Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire--Movie Review

Photo: Movie poster, from its Wikipedia page.  Remember who the enemy is, indeed.  Good catchphrase.

Saw Catching Fire last night, so a few quick things:

--Best thing to say about this very good movie: It didn't seem anywhere near as long as it was.  That says a lot, because this one ran about 2 1/2 hours.

--Few actresses hold up better under so many intense close-ups as Jennifer Lawrence.  The camera was directly in her grill for the whole movie.

--Then again, few retain such unrealistically perfect make-up application, especially for an action flick.  Not that she isn't pretty anyway, I'm just sayin'.

--Woody Harrelson, along with Matthew McConaughey, has had a career resurgence the last few years.  Woody Harrelson has certainly come a long way since Cheers.

--Donald Sutherland has been playing this type of bad guy for a very long time now, with the same menacingly slow speech, rich voice and grey mane.  Good to see that some things never go out of style.

--Speaking of which, where were his granddaughter's parents the whole movie?

--I've never read the books, but I was pretty confident that they wouldn't do the exact same thing for two consecutive movies.  Something else had to be afoot here.

--Kind of obvious, too, because most of the former winners seemed really pissed off to have to do it twice.

--And how can you not expect a rebellion when you promise those who've cheated death--cheated it from a situation that you initially threw them into--that they won't ever have to do it again, and then make them go through it again?

--And then throw all of them together in one group, and they're all enraged.  At you.

--And leave alive the former winners who didn't have to be in these Games, and not expect them to also be enraged?  And leave them out there with the general public?  Who're all beyond enraged?  At you.

--Now that I think of it, this is one half-assed despotic leader of a dystopian future.  In that vast library he's always sitting in, he doesn't have one Orwell in all that?  And with all of those great ray televisions, he hasn't watched any of those types of movies?  These dictators have to be better prepared.

--How did the other rebels know that she'd finish coiling the wire around the arrowhead shaft and then throw it up into the dome the second the lightning hit?  It was a realistic guess, considering her psychological profile (the movie should've shown they had such things), but the whole rebellion was predicated on the electronic surveillance being blown so she could be rescued.  And that was only going to happen if she threw the arrow like she did, exactly as unrealistically perfect as she did, exactly when she did.

--That must've been a 500-foot throw, straight up, by the way.  There's no Olympics in this future?

--As Jeffrey Wright's character said, "There's a flaw in every system."  That includes screenplays and movie-making.  I gotta stop thinking these films through like this after I see them.

--Incidentally, you can currently see Wright on HBO's Boardwalk Empire.  Good show, though this past season hasn't been as good.

--The directing and pace of this movie was better than the first.  The first was also a good movie, though it was just what it was, if you know what I mean.  Essentially, it was "The Most Dangerous Game" for teenage girls, with a female protagonist.  With a little of Orwellian Dystopia and Stephen King's The Running Man thrown in.  Not that that's a bad thing.

--If I were starting a rebellion, I also wouldn't tell the symbolic figurehead of that rebellion until I had to.

--But I would want to be the rebel and the symbolic figurehead of that rebellion, cause that's how I roll.

--I was hoping more would be done with that little girl's character from the first one.  She was, indeed, too young.  Though I'm old enough to feel that they all were, but whatever.

--A friend of mine says the next one should be called Please Put Me Out, but she's just jealous and bitter.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Approximate Word Count

To compel myself to write more consistently, I created a blog (see title) so that I had to post my word count every day. Therefore, hopefully, I have to write every day, in order to have words to count. Please feel free to do the same by placing a comment.  Let's all produce writing together.

The site is  It's listed at the top of this site as well.

May we all write well, and often.

Book Review--Robert B. Parker's Wonderland, by Ace Atkins

Photo: Book's hardback cover, from

I've gone on before about titles that contain the name of an artist as its main selling point, so I won't do so again here--except to say that book titles that contain the name of a deceased writer is even worse.  At least when John Carpenter used to title his movies with his name in it, he was still alive, directing them.  But when the publishing house (or perhaps it's Parker's estate) does so, it comes across as a bit gauche to me.  Especially when the real author, Ace Atkins, is doing such a credible job since taking it over.  How about giving him a little credit now?  Or does someone think that Spenser's loyal fans will forget that Robert B. Parker gave birth to him?

