for self-help books. She lives with her boyfriend Art and his two children from a previous marriage. Her mother LuLing appears to be in the early stages of dementia and Ruth and Art struggle with how to care for her. Ruth doesn't know much about her mother's history, but then she discovers a manuscript written in Chinese that tells her story. Ruth finds a translator and learns that her mother had a sad childhood but was given an opportunity to move to America. She had to change some details about her life so her visa would be approved. An opera version premiered in San Francisco at the War Memorial Opera House in 2008.

Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken (1991)

This is an okay movie based on a true story. Teenager Sonora Webster (Gabrielle Anwar) and her younger sister are living with their aunt because their parents were killed in an accident. Sonora is an unruly girl and her aunt threatens to send her to foster care. The young girl sees a newspaper ad asking for someone to ride a diving horse. She runs away from home and convinces the owner to accept her. During a performance a horse is frightened and she gets injured, possibly disqualifying her from the job. However, she has a strong heart and great courage and refuses to give up.

The film is based on the 1961 memoir, A Girl and Five Brave Horses. Horse diving shows were started by William Carver in the 1880s. After WW2 the shows stopped due to complaints from animal rights activists. Sonora lived to be 99 and died in 2003 in Pleasantville, New Jersey. Her younger sister Arnette stated that no horse was ever harmed. The film was shot in Orangeburg, South Carolina.

Iron Man 2 (2010)

This is a solid movie. Billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is famous around the world for his flying iron man suit. Congress and the military are concerned that others will start copying his blueprints and create dangerous weapons. Several poor quality examples have been developed, until a Russian physicist shows up at a racetrack and attacks Stark. The criminal is hired by a rival manufacturer (Sam Rockwell) who is jealous of the technology and wants to take advantage of it. Stark must face off against a robotic army to avoid widespread destruction.

Palladium is a real chemical that was discovered in 1803. It is used in catalytic converters, computers, and mobile phones. Don Cheadle replaced Terrence Howard in the role of Lt. Colonel James Rhodes. Adam Goldstein (DJ AM) appeared in the film, but then died from an accidental drug overdose on August 28, 2009. Some scenes were shot at the Pasadena Masonic Temple and Edwards Air Force Base in California, and at the 2009 Monaco Grand Prix. The soundtrack is performed by Australian rock band AC/DC.

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key

This is an okay book written by Jack Gantos. 10-year-old Joey Pigza has a severe case of Attention Deficit Disorder. His alcoholic father abandoned the family when he was really young and then his mother left to go find him, leaving Joey to be raised by his rowdy grandmother. She lets the house stay messy and sometimes says mean things to Joey. At school he is constantly disobeying the teachers and getting hurt. It is decided that Joey should attend a special school for people with disabilities, until they can get his behavior properly medicated.

There were a few gross scenes and others that were funny. I felt sorry for the kid because of how mixed up his family life is and he tries to be good, but often can’t resist temptation. I sometimes think that ADD is diagnosed way too quickly in boys who are exhibiting normal rowdy behavior.

Catherine, Called Birdy

This is an okay book written by Karen Cushman. In 1290 England, 13-year-old Catherine begins a diary that quickly fills with the irrepressible joys and frustrations of her days. Always looking for ways to avoid drudging hours of embroidery, she fills her time with pranks, celebrations of saint feast days, and local gossip. Wriggling out of her gruff father’s plans to find her a prosperous husband proves to be her biggest challenge. Her antics include coloring her teeth and drooling to scare off the men, but those tricks don’t work when a rich man nicknamed Shaggy Beard shows up with his bag of silver.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Worst Case

I didn’t like this book written by James Patterson. The son of one of New York’s wealthiest families is snatched off the street and held hostage. His parents can’t save him, because this kidnapper isn’t demanding money. He is upset that issues like global poverty and environmental pollution haven’t been addressed in a manner he supports. As another student disappears, his powerful family uses their leverage and connections to turn up the heat on the killer by sending in the FBI. Now detective Michael Bennett feels that the case is being snatched away from his control.

A Corner of the Universe

This is an okay book written by Ann Martin. 11-year-old Hattie’s parents own a boarding house with eccentric tenants that have lived there for years. One woman demands the same breakfast be brought to her room every morning before she will get dressed. Hattie learns that she has a half-uncle that is only 10 years older than her. He has mental problems and has been living at a special school in another state to receive care. When the school is shut down he is brought back to live with his parents. His behavior is very childlike, but he befriends Hattie. He is attracted to a woman who already has a boyfriend and it eventually leads him into trouble.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2010)

This is an okay movie. 11-year-old Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) is starting middle school as a sixth grader. He is anxious to become popular, but his older brother teases him and tells him a long list of things to avoid so he won’t get into trouble. Greg receives a journal from his parents to chronicle his thoughts and experiences. He worries that his best friend Rowley will be picked on because of his pink bicycle, tacky clothes, and knack for saying the wrong thing. However, Greg’s expectations are about to be overturned.

