Wednesday, December 30, 2015

My Top-10 Films of the Year (So Far) Part 2

This is Part 2 of my favorite films of 2015. For Part I, please click this link to read it.  Thanks.

As before, where I've written a blog entry of the movie, the title will be linked so you can go there. Thanks again.

5. Tie: Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part II and The Martian

Far better than Part I, because this one has a sense of fate, of finishing up, of ending a war and moving on with life. Its themes and messages are more mature than the other films, on purpose. And it makes a point to choose humanity over war, of even winning a war, which is dubious to me, but carried out well here. It asks: How barbaric are we willing to be to win a battle, or a war? That depends on the war, I suppose, and it's easy to make sweeping platitudes, but it all works here, anyway. It's directed better, too, though all the Hunger Games movies have the same director. A minor bone to pick is how Coin was situated right behind Snow at the end; I didn't read the books, but I didn't have to in order to know what was going to happen there. It couldn't have been telegraphed more than it was. But it all wraps up well, and meaningfully, and I'll repeat here what I said in the blog: Kudos to the filmmakers for making an action movie where a woman is the main character, the one kicking ass, and the one who has to save the rather short-sighted and dim-witted (or tyrannical) men. And for showing that a woman can be just as tyrannical, just as cold and evil. Not a single stereotypical female role here. That's rare.

The Martian is a very gung-ho, optimistic movie from Ridley Scott, who's not known for being that way. Like, at all. An astronaut gets marooned on Mars, and is forced to grow food from his feces and to listen to bad disco music before he's saved by his crew, which comes back for him, thereby sacrificing another year of their lives in space. The martian, for his part, loses a ton of weight and endures a few catastrophes, but never loses his smile or his extremely positive outlook. A friend of mine found this excessively unrealistic and therefore didn't like the movie. I disagreed, saying that the movie was purposely optimistic about space, space travel, and our role in space. It was Ridley's way of saying, "Let's fund NASA more, because Earth is screwed and sooner or later we're going to need to leave." Ridley is known to be fascinated by space, about living in space, about the optimistic and positive attributes of being in space. This despite Alien and Prometheus, very pessimistic movies about the horrors of space--though both do end with an optimistically intellectual attitude about space, and about our ultimate creation. Well, Prometheus does, anyway. So IMO The Martian has to be seen with this in mind. It's not unrealistically positive, exactly, because it's whole point is to be very positive about humans in space. Think, Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

4.  Jurassic World

Extremely exciting and hyper-visual movie that was lightyears better than Jurassic Park 2 and 3. In some ways, this even exceeds the original. Yes, it's still what David Letterman infamously called "mechanical lizards," but here there are flying ones with razor-sharp teeth, and the gigantic whaleshark, and the velociraptors and T-rex are back, plus one more...All of them very scary, and very real. These all existed in the past, unlike a few of the original movie's lizards, especially that annoying fan-shaped thing. Real danger, real menace, and a couple of characters--especially Bryce Dallas Howard's--who might also exist in real life.  It doesn't focus on the kids as much as the first one did, which worked better for me. So, yes, again, just a romp with CGI lizards, but an exciting, eye-popping one, guaranteed to please and make you wish for popcorn. An almost perfect summer action / special effects popcorn-chewing visual experience, that must really be seen on the big screen.

3. Mad Max: Fury Road

About this film I ca say almost the same thing as Jurassic World, but without the dinosaurs. An unbelievably awesome action romp, it's basically two very long action sequences, or a movie-long car chase. The most inspiring thing about it is that it's NOT CGI-heavy. George Miller wanted all the stunts and all the cars to be real, and they all look it. There are Cirque du Soleil performers, real cars on top of tanks, explosions and sand and jumping and so much precision it'll make your head spin. It's perhaps the best action movie ever made. That's not just me saying so, but most of the critics, too, all of whom have put it on their own Top 10 of 2015 lists. And the National Board of Review named it the Best Picture of the Year!!!

Perhaps as equally impressive is the message. First, it's an action movie with a message, a rare thing in of itself. That the message is of female empowerment and freedom is even more rare--in all of film, never mind in an action film. But don't lose sight of the fact that the cargo driven in the movie's War Rig is not gasoline, but the five women who are escaping with Charlize Theron's Furiosa to a better place, a world of green where they are not slaves, where they can be free. Think of the women worldwide, who live in cultures where they are not free, where they are subservient to men in absolutely every way (and I do mean every way) and I think you'll agree that this is no small thing.

