Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Rocky IV (1985)

This is a solid movie. Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) is a well-trained fighter who wants to demonstrate that a Russian can be a successful boxer. Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) agrees to face him in the first fight and then dies from his injuries. To avenge his best friend’s death, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) decides to visit Russia to fight against the large and talented opponent. While training, Drago uses advanced equipment and anabolic steroids. Rocky chooses to stick with a more natural regimen: he throws logs, chops down trees, pulls an overloaded sleigh, jogs in heavy snow and climbs a mountain.

This is the most financially successful film in the franchise. Wyoming doubled for the frozen expanse of the Soviet Union. Some of the original scenes filmed with Dolph Lundgren have authentic punches and Stallone was even hospitalized because of it. Weathers almost quit after an aggressive incident with Lundgren. Sportscaster Stu Nahan makes his fourth appearance in the series. Stallone's then-wife, Brigitte Nielsen, appeared as Drago's wife, Ludmilla. This is the only film in the series not to feature original music by composer Bill Conti. It was the highest-grossing sports film of all time until 2009.


I liked this book written by Christopher Paolini. Not so very long ago, Eragon – Shadeslayer, Dragon Rider – was nothing more than a poor farm boy, and his dragon, Saphira, only a blue stone in the forest. Now, the fate of an entire civilization rests on their shoulders. Long months of training and battle have brought victories and hope, but they have also brought heartbreaking loss. And still, the real battle lies ahead: they must confront Galbatorix. When they do, they will have to be strong enough to defeat him. And if they cannot, no one can. There will be no second chance.

This is the fourth and final book in the Inheritance Cycle. Nearly half a million copies were sold on the first day in the United States.

Zero Day

This is an okay book written by David Baldacci. John Puller is a combat veteran and the best military investigator in the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigative Division. His father was an Army fighting legend, and his brother is serving a life sentence for treason in a federal military prison. He is called out on a case in a remote area in West Virginia coal country far from any military outpost. Someone has stumbled onto a brutal crime scene, a family slaughtered. The local homicide detective, a headstrong woman with personal demons of her own, joins forces with Puller in the investigation.

Arthur Christmas (2011)

This is a solid movie. The title of Santa Claus has run in the same family for hundreds of years. The current one uses a high tech spaceship with thousands of elves to operate the command center. His oldest son Steve (Hugh Laurie) manages the operations of mission control, while Santa is flying. On Christmas Eve over 2 billion gifts are successfully delivered. After everyone has gone off to bed, one of the elves on the cleaning crew discovers that a present was left behind. Santa's other son Arthur thinks the gift must be delivered or a child will feel left out of the Christmas tradition. He partners with Grand-Santa to take the old sleigh pulled by the reindeer and deliver the gift before the sun rises.

Smokin’ Seventeen

This is an okay book written by Janet Evanovich. Dead bodies are showing up in shallow graves on the empty construction lot of Vincent Plum Bail Bonds. No one is sure who the killer is, or why the victims have been offed, but what is clear is that Stephanie Plum’s name is on the killer’s list. Short on time to find evidence proving the killer’s identity, Stephanie faces further complications when her family and friends decide that it’s time for her to choose between her longtime off-again-on-again boyfriend, Trenton cop Joe Morelli, and the bad boy in her life, security expert Ranger. Stephanie’s mom is encouraging her to dump them both and choose a former high school football star who’s just returned to town.

This is the 17th novel in the series.

Outside Providence (1999)

This is an okay movie. In 1974 Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Tim crashes into a parked police car while high on marijuana and his dad (Alec Baldwin) sends him to a prep school hoping he will reform. His mother committed suicide when he was a child and his brother Jackie has to be in a wheelchair. If Tim is unable to graduate, he will be forced to spend a year in jail. He meets Jane Weston who is attending the nearby all-girls school and their friendship blossoms into romance. When the dorm master discovers Tim and his friends have alcohol and marijuana in their room, Jane’s acceptance to Brown University is revoked.

The film was adapted from the 1988 book written by Peter Farrelly. An alternate ending is available on the DVD. The prep school scenes were filmed at the University of Rhode Island and the Cranston Street Armory.

