Thursday, October 28, 2010

Taxi Driver (1976)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable movie. A 26-year-old man (Robert De Niro) is hired as a taxi driver after promising to work any shift available. He frequently passes the headquarters of a political campaign and notices a beautiful woman (Cybill Shepherd) working inside. One day he boldly walks inside and asks her out. Around the city he notices a lot of crime including robbery, prostitution, and assault, which causes him to feel depressed. After realizing the government is ignoring the problems, he purchases several handguns and decides to clean up the city by himself.

De Niro was 32 when the film was released and Jodie Foster was 13. John Hinckley, Jr., who shot President Ronald Reagan in 1981, claimed he was inspired by this film and wanted to impress Jodie Foster. In 1970, 750 porn theaters existed in the U.S. The advent of home video led to a drastic reduction in the number of theaters. Travis takes Betsy to see Language of Love, a 1969 Swedish sex educational film, but she gets offended and walks out. The MPAA was hesitant to give this film an R-rating because of the violence in the final scene.

The Door in the Wall

I liked this book written by Marguerite De Angeli. Ever since he can remember, Robin, son of Sir John de Bureford, has been told what is expected of him as the son of a nobleman. He must learn the ways of knighthood. But Robin’s destiny is changed in one stroke when he falls ill and loses the use of his legs. Fearing a plague, his servants abandon him and Robin is left alone. A monk named Brother Luke rescues Robin and takes him to the hospice of St. Mark’s, where he is taught woodcarving and – much harder – patience and strength.

The book was published in 1949. It won the Newbery Medal in 1950. The term "door in the wall" means if you keep trying and never give up you'll eventually find a way to succeed.

Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception

This is an okay book written by Eoin Colfer. After his last run-in with the fairies, Artemis Fowl had his mind wiped of his memories of their world below. Any goodness he had grudgingly learned is now gone, and the young genius has reverted to his criminal lifestyle. Artemis is in Berlin preparing to steal a famously well-guarded painting from a German bank. Little does he know that his every move is being watched by his cunning old rival, Opal Koboi. The evil pixie has spent the last year in a self-induced coma, plotting her revenge on all those who foiled her attempt to destroy the LEPrecon fairy police.

This is the fourth book in the series. There is a secret code at the bottom of the book, in the Gnommish alphabet.

Shadow Spinner

This is an okay book written by Susan Fletcher. Marjan is a poor, crippled orphan girl, but she is happy living with her aunt and uncle in the Sultan’s city. Her hero is the beautiful Shahrazad, who has bewitched the Sultan with her nightly tales and thus keeps him from killing other wives. Marjan wonders what Shahrazad’s life is like in the silken rooms of the palace. She will soon find out. Taken to the palace to help Shahrazad find new tales, Marjan realizes that the lovely woman is a prisoner of the cycle of stories. To save her hero, Marjan must not only dodge the dangerous intrigues of the court, but also being a new chapter of her own life.

Monday, October 25, 2010


This is an okay book written by Dean Koontz. Grady Adams lives a simple, solitary life deep in the Colorado mountains. Here the thirty-five-year-old carpenter works out of a converted barn, crafting exquisite one-of-a-kind furniture. There’s little about this strong yet gentle man to suggest the experiences that have alienated him from the contemporary world. But that is about to change. One day, while hiking, Grady spots a pair of stunningly beautiful furred animals unlike anything he’s ever seen. They flee the instant they detect his presence, but the mystery of that brief encounter remains.

The Misfits

This is an okay book written by James Howe. Bobby Goodspeed has always been a go-along-to-get-along kind of guy. He and his fellow misfits Skeezie, Joe, and Addie have accepted their place in the middle school ecology, and the mockery that comes with it. Then Addie decides to tackle the student council elections and suddenly Bobby finds his life – and his self – changing in ways he never could have imagined.

Kissing the Bee

I liked this book written by Kathe Koja. About to graduate from high school, quivering on the edge of adulthood, Dana, Avra, and Emil are locked in an intricate dance of commitment, desire, and promises. Dana, investigating the enigmatic world of bees, is ready to pursue her education as a science writer. Avra is longing to bolt for freedom. And Emil is keeping his own counsel. No one doubts that Avra is the queen of this tiny hive. But queens can be demanding, and when royalty oversteps its bounds, a revolution may occur.