2. Sicario

I have misgivings placing this here instead of at #1, and went back and forth about it. My reason is simple: It has hardly any special effects to speak of, and is all acting, writing and directing. It excels at all three, plus the score to boot, which I listen to on YouTube all the time, and will probably buy soon. Benicio del Toro gives a performance that is memorably chilling, and Emily Blunt gives a performance that is easily the best of her career. I hope they're both remembered at Oscar time--and Mark Rylance should be, too, for Bridge of Spies. (His performance was as quietly nuanced as del Toro's was loudly menacing, so it's tough to know who should get it. This shows the Oscars are often a crapshoot.) Anyway, this movie is exceptional in every way, and relevant, and a dirty little corner of America's politics and its (failed) War on Drugs. It's an important movie done dirty, menacing and well.

1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Of course. A huge movie that makes it all relevant again, and it sets the mark for the remaining movies. Makes you wonder why George Lucas went for the prequels and Vader, rather than the sequels, and Skywalker / Leia / Han Solo, plus the newcomers. My only caveat, as mentioned above, is that Sicario is all about acting, writing and directing, and does not count a lick on special effects. This movie has very good acting and directing as well, but it of course counts very heavily on its technical side--but how could it not, since it all takes place in space? Having said that, I don't know what else I have to say about it that I didn't say in my blog entry, so without further ado I'll direct you there.

Well, thanks for reading my two Top-10 Movie List blogs! What movies did you like the best this year? How would you rank the ones I mentioned?

Monday, December 28, 2015

My Top-10 Films of 2015 (So Far)

I may see one or two more before the year ends, but thus far here's my listing of the 10 films I saw this year.  When I've already written a blog entry for it, a link will be provided in the title of the movie:

10. Terminator: Genisys

A big let-down, and the only film I saw in the theatre this year that had me checking my watch. Couldn't wait for it to end. And making John Connor the antagonist was the biggest bonehead decision of 2015. Well, before Slater elected to kick away in overtime in yesterday's Patriots game.

9.  The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part I: I 90% liked it; 10% didn't.  Read about that here.

8.  Bridge of Spies

Not a bad film, exactly, as my blog entry said. But I couldn't recommend it with excitement, either. A professionally made, professionally acted, professionally delivered movie, and all over the year end's Top-10 lists in many places (and #8 for me, though I only saw 10 total movies as of 12.28.15.), but still not a film that will generate awe or excitement. Spielberg's genius works against him here. My expectations for his films are sky-high, and this isn't. Even more low-key than Lincoln was, but without Day-Lewis's awe-inspiring performance. A good film for a Sunday afternoon on cable.

7. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The Middle East is a land mass unlike any other in the world.  Without traveling it, if you want to get to Africa, you'd have to take a ship or plane.  Those who control the Middle East control all trade (today, much or most of the trade) coming and going from all of Africa.  Control that, and you will have riches and power, then and now.  Combine that with the extreme religious significance of those lands (three of the world's major religions spring from it) and combine that with the concentration of oil there, and you've got land that everyone wants. And they'll all fight for it. Forever.

Now think of this movie, and that mountain. It's got gold and not oil, but it's all otherwise the same. A better movie than it's being given credit for, especially when compared to Jackson's LOTR films. And a very political movie, too. It's got something very relevant to say.

6.  Spectre

A very good Bond film, Daniel Craig's 3rd-best, IMO, after Skyfall and Casino Royale. Expecting it to be as good as Skyfall was indeed too much to ask, and that's okay. The planets aligned for Skyfall, which was a better movie than it had a right to be, and perhaps was the best in all of Bond. And a great movie in of itself, by itself, that transcended the genre. Spectre doesn't do that, but it's a great ride nonetheless, and Christoph Waltz's performance is as good as you figured it would be. Though it's not as good as Javier Bardem's in Skyfall, Waltz doesn't have as much to work with, either. There are a couple of head-scratches here, in terms of what Blofeld does, and you wonder why he's treated as well as he is at the end (to better set him up in the sequel?), but overall this was a good ride.

Honorable Mention: Jaws (re-release).  This would have been rated if it had been released this year.

Top Five Next Blog Entry--to be continued

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens


Photo: Official Star Wars poster from the movie's official Wikipedia page

Warning: Here there be spoilers!!!

The Force has indeed been nudged awake, as J.J. Abrams does (the best of) George Lucas proud, while putting his own exciting, realistic-action stamp on the franchise.  Abrams does a nice job here of looking back as he looks ahead; he clearly went out of his way to show respect to Lucas, and to Episodes IV-VI.  He does this so often that he comes perilously close to simply remaking A New Hope; more than a few critics have said that The Force Awakens and A New Hope are basically the same film.