I enjoyed the music in the film. The story is based on the 2007 novel by Jeff Kinney. The characters Angie (Chloë Moretz) and Coach Malone don't appear in any of the books. Patty Farrel does not wrestle Greg in the book and Rowley eats all of the moldy cheese. A few scenes were taken from the second book. The Mother and Son Sweetheart Dance does not appear in the book. The older brother’s band is called Loded Diper.

Monday, May 03, 2010

If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period

This is an okay book written by Gennifer Choldenko. 12-year-old Kirsten’s world is crumbling. Her parents are constantly arguing and she is afraid they will get a divorce. To relieve her stress she eats and has recently gained 30 pounds. She is also losing her friends. Walker is a black boy who has been sent to an all white private school because his mother is worried about him getting into trouble. Kirsten and Walker discover that they have something in common and the reason will shake both of them to core.


This is an okay book written by James Patterson. Alex Cross was a rising star in the D.C. police department when an unknown shooter killed his wife Maria in front of him. His desire for vengeance was placed on hold so he could raise his children. Years later Alex leaves the FBI and sets up practice as a psychologist. His partner John Sampson notifies him of a serial rapist that is threatening the victims with death if they testify against him. This is the 12th novel in the series.

Cat & Mouse

This is an okay book written by James Patterson. Two psychotic killers have chosen Detective Cross as their only worthy opponent in a deadly game of cat and mouse. One of them, Gary Soneji, bears an old grudge against Alex and lives for revenge. The other, Mr. Smith, is a genius whose hideous crimes have been confined to Europe until a curious twist of fate brings Alex and him together. This is the fourth novel in the series.

8 ½ (1963)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable Italian movie. A film director (Marcello Mastroianni) has started a new project but feels weighed down by the scope of the production. He is constantly running into former actors who are looking for work and pressing him to finish the project. He loves his wife (Anouk Aimée) but feels confused about their marriage and starts an affair with a mistress (Sandra Milo) who has a very different personality. To handle the stress he visits a spa and reminisces about his childhood and his fantasies.

The title refers to Director Federico Fellini who considered this his eighth and a half film, since his previous project involved working with another director. The film won Academy Awards for Foreign Language and Costume Design in black-and-white.


I liked this book written by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro. A beautiful 21-year-old model is kidnapped and murdered. Her parents receive a late night call from a stranger telling them that their daughter is in trouble, so they board a flight to Hawaii to find her. Former cop turned reporter Ben Hawkins has been assigned to work on the story. The killer finds him and says he wants Ben to write a book about his experiences. Now Ben is worried that he and his girlfriend are in grave danger.

Office Space (1999)

This is a solid movie. Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) spends his days working a boring cubicle job for a software company. One day he visits a hypnotist and is convinced that he should take control of his life, so he ditches his demanding girlfriend and stops worrying about his job. He finally has the courage to ask out the cute waitress (Jennifer Aniston). His dismissive attitude towards work actually helps him to get promoted and he convinces two of his co-workers to steal a small sum of money, hoping it won’t be noticed.

The movie was filmed in Texas. The story was adapted from the Milton animated shorts that appeared on Saturday Night Live. Nearly 3 million copies of the film have been sold.

8th Confession

I liked this book written by James Patterson. At a glamorous party for millionaires in San Francisco, the most celebrated couple is found dead, but the cause is unknown. The case leads to investigations of similar murders. A homeless preacher with a message of hope is also killed. At first glance he seems like a caring man, but upon closer examination some of his vices are discovered and they are likely the cause of his death. Detective Lindsay Boxer tries to solve both cases.

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable movie. Four real estate agents are trying to convince potential clients to invest in land. Their leads aren't very good, but they still try to pressure people into making a purchase. The owners send in Blake (Alec Baldwin) to threaten the salesmen with losing their jobs if they can't make any sales. He tempts them with very good leads, but says they aren't available until more sales have been made. A few of the men decide they are going to steal the promising leads and sell them.

The story was adapted from the 1982 play written by David Mamet. This was a low-budget film, but still did not earn enough revenues to cover the costs.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Jazz win first round

The Utah Jazz beat the Denver Nuggets in 6 games to win the first round of the NBA playoffs. They had the same season record of 53-29, but Denver won 3 of the 4 games during their matchup and so they earned the 4th seed and homecourt advantage. The home team won 5 of the 6 games during the playoff series. The only exception was when the Jazz won game 2 in Denver by three points. Utah has beaten Denver in three out of four playoff matches.

In round two they will play the Lakers. During the season the Lakers won 3 out of the 4 games against the Jazz. The Jazz lost all three of those games by at least 14 points. I think this will be a tough series for the Jazz, and I predict that the Lakers win the series in 6 games. This will be the sixth time these teams have played each other in the playoffs, with the Lakers winning three of the previous five matchups.