Having said that, Wonderland is a good book that could have been better if Atkins hadn't tried so hard to make Spenser so witty.  Even Parker didn't make his narrator this much of a wiseass.  Here Spenser drops something sarcastic, or witty, or banal (depends on your appreciation for what he says, I guess) in his dialogue and in his narration, a double-whammy here that makes it seem that Spenser is a little verbally out of control.  One minor character even says that he comes across as immature to people who don't think he's funny.  (Nobody ever dared call Parker's Spenser immature, except maybe Susan.)  There's way too much here, and it comes across as Atkins trying too hard, and not, surprisingly, like Spenser trying too hard.  Some of it is funny, but occasionally one sounds forced.

Another distraction here is that every now and then a piece of Spenser's dialogue simply doesn't sound authentic.  I've read every single Spenser, since the first--The Godwulf Manuscript--and I'm telling you that every now and then Spenser says something that sounds inauthentic, and it clunks.  A major tell-tale is that Atkins makes him speak on occasion too grammatically correct: he doesn't use contractions when anyone--especially Spenser--would.  One example of many is on page 273.  Henry Cimoli and Spenser are talking about how bad Spenser's psyche got when he got shot up by The Gray Man.  Henry calls it, "The really bad time."  Spenser responds: "They are all bad times when you are shot."  It's just too stiff.  Spenser, one of the more comfortable conversationalists in all of detective fiction (if not fiction in general), simple would not have sounded so formal, especially to Henry.  He would've deadpanned: "When you're shot, they're all bad."  Or something like that.

But, of course, this is a very quick read.  I might read faster than some, but I'll bet a Spenser fan will read this in a couple of days.  There are no great surprises here; the supporting characters are all users and being used.  The main characters go back and forth guessing who the guilty parties are, but the reader shouldn't.  Truth be told, the family-relation reveal towards the end shouldn't have been a surprise to Spenser, Healey, or Belson.  It is, though, and it's handled well.  I didn't consider the oddity of it until I'd finished reading, so that's good enough.  Your suspension-of-disbelief won't be ruined.  The writing is good, but Atkins has done better with Spenser.  I like the way that Atkins says a lot with very little, as Parker had.  Atkins might actually say more with his little.  Spenser fans won't be disappointed.  New readers to the series won't be blown out of their socks, but they shouldn't throw it away with great force, either.  It's a good read.

One caveat: Atkins shows his hand a little bit with the dating.  As Parker had, he throws in a sentence or two to let us know Spenser is narrating from some future date.  Something like, "The winter was especially cold that year..."  In Wonderland, Spenser frequently mentions how very, very bad the Sox are with overpaid stars and a manager that has won with them in the past.  So it's got to be 2011.  They were disappointing under Francona in 2005, 2006, 2008-2010, but they still won more than they lost, and they made the playoffs--or almost did--pretty consistently.  But the book says they were very, very bad, so it's got to be 2011.  Spenser has always gone out of his way to remind us that he exists in our real universe, during our real time--just an indiscriminate year in the past.  Here, he seems to have almost caught up to us.  This was a little jarring to me, though it may not be to anyone else.  I'm just putting it out there.  Feel free to politely disagree.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Obama Care Website: A Plea

Photo: President Bush and President-Elect Obama meet in the Oval Office on November 10, 2008.  From Obama's Wikipedia page.

This isn't exactly a political rant, so stay with me if you felt like leaving because of that.  It's more of a plea, I guess.

There are so many Republicans slamming Obama for the recent website problems, and for what some are perceiving as his sleight-of-hand about being able to keep current policies.  (I don't know about that.  Though both parties have their hands in the health care industry's pockets, which one do you think counts more on money from it?  I'll provide a hint: It's the party that's not trying to change it.)  Some Democrats seem to think that his ship is sinking.

It's not--though it has taken a torpedo hit.