Some obvious nods / homages / outright steals:

--movie-important information is hidden in a small, round droid, which gets away in the middle of an attack

--the chess game, flashed on and off just to make fans of Episode IV happy (which works)

--a more powerful, meaner Death Star-like weapon that can destroy planets easily, here called Starkiller Base

--a glaring weakness in said weapon that the Rebels can explode from within

--the de-activation of this weapon's defenses from another location (okay, this is actually Episode VI)

--the Millenium Falcon and its victory in 12 (not 14) parsecs

--another Cantina scene

--another R2-D2-like droid, this time a rolling ball, with a bit of WALL-E in him, named BB-8.

--the boss of a bad guy wearing a black mask is clearly just using him and his Force as puppets for his own power.

--there's a lot of Freudian / mythological daddy issues here

--before the newest Death Star-like weapon can destroy more planets, there's a countdown that the rebel fighters must beat to destroy said weapon

--the main character of this one is a scavenger / orphan who doesn't know she has The Force.  Luke was, well, exactly the same.

--said same character gets attached to the Rebellion via the escaped droid, which has the plans that will...you get the idea.

Need I say more?  This is almost the same movie.

But also it is not.  The bad guy here literally is a Darth Vader wannabe--so much that he admits it! But he is no Darth Vader, and he's no Emperor.  He's not even Hayden Christiansen at his best as Vader, in Episode III, when he's fighting with Obi-Won Kenobi or when he's striking down the future Jedis.  He's no Ben Kenobi, either, despite his birth name. Kylo Ren does have a helluva sinister voice, though--from a mask that he doesn't need to wear, and does so only as an homage to Darth Vader.

The better villain is one we rarely see: Kylo Ren's master, Supreme Leader Snoke. We'll see more of him.  (And of Han Solo, I'll warrant.  In fact, a guess: Before Kylo Ren escapes the exploding planet, he finds his father and takes him with him.)

I say that this movie is essentially Star Wars 1977 in a good way.  As one reviewer pointed out: Isn't that what we all wanted anyway?  And I add: Isn't that why most of us disliked Episodes I-III so much, because it was all special effects and no magic?  That it was George Lucas losing The Force? Abrams simply gives us what he knew we wanted.  Though it's true that there are no huge surprises here, there is a very comfortable sit-back-and-enjoy feeling, while at the same time seeing something that is at least a little new, a little fresh.

Daisey Ridley is very, very good, as is Harrison Ford, who wears Solo's jacket much like he did Indiana Jones' coat--like he's comfortable in it, like he's never stopped wearing it.

Ford has infamously said many times that he has no emotional attachment to Han Solo.  I saw him tell Jimmy Fallon that he did it only because they paid him a lot of money. (Which they did: $25 million, plus .05% of the total revenue.  By my math, when this makes $1 billion [which it will do easily], that gives Ford...let's see: 10% of $1 billion is $100 million, so 1% would be $10 million, so half of that is $5 million.  Right?  Feel free to correct my math if I'm wrong.)  Anyway, take my word for it, Harrison Ford had fun in this role. He looked like he was having more fun filming this than he did any of his previous Star Wars movies.

Carrie Fisher is very serious here, as her character should have been in all of the previous movies.  I'm still not sure how I feel about Lucas dressing her in that bikini in Return of the Jedi.  Jabba would've made her wear that, I guess, but she's a princess there, right? I know that's the purpose of him degrading her, but...Whatever. P.S.--She's extremely negative in her commentaries for her previous Star Wars movies, released together with newer special effects in the late 1990s. She throws Billy Dee Williams under the bus a few times for forgetting his (few) lines and for needing constant re-takes.

John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver were serviceable here, but didn't wow me like Daisy Ridley did.  They'll have their chances in the next two movies.

Anthony Daniels as C-3PO and Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca reprised their roles well.  Chewbacca especially got most of the laughs.

Despite the new faces, this was definitely Ford's movie, and the moviemakers were wise to put it in his trustworthy hands. Aside from that, this was really Daisy Ridley's movie, and she showed me a lot. She's not just another pretty face.  When she's ready to kick ass with the lightsaber, her face shows it, and it's correctly intense and serious.  She gets an unreal number of (very) close-ups in this movie, which for any actor could spell doom. But she carried it all off, and only good actors can do that. She's got the Luke Skywalker role, and Boyega is the Han Solo.  (My guess, BTW, is that her character is Luke's daughter with someone, probably British.)