Crispin: The End of Time

I liked this book written by Avi. Born in 14th-century England, Crispin has embarked on one adventure after another since learning that he, once know only as “Asta’s son,” has a much grander destiny than he ever could have imagined. But his fate has taken a dark turn. The sweet and kindly Bear, his friend and protector, is dead. Crispin is thereby left to protect Troth, she of the staring eyes and broken face. Having attempted a sea voyage to France – and having their ship and most of their hopes dashed to bits in the process – Crispin and Troth are plagued by hunger and left to fend for themselves.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010)

This is an okay movie. Edward (Robert Pattinson) is anxious to get married, while Bella (Kristen Stewart) is uncertain due to her age and concerns about becoming immortal. While visiting Jacob (Taylor Lautner), Bella is forcibly kissed by him causing her to become angry. A lot of people have been disappearing in Washington and Alice sees a vision of a vampire gang that is approaching. The Cullens and the werewolves put aside their differences, and form an alliance to protect themselves and Bella from an attack.

Bryce Dallas Howard replaced Rachelle Lefevre in the role of Victoria. This was the first Twilight film to be released in IMAX. It set a new record for biggest midnight opening in the United States and Canada. During auditions, the actors were not allowed to see the script but instead read passages from the novel. The DVD will be released on December 4, 2010. The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner is a companion novella to the Twilight series, also written by Stephenie Meyer.

The Mysterious Benedict Society

I loved this book written by Trenton Lee Stewart. When a peculiar ad appears in the newspaper, dozens of gifted children enroll to take a series of mysterious and challenging tests. But in the end just four very special children will succeed. Their challenge: to go on a secret mission that only the most intelligent and resourceful children could complete. To accomplish this they will have to go undercover at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, where the only rule is that there are no rules. As the children face physical and mental trials beyond their wildest imaginations, they have no choice but to turn to each other for support.

There are two sequels: Perilous Journey and Prisoner's Dilemma.

Abel’s Island

I liked this book written by William Steig. Abel is a rich and silly mouse. He spends most of his days just having fun, going to picnics with his wife, playing croquet with friends, and dancing at parties. Unlike most other mice, Abel has never had to work for anything. All that changes one blustery fall day when his wife’s scarf flutters away in a gust of wind. Abel races off to rescue it and is swept away in a rainstorm. When the storm is over, Abel finds himself washed up on a deserted island. To survive the winter, this pampered mouse will have to work hard at building a home and gathering food.

In 1988, the novel was adapted into a 30-minute animated film starring Tim Curry.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

This is an okay book written by Betty Smith. It is the coming of age story of Francie, a girl in the slums of turn-of-the-century Brooklyn. Francie grows up with a sweet, tragic father, a severely realistic mother and a favored younger brother. She learns early the meaning of hunger and the value of a penny. She faces the disappointments life brings, including not being allowed the luxury of a high school diploma.

Some of the lines in the book are humorous or clever. The closest I’ve been to Brooklyn is walking on the Brooklyn Bridge. The author did a good job of explaining the frustrations and uncertainties of poverty. The novel was published in 1943. Many of the characters derive from actual inhabitants of Williamsburg. A film version was released in 1945, starring Dorothy McGuire and James Dunn.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

By the Shores of Silver Lake

I liked this book written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. In 1879, Pa Ingalls heads west to the unsettled wilderness of the Dakota Territory to claim 160 acres of undeveloped land through the Homestead Act. When Ma, Mary, Laura, Carrie, and baby Grace join him, they become the first settlers in the town of De Smet. Pa begins work on the first building in what will soon be a brand-new town on the shores of Silver Lake.

This is the fifth book in the Little House on the Prairie series and was written in 1939. A section was 1-square-mile, and a claim was ¼ of a section. 36 sections made a township. By paying $10.00 plus other filing fees, a man could get 160 acres of land for his use if he could live on it for 5 years and not give up to go back east. Walter Breuning, who is currently the oldest living man and the fourth oldest person, grew up in De Smet, South Dakota.

The House of Dies Drear

This is an okay book written by Virginia Hamilton. One hundred years ago, Dies Drear and two runaway slaves hiding in his house, an important station on the Underground Railroad, were murdered. Legend has it that the ghost of Mr. Drear still haunts the lonely old house. In 1961, Thomas Small’s father, a Civil War history professor, doesn’t believe the legends and buys the house. The house is fascinating, thinks Thomas, and it is filled with hidden doorways and secret passages that he can’t wait to explore. But funny things keep happening – frightening things that no one, not even Thomas’ father, can explain.