The bottom line here is that there's a website that's not working right.

There's an insurance industry that said one thing to Obama and then did another.

Or, in fairness, perhaps the President himself said one thing to the insurance industry, then did the other.

My guess is that it's both.  And surely the right hand didn't know what the left hand was doing here.

But that's all.  It's surely a mess.  It looks bad.  It's Obama's biggest misstep so far.  And what was he thinking when he hired a Canadian internet company to do an American website?  This is bad enough, in terms of our economy--and even worse when you consider that Canada itself fired this internet company when it flubbed work for Canada.

Maybe Obama didn't make that decision himself, but the buck stops with him, and he'll say the same himself.

But let's take a step back.

Did we actually think that overhauling the American healthcare industry would be easy?  Is a radical change ever simple?  And what's wrong with trying to change American socio-economic parity as we know it?  Wouldn't you think there'd be a few mistakes along the way?

This is ground-level health care and social upheaval, and we thought a mouse click would make it all perfect?  That there wouldn't be mistakes, "fumbles," and some honest errors and humane shortsightedness?

So the site doesn't work.

It'll get fixed.

It's the first huge step for equity in health care in this country, something that hopefully narrows the gap between the rich and the poor.  A simple website won't make it all happen by itself, but it's a step in the right direction.

And it'll get better.

Let's all stop rattling our sabres against those who try to make drastic change for the better good and who make a few mistakes while doing so.  Are we not to have groundbreaking change unless it's quick and easy and perfect?  Drastic change is never easy.  And no one thing--health care or anything else--is going to be perfect for everyone, all at the same time.

Yes, Obama dropped the ball here.  But he cared enough to try to make the play to begin with.  He'll pick it up again.  He'll learn from his mistakes.  My guess is he doesn't like to be wrong, at all.  He knows that this will be one of the biggest things he'll be remembered for--good or bad.

And here's one more sports metaphor for you: an infielder who gets to more grounders (and who therefore has more range) will make more errors than will an infielder who never gets to the ball to begin with.  This second infielder will have a misleadingly and superficially better fielding percentage--he'll make fewer errors--because he won't attempt a great play if he thinks there's a chance he'll make an error.

Those who try to make great plays will make more mistakes than those who don't.

Possibly Obama's reach has exceeded his grasp here.  But he attempted to make the play that nobody else could--or would, or wanted to--and then he bobbled it.  And then he dropped it.

But he tried to make the play.

Let's applaud that.  And let's have some patience as he makes the play without a drop next time.  Or would we rather have a nation of leaders who don't try to ever again make a great and sweeping change for fear of such an impatient and unforgiving public and political backlash?

He was at least brave enough to chance failure.

And then he failed.

But that's temporary.

Let's understand that most politicians would never have attempted such legislation and change to begin with, specifically because of the very real probability of failure, and of the fear of the political finger-pointing afterward.

Nobody would know the stakes better than the first black President in American history.  Aware of the severe ramifications, he tried anyway.

Let's be proud of those who selflessly take chances for the better good.

And let's help them fix their mistakes rather than blaming them for their very humane imperfections.

Unless we have a better idea to create beneficial social change for the good of those less fortunate than ourselves--and I didn't see anybody else trying anything lately--let's help those who do, and not just point our fingers at them.

P.S.--According to his website, the health insurance marketplace is once again open.  Try it now, if you need to.  Give it a chance, and be thankful, as I always am, when someone tries to help.  Because, correct me if I'm wrong, but people don't often go out of their way to help change people's lives, do they? 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Quick Jots of November 12th

Photo: from the AP's Bullitt Marquez, on

Some very quick randomness:

--I sold my pool over the summer, but I kept the cover for it because the guy didn't want it.  I just used it to cover my best firewood and my expensive double Adirondack seat, and my entire shed porch.  You can never have too many things, like plastic or pool covers, that can cover other things.

--Just saw a gorgeous, fiery-red sunset.  But, baby, it's cold outside.

--I love firepits and fireplaces, but they dry up my sinuses to the point that my face is inflamed, or I get nosebleeds, or both.  You just can't win.