So go and see this if you're one of the 6 or 7 who want to see it but haven't yet. I'll see it again. IMO, it's the 3rd-best Star Wars movie, behind only The Empire Strikes Back and the original. (Return of the Jedi is 4th, mostly for its silliness. It's at its best with the super-serious chorus-filled lightsaber fight at the end.)

P.S.--It was nice to see Max Von Sydow here.  Gwendolyn Christie, from Game of Thrones, is the Stormtrooper leader, unmasked throughout the film. Speaking of stormtroopers, Daniel Craig, Mr. James Bond himself, is any one of the two million stormtroopers, in an uncredited cameo role.  

Sunday, November 29, 2015

AHS: Hotel

My thoughts about the first few episodes of AHS: Hotel so far:

This is from "Episode 2--Chutes and Ladders"

1. Whenever I see a scene like the blonde getting a cloud of white powder fluffed on her once she died, I think, "Now there's a sinus infection waiting to happen."  That's how often I get those.

2. Kudos to Falchuck and Company for referencing House of Cards, which isn't a Fox show.

3. I'm guessing that once someone violates one of the Ten Commandments, they're stuck in the Hotel Cortez.  Again, "...prisoners of our own demise."

4. Of course, Holden and the other kids were kidnapped, not sinful.  (And a thousand kudos to the show for the Holden / Catcher in the Rye reference when he was kidnapped on top of the angry horse on the carousel.  That horse was straight from the book's cover.  As is the name Holden itself.)

5. The Shining reference #12 or so: Rotting bodies in the shower.  Same green and brown splotches.

6. Saw the chutes.  Where are the ladders?

7. Ah, there.  In the bar.

8. The little girl wanders off during the fashion show and takes a public bus alone.  Great parenting.

9. Little kids acting in a show this adult is a tiny bit unnerving.

10. Ah.  I was waiting for the Hotel Cortez origin story.


Extra: The guy who built the Hotel Cortez is modeled after the very real H.H. Holmes, the butcher of the 1893 Chicago Expedition / World's Fair.  He built a house there with hallways that went nowhere, rooms to nothing, torture chambers, furnaces.  If you're into serial killers and the creepy, Google him.


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Being Thankful--Happy Thanksgiving 2015

I recently asked some people to explain what non-material things--besides family, friends, home and technology--they were thankful for.  Here's mine:

--A job I like.  (Most people I know hate their jobs.  I love mine.  Not every day is a fairy tale, but I love the job overall.)

--A good career, with good benefits.  (I get lots of sinus infections--as if that was my career instead.)

--My numerous interests.  (Writing; literature; baseball; baseball cards; the writing industry; short story and novel reading [and writing]; antique buying and dealing; dealing baseball cards [I'm also a part-time picker]; football; walking; hiking; biking; movies...)  You get the idea.  I think boredom is the worst kind of hell.

--My abundance of energy. (Until lately, I could subsist quite well on 4-6 hours of sleep per night.)

--My "intelligence."  (Real or imagined.)

--My imagination. (Which can often get out of control, and which is often not a gift.)

--My health.  (I used to be a lot worse off, and my sinuses--as terrible as they are--used to be much worse.)

--My sense of humor.  (Again, real or imagined.  If I'm only half as funny as I think I am, then I'm still hilarious.)

--My proximity to mountains, beaches, rivers, hiking and biking trails, and big cities.

--My local sports teams.  (I've got the Patriots and Red Sox.  True, the Sox finished last the past two years, but even then they're entertaining.  And they've still got 3 World Championships in the past eleven years, with a few other post-season appearances thrown in.  Plus I've got Fenway.)

--Great neighbors.  (Bad neighbors can be nightmares.)

--Heat, electric and an affordable education.  (Most people in the world don't have any of those.)

AND A HEAD'S UP TO CHRIS AND JAY AND TO ALL MY FAMILY AND FRIENDS WHO MADE THIS THANKSGIVING STRESS-FREE AND WONDERFUL.  YOU'RE THE BEST!!!


WHAT'RE YOU THANKFUL FOR?  (It's okay to comment even if it's not Thanksgiving anymore.)


Sunday, November 15, 2015

For France





                        VIVE LA FRANCE











Photo: From the Flag of France Wikipedia page.



Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King


Photo: First Edition front cover, from the book's Wikipedia page.

Quick note: I'm just the 27th to publish a review of this book on Goodreads, as of 10.10.2015.  Though I'm sure someone will have typed one up and posted it before I finish mine.  Mine, as you know, are long.

Very good short story collection, but then again they all are.  (Except maybe Everything's Eventual, which I dimly remember had more misses than hits for me.