Breaking Dawn

This is an okay book written by Stephenie Meyer. Bella and Edward are finally married. After the ceremony they go to a private island off the coast of Brazil for their honeymoon. Bella starts feeling sick and has strange symptoms and learns that, despite the long odds against it, she is now pregnant. Edward decides to rush her back to his family so she can receive medical care. The baby is draining Bella's strength, but she commits to keeping her. Jacob is upset that Bella plans to keep the baby and tries to talk her out of it. His werewolf clan decides they want to attack the vampires, and it puts him into an awkward position. After the baby is born, Jacob develops a fondness towards her. Bella comes to enjoy her new life and the freedom it provides.

This is the fourth and final novel in the series. The chess board on the cover is a metaphor of Bella's transition from weakness (the pawn) to strength (the queen). Meyer was influence by two of Shakespeare's plays, The Merchant of Venice and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Godiva made a Twilight-themed chocolate bar. This was the biggest-selling children's book of 2008 with over 6 million copies sold. The book will be split into two films and the first is scheduled for release on November 18, 2011. According to a review in the Washington Post: "Breaking Dawn has a childbirth sequence that may promote lifelong abstinence in sensitive types."

Flipped (2010)

This is an okay movie. Second-grader Bryce moves with his family into a new neighborhood. While unpacking a young neighbor girl, Juli, comes over to visit. She is instantly attracted to the boy, but he just wants her to go away. Throughout their childhood she continues to have a crush on him and he constantly tries to avoid her. One day during middle school there is a dating auction; after it is completed Bryce (Callan McAuliffe) admits to Juli (Madeline Carroll) that he likes her. His confession causes both of them to question how they really feel about each other.

The story is based on the 2001 novel written by Wendelin Van Draanen; she was born in 1965. The film was shot in Washtenaw County, Michigan, and it had a poor box office performance. The DVD will be released on November 23.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


I liked this book written by Cynthia Kadohata. Raised on a flower farm in California, Sumiko is used to being the only Japanese girl in her class. Even when the other kids tease her, she has always had her flowers and family to go home to. Now, other Americans start to suspect that all Japanese people are spies for the emperor, and Sumiko and her family find themselves being shipped to an internment camp in the hot desert of Arizona. The vivid color of her previous life gone forever, and now dust storms regularly choke the sky and seep into every crack of the military barrack that is her new home.


I loved this book co-written by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro. Former Marine helicopter pilot Jack Morgan runs Private, a renowned investigation company with branches around the globe. The secrets of the most influential men and women on the planet come to Jack daily – and his staff of investigators use the world’s most advanced forensic tools to make and break their cases. Jack is already deep into the investigation of a multimillion-dollar NFL gambling scandal and the unsolved slayings of thirteen schoolgirls when he learns of a horrific murder close to home: his best friend’s wife, Jack’s former lover, has been killed. It nearly pushes him over the edge.

Gregor the Overlander

I liked this book written by Suzanne Collins. When eleven-year-old Gregor follows his little sister through a grate in the laundry room of their New York City apartment building, he hurtles into the dark Underland beneath the city. There, humans live uneasily beside giant spiders, bats, cockroaches, and rats – but the fragile peace is about to fall apart. Gregor wants no part of a conflict between these crazy creatures. He just wants to find his way home. But when he discovers that a strange prophecy foretells a role for him in the Underland’s uncertain future, he realizes it might be the only way to solve the biggest mystery of his life. This is the first book of the Underland Chronicles.


This is an okay book written by Lois Lowry. Littlest is out on a dark night with her mentor Fastidious. They stealthily sneak into a woman's home and lightly touch objects, collecting memories of her and her dog. Littlest is part of a small sub colony of dream-givers. Through touching, they gather fragments such as colors, words, sounds, and scents. They then combine the fragments to become dreams, and give the dreams to humans, and sometimes pets. The giving of dreams is called the bestowal. The woman takes in an eight-year-old boy named John who is described as angry by a social worker. She responds to him through kindness hoping he will learn to respect other people and animals. The dream givers try to coax both of them to get along by manipulating their dreams.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Death of Ivan Ilyich

I liked this book written by Leo Tolstoy. Ivan Ilyich’s life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible. Indeed, Ilyich’s driving ambition was to live an easy, agreeable, gay, and always decorous life. For the most part, he succeeded unspectacularly. But when he lay on his death bed, he began to question the nature of existence and long for greater meaning and comfort from those nearest him.