Echo Burning

This is an okay book written by Lee Child. She’s called Carmen. She’s a good-looking young woman, she has a beautiful little girl and she has married into the wrong family. They’re called the Greers. They’re a bitter and miserly clan, and they’ve made her life a living hell. Worse, her monster of a husband is soon due out of prison. So she needs protection, and she needs it now. Lawyers can’t help. Cops can’t be trusted. So Jack Reacher goes home with her to the lonely ranch where nothing is as it seems, and where evil swirls around them like dust in a storm.

This is the fifth book in the series.

The Final Detail

This is an okay book written by Harlan Coben. A blissful Caribbean vacation is cut short for sports agent Myron when he is informed that one of his clients, baseball star Clu Haid, has been found dead. To make matters worse, his business partner and best friend Esperanza Diaz has been charged with the murder. As Myron tries to find answers, he stumbles upon a complicated and odd series of events and evidence that hits a little too close to home.

This is the sixth book in the series.

The Black Ice

This is an okay book written by Michael Connelly. Narcotics officer Cal Moore’s orders were to look into the city’s latest drug killing. Instead, he ends up in a motel room with his head in several pieces and a suicide note stuffed into his back pocket. Years ago, Harry Bosch learned the first rule of the good cop: don’t look for the facts, but the glue that holds them together. Now, Harry’s making some very dangerous connections, starting with one dead cop and leading to a bloody string of murders that winds from Hollywood Boulevard’s drug bazaar to the dusty back alleys south of the border and into the center of a complex and lethal game – one in which Harry is the next and likeliest victim.

This is second novel featuring the detective Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch.

Kill Alex Cross

This is an okay book written by James Patterson. Detective Alex Cross is one of the first on the scene of the biggest case he's ever been part of. The President's son and daughter have been abducted from their school – an impossible crime, but somehow the kidnapper has done it. Alex does everything he can but is shunted to the fringes of the investigation. Someone powerful doesn’t want him too close. A deadly contagion in the DC water supply endangers the capital, and Alex sees the looming threat of the most devastating attack the United States has ever experienced. He is already working flat out on the abduction, and this massive assault pushes him completely over the edge.

This is the 18th novel in the series.

Die Trying

I liked this book written by Lee Child. In a Chicago suburb, a dentist is met in his office parking lot by three men and ordered into the trunk of his Lexus. On a downtown sidewalk, Jack Reacher and an unknown woman are abducted in broad daylight by two men – practiced and confident – who stop them at gunpoint and hustle them into the same sedan. Then Reacher and the woman are switched into a second vehicle and hauled away, leaving the dentist bound and gagged inside his car with the woman’s abandoned possessions, two gallons of gasoline and a burning match.

This is the second novel in the series.

Out of Sight (1998)

This is a solid movie. Career bank robber Jack Foley (George Clooney) uses a tunnel to escape from prison. U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez) is waiting outside when it happens and she is kidnapped and thrown into the trunk of her car, which is then driven away. Foley and some of his friends decide to rob a house in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, after another inmate bragged about his stash of diamonds. Another criminal crew is also planning to visit the same mansion. Foley is attracted to Sisco and after a while she is conflicted about whether to arrest him or pursue a romantic relationship.

The story is based on the 1996 novel written by Elmore Leonard. This was the first time director Steven Soderbergh and star George Clooney worked together on a film. ABC ran a spinoff television series in 2003 called Karen Sisco, which was cancelled after ten episodes.

Running Blind

This is an okay book written by Lee Child. People say that knowledge is power. The more knowledge, the more power. Suppose you knew the winning numbers in the lottery? What would you do? You would run to the store. You would mark the numbers on the play card. And you would win. Same for the stock market. Same for basketball or the horses or anything. Same for killing people. Women are dying. Women who have nothing in common except the fact that they once worked for the military. And they knew Jack Reacher. How and why these women are in danger completely baffles the elite FBI team working the case.

This is the fourth book in the series.