--Because I don't want to run the heat all winter and pay a ton for it, too.

--And it's going to be a very cold winter, much more so than usual.  I hope I'm wrong.

--It took me about four hours to clean out and organize my shed the other day.  And the entire second shelf of the large unit just inside has a ton of little black pellets on it, if you know what I mean.

--I took my North and my Route 95 signs down from the chimney yesterday, and hung it up in the garage.  I'm thinking that I don't want the metal freezing to the chimney bricks, and maybe ruining some of the brick.  Am I wrong for thinking this?

--This time of year makes me feel very content and homey, yet sometimes very blah and heavy as well.  Gotta keep busy...

--I don't write as much or as often as I should.  Do I have reasons, or excuses?

--The only shows I watch right now are The Universe; American Pickers; The Walking Dead; and American Horror Story.  I'm so busy, I've even missed a few Patriot games recently.

--What happened in the Philippines this weekend is terrible, and it's only going to get worse, as people get very sick from stomach and intestinal illnesses due to the bad water.

--And the storms that hit it will get more and more massive in the future, as well.

--80% of everything in the storm's track was flattened, and so many people have died that they're just laying in the streets.  And I thought I was having a bad day.

--And they just had a strong earthquake last week that also killed many.

--The health care website has been a huge pothole in Obama's otherwise stellar and productive years.

--Nobody from any other party has managed to take advantage of this, and Hilary still looks like the sure bet in the next election.

--I voted for her before; I'd vote for her again.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Book Review: Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason

Photo: Cover, from the book's Wikipedia page

Another of the Nordic Noir (this one takes place in Iceland) to become very popular in the last ten years or so, following in the wake of authors like Jo Nesbo, Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell and many more.  Not reaping the rewards of this new trend, by the way, are the translators of such novels.  They deserve just as much credit, if not more, than the actual authors.  Or do people think that Stieg Larsson wrote in English?  The style of the English, which has gained such notoriety from these Nordic Noirists, is more the translator than the author.  I'm just sayin'.  The translator for this one is Bernard Scudder.

Anyway, this one is very effective, and not much of a mystery, actually.  A skeletal hand is found (Killer opening sentence: He knew at once it was a human bone, when he took it from the baby who was sitting on the floor chewing it.) and the detectives in charge let an archaeologist unearth the whole skeleton, a long, painstaking process that allows the author to delve into the abusive past of the family who lived nearby the grave, as well as the self-destructive daughter of one of the detectives, and his own relationship problems.  The story unfolds in layers of shifting third-person omniscient narration, and the reader soon finds that the actual mystery is the identity of the skeleton--and of the one found with it later in the book.  There's a further subplot involving the broken relationship of the owner of the place that had once stood on the spot of the grave, and of his fiancee, who left him after she became pregnant with someone else's baby.  That's a running theme of the book: broken relationships, both between a man and a woman and between adults and their children.  In that sense, the book is especially Nordic--the noir comes not just from the writing style, but also from the insinuated hopelessness about relationships.  Nobody's got a good one here, but it ends with a brief but hopeful touch, though that depends on your point of view, I guess.  Less Nordic Noir than Henning Mankell's excessively cold and distant landscapes, and Stieg Larsson's detached characters and their often-xenophobic attitudes, but still noir nonetheless.  Think Raymond Chandler, but without the ditzy dames.

If you like this kind of stuff, as I do, you'll like this one.  I started and finished it in six hours, because I was unable to sleep.  So it's a quick read, and the shifting third-person omniscient narration never confuses.  I guessed the identity of the skeleton pretty quickly, and I think any astute reader would, too.  I get the feeling that the author (and translator) sort of knew this, but the reading enjoyment isn't because of the final answer, but because of the journey it takes to get there.  You let it unfold at its own pace, which is neither too slow nor too fast, and when it gets there, you're satisfied, even though you probably knew it the whole time.

Worthwhile as we enter the Noir winter in these parts.  I wonder if I can start a series of novels that will give rise to other writers doing the same sort of thing, and it'll all be called New England Noir?