This novella was first published in 1886. Russian photographer Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky took a color photo of Leo Tolstoy at his estate in 1908 (two years before his death caused by pneumonia). Tolstoy believed that in order to follow the teachings of Jesus you must be a pacifist.

Shiloh Season

I did not like this book written by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. After Marty Preston worked so hard to earn the dog Shiloh, he had hoped his troubles with Judd Travers were over. He could not rescue all the dogs that Judd mistreated, but since Shiloh was the one who ran away and came to him, Shiloh was the one he loved. Judd, however, has other problems. Anyone who cheats and swears and lies and kicks his dogs has troubles inside himself, and when the man starts drinking, Marty realizes that Shiloh is in danger once again. As hunting season approaches and Judd begins hunting on their land, the Prestons known that something is bound to happen.

When the Wind Blows

This is an okay book written by James Patterson. Frannie O’Neill is a young and talented veterinarian living in Colorado. Plagued by the mysterious murder of her husband, Frannie tries to find forgetfulness in her work. Then a second murder occurs, followed by the arrival on her doorstep of Kit Harrison, a troubled and unconventional FBI agent. Late one night, near the woods of her animal hospital, Frannie stumbles upon a strange, astonishing phenomenon that will change the course of her life forever. Her name is Max and the 11-year-old leads Frannie and Kit to uncover one of the most diabolical and inhuman plots of modern genetics.

The book is the prequel to The Lake House. Matthew Huffman is currently working on a screenplay for a film based on the novel.

Three Colors: White (1994)

This is a noteworthy Polish movie. A French woman (Julie Delpy) divorces her expatriate Polish hairdresser husband (Zbigniew Zamachowski), claiming their short marriage was never consummated. Karol becomes penniless when his passport and credit cards are declared void. At a subway station he meets another man (Janusz Gajos) from Poland, who sneaks Karol onto an airplane by hiding him in a suitcase. Karol stays at his brother’s house and finds a job. He fakes his own death to trick his ex-wife into flying out to Poland, so he can be with her again.

The film illustrates the second theme of the trilogy - equality - and is a black comedy. In the first film, Juliette Binoche's character accidentally enters a courtroom while the divorce is being discussed. In the final scene of this film, Dominique is in a prison cell. The director used this film to symbolize what he considered the failure of the free market system in Poland after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In a similar scene to the first film, an old man in Paris is trying to recycle a bottle but cannot reach the container and Karol looks at him with a sinister grin on his face.

A Week in the Woods

This is an okay book written by Andrew Clements. Mark didn’t ask to move to New Hampshire or to go to a hick school like Hardy Elementary. And he certainly didn’t request Mr. Maxwell as his teacher. Mr. Maxwell doesn’t like rich kids, or slackers, or know-it-alls. And he’s decided that Mark is all of those things. Now the whole school is headed out for a week of camping – Hardy’s famous Week in the Woods. At first it sounds dumb, but then Mark begins to open up to life in the country, and he decides it might be okay to learn something new. It might even be fun. But things go all wrong for Mark and Mr. Maxwell.

Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable movie. Shy and clumsy Seymour (Rick Moranis) works in a flower shop. During a solar eclipse he purchases a strange plant being sold by a Chinese street vendor. The owner of the flower shop is worried about going out of business, but Seymour suggests displaying the new plant in a front window. Immediately, sales start to increase. One night after being pricked by a rose thorn, he discovers that the alien plant eats blood. As it quickly grows, the employees of the store become prospective plant food.

This was the only screenplay written by lyricist Howard Ashman. The original ending was replaced with new scenes due to negative reactions from a test audience. In the final version Paul Dooley was replaced by Jim Belushi, as the marketing executive who wants to sell the plant. This was the first DVD to be recalled for content. It is a remake of the 1960 film directed by Roger Corman. At its largest size the plant puppet weighed one ton and was operated by 60 technicians. Audrey II re-appeared in 2004 in a Pizza Hut commercial. Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (2001) includes a girl-eating plant.

Down to the Bone (2004)

This is a noteworthy movie. Irene (Vera Farmiga) is living in New York with her husband and two boys. She works as a cashier, but also struggles with an addiction to cocaine which she tries to keep a secret. She enters rehab during her vacation, but when she comes back to her job her boss discovers her addiction and fires her. She starts an affair with a male nurse (Hugh Dillon) who influences her to resume her consumption of drugs. One night they are pulled over and arrested; when her husband finds out he tells her to move out.

The film has very realistic footage, as though you are watching a documentary or real life television show.