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable movie. Seth Gecko (George Clooney) and his brother Richie (Quentin Tarantino) are dangerous criminals trying to avoid the Texas police and the FBI after a deadly bank robbery. Seth is thoughtful and a careful planner, but Richie is impulsive and a sex fiend. The brothers want to flee to Mexico where the mysterious Carlos claims he can provide sanctuary, but they are unsure how to get passed the border patrol. At a motel they meet a skeptical pastor, his teenage daughter Kate (Juliette Lewis), and his adopted son Scott who are traveling in an RV. They kidnap the family and tell them that if they want to stay alive they need to get across the border without incident. After reaching Mexico, they go to a bar and discover that most people inside of it are actually vampires.

The film used a non-union production crew, which is unusual for a production with a budget above $15 million. The film was followed by two direct-to-video follow-ups, a sequel and a prequel.

The Enemy

This is an okay book written by Lee Child. An elite military cop, Jack Reacher was one of the army's brightest stars. But in every cop's life there is a turning point. One messy, tangled case that can make a lawman question words like honor, valor, and duty. New Year’s Day, 1990. The Berlin Wall is coming down. The world is changing. And in a North Carolina “hot-sheets” motel, a two-star general is found dead. His briefcase is missing, contents unknown. Within minutes Reacher has his orders: control the situation. Within hours the general’s wife is murdered hundreds of miles away. Then the dominoes really start to fall.

This is the eighth book in the series.

Hugo (2011)

This is a solid movie. In 1931, Hugo Cabret is orphaned when his father is killed in a fire. He is taken by his alcoholic uncle who maintains the clocks in a railway station. When his uncle disappears, Hugo decides to stay at the train station and work on the clocks. He has a broken automaton of a mechanical man holding a pen that has deep meaning for him because his father was trying to repair it, and he believes the machine will have a message for him. He steals parts from a toy shop owner (Ben Kingsley) and the old man takes an important book away from him when he is caught. He meets a girl named Isabelle (Chloë Moretz) who lives with the old man and learns that she has a key that fits his robot. Soon they discover the connection the store owner and the mechanical man have to the silent film era.

The film is based on The Invention of Hugo Cabret, a 2007 historical-fiction book written and illustrated by Brian Selznick. It was the first novel to win a Caldecott Medal. The overall backstory and primary features of filmmaker Georges Méliès' life are largely accurate. Méliès directed 531 films between 1896 and 1913, and about 200 of those are still around. The automaton was inspired by one made by the Swiss watchmaker Henri Maillardet.

Great Expectations (1998)

This is a noteworthy movie. Finn is a young boy who is raised by his sister’s boyfriend Joe (Chris Cooper). The man is summoned to the home of Ms. Nora Dinsmoor, the richest woman in Florida, for a gardening job but instead is given an envelope full of cash. Finn goes along with him and sees a young girl named Estella, who is the rich woman's niece. Because she wants the girl to have a playmate, she invites Finn to visit on a regular basis. Several years later Estella (Gwyneth Paltrow) leaves to study abroad in Europe and Finn (Ethan Hawke) gives up his interest in drawing. One day a man comes to him and invites him to a gallery show in New York City with funding from an anonymous donor. He takes up the offer and begins drawing again, and then meets Estella and learns that she is engaged.

Ca' d'Zan, a Mediterranean Revival residence in Sarasota, Florida was built in 1924 by one of the Ringling Brothers and used as the home of Ms. Dinsmoor. The story is based on a lengthy novel written by Charles Dickens in 1861. The setting was changed from London to modern day New York, the hero's name was changed from Pip to Finn, and the character Miss Havisham was renamed Nora Dinsmoor. The song "Siren" was written especially for this film by Tori Amos. All of the portraits in the film were done by Francesco Clemente, an Italian painter.

Nothing to Lose

I liked this book written by Lee Child. The intrepid hero Jack Reacher travels back and forth between two Colorado towns, Hope and Despair. When he arrives in Despair for breakfast at a diner, he is immediately attacked and thrown in jail. Upon release he partners with a cop in Hope. Why is the small town with its mysterious metal processing plant and nearby military checkpoint so desperate to keep strangers out?

This is the twelfth book in the series. The book has several similarities to David Morrell's 1972 novel, First Blood.

A Time to Kill (1996)

This is a solid movie. Two drunken racists grab a 10-year-old black girl, rape her, and try to kill her through hanging, but she survives. Her father Carl (Samuel L. Jackson) thinks the men will not be punished and so he shoots and kills both of them inside the courthouse and also injures a police officer. Previously, he had asked lawyer Jake Brigance (Matthew McConaughey) to defend him if he got into trouble. Ellen Roark (Sandra Bullock) is a liberal law student who feels really passionate about this case. Brigance is reluctant to add her to his team, but she proves worthy through the research she uncovers. The racial tension in the case encourages the Ku Klux Klan to organize again.

The film is based on the first novel written by John Grisham and published in 1989. The movie was filmed in Canton, Mississippi. This film was the second to feature both Donald Sutherland and his son Kiefer. The first was Max Dugan Returns, which was Kiefer's film debut.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

One Shot

This is an okay book written by Lee Child. Six shots. Five dead. One heartland city thrown into a state of terror. But within hours the cops have it solved: a slam-dunk case. Except for one thing. The accused man says: You got the wrong guy. Then he says: Get Reacher for me. And sure enough, from the world he lives in – no phone, no address, no commitments – ex-military investigator Jack Reacher is coming.

This is the ninth novel in the series. A film version starring Tom Cruise is being planned.

The Muppets (2011)

This is a solid movie. Walter lives with his human brother Gary (Jason Segel) in Smalltown. One night after a disappointing experience at an amusement park, they turn on their television and start watching The Muppet Show, and Walter instantly becomes a fan of the characters. As an adult, Gary decides to take his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), an elementary teacher, to Los Angeles for their anniversary. Mary reluctantly agrees to let Walter come along on their vacation so he can visit the Muppet Theater. When they arrive, the building is in disarray and abandoned; Walter suggests that they get all of the Muppets together for a new performance.

This is the ninth Muppet film; two of the others were television movies. The Muppet Show television series ran from 1976 to 1981. The theatrical release of the film is preceded by a Pixar short film titled Small Fry. This is the highest grossing film in the Muppets film series.

Any Given Sunday (1999)

This is an okay movie. The Miami Sharks are struggling to make the playoffs in 2001. During the thirteenth game of the season, both the starting quarterback Jack "Cap" Rooney (Dennis Quaid) and the second-string quarterback Tyler Cherubini are injured and forced to leave the game. This leaves them to play with third-string quarterback Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx). After some adjustments he starts to show great success on the field, but his arrogance causes him to clash with his coach and some of the other players. During the playoffs Cap returns but is quickly injured again. Beaman apologizes to his teammates and then goes out to replace him.

During the 1985 Super Bowl, the Miami Dolphins lost to the San Francisco 49ers by a score of 38 to 16. It was on the same day that Ronald Reagan was inaugurated for a second term as President. Al Pacino's character was inspired by Coach Tom Landry. Christina Pagniacci is based upon owners Jerry Jones and Georgia Frontiere. Jack Rose is based on talk show host Jim Rome. The film was influenced by the 1994 book You're Okay, It's Just a Bruise: A Doctor's Sideline Secrets written by Robert Huizenga, the intern doctor for the L.A. Raiders during the 1980s. Dan Marino's house was used in the film. 12 minutes were deleted for the Director's Cut version, and six minutes of new footage was added.

Satyricon (1969)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable Italian movie. Encolpio (Martin Potter) is lamenting the loss of his lover Gitone (Max Born) to Ascilto (Hiram Keller). Vowing to win him back, he learns that Ascilto sold Gitone to the actor Vernacchio. At the theatre, he discovers Vernacchio and Gitone performing in a lewd play. Encolpio storms the stage and reclaims Gitone. On their return to Encolpio's home, they walk through a vast Roman brothel. Captured by soldiers, Encolpio is released in a labyrinth and forced to play Theseus to a gladiator's Minotaur for the amusement of spectators at the festival of Momus, the God of Laughter.

The film is based on a Latin work of poetic fiction written in the first century by Gaius Petronius.

Darkest Fear

This is an okay book written by Harlan Coben. After receiving an unexpected visit from his ex-girlfriend, sports agent Myron Bolitar discovers that he fathered her thirteen-year-old son Jeremy, who is dying and in need of a bone-marrow transplant. Now, Myron must track down the potential donor who has gone missing, and in doing so, encounters several shady characters.

This is the seventh novel in the series.

Dude, Where’s My Car? (2000)

This is a moderate movie. Roommates Jesse (Ashton Kutcher) and Chester (Seann W. Scott) wake up one morning at home and can’t remember anything that happened the previous night. When their girlfriends call to remind them that it’s their anniversary, they step outside and realize that Jesse’s car is missing. They meet a transsexual stripper who says they never returned a suitcase full of cash. Then a cult of UFO enthusiasts claims that the two guys hold the device they need to save the universe and make contact with intelligent aliens.

The film grossed $73 million. In The Big Lebowski John Goodman asks Jeff Bridges: "Dude, where's your car?"

Bad Luck and Trouble

This is an okay book written by Lee Child. A decade post military, Jack Reacher has an ATM card and the clothes on his back--no phone, no ties, and no address. But now a woman from his old unit has done the impossible. From Chicago, Frances Neagley finds Reacher, using a signal only the eight members of their elite team of army investigators would know. She tells him a terrifying story – about the brutal death of a man they both served with. Soon Reacher is reuniting with the survivors of his old team.

This is the eleventh book in the series. The title refers to lyrics from a 1967 song by blues singer Albert King.

Requiem for a Dream (2000)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable movie. Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) is a lonely widow who spends most of her time watching infomercials. When she is chosen to appear on a game show, she tries on her old red dress and realizes it is too small. She begins a grapefruit diet to lose weight, but is constantly hungry and decides to purchase diet pills. She becomes addicted to them and starts having hallucinations. Her son Harry (Jared Leto) is a heroin addict involved in the drug trade, and he steals his mother’s belongings to sell at a local pawn shop.

The film is based on the 1978 novel written by Hubert Selby. It was originally rated NC-17 by the MPAA. The soundtrack has been used in various forms in trailers for other films.

Elephant (2003)

This is an imperfect-but-creditable movie. In a suburb near Portland, Oregon, several high school students are shown during a day at school. John's father Mr. McFarland (Timothy Bottoms) is driving erratically while drunk, so John asks him to switch places. Alex and Eric are bullied at school by jocks, including a spitball thrown at one of them during class. They decide to order some rifles through the internet. They also seem to have a homosexual interest in each other. One day they drive to the school and warn John to stay away. He figures out what is going on and starts alerting the other students who are already outside. The two boys attempt to set off a bomb and then start shooting at whoever they see.

Some of the characters in the film have the same name as the actors who played them. The film is based in part on the 1999 Columbine High School massacre where two perpetrators killed 13 victims and injured 24 others. This is the second movie in director Gus Van Sant's "Death Trilogy", all influenced by actual events; the others are Gerry (2002) and Last Days (2005). Filming was done at the former campus of Whitaker Middle School; the building was torn down in 2007. The title refers to a British short film about several blind men trying to describe an elephant and each one drawing different conclusions.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 (2011)

This is an okay movie. After their marriage in Washington, Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) travel to a private island near Brazil for a honeymoon. After two weeks, she is surprised to learn that she is pregnant. The wolf pack threatens to attack the vampires if Bella is killed, so Jacob (Taylor Lautner) visits the Cullens’ home hoping his family will stay away. Bella’s health quickly deteriorates, but she decides to continue with the pregnancy. When it’s discovered that the baby is demanding blood, the situation improves significantly. However, once she goes into labor, Edward must quickly turn her into a vampire if she is to survive.

The film's album is the first in the saga to not include a song by British rock band Muse. Many theaters held "Twilight Tuesdays", where each of the previous films was played on consecutive Tuesdays leading up to the latest film's release. The DVD is expected to be available on February 11. The film has been noted as having a pro-life theme. Its release is the second highest midnight gross of all time, the third highest opening day gross of all time, and the second highest November opening ever. The audience was 80% female and 60% were over 21 years old. There were several incidents where the flashing lights during the birthing scene triggered epileptic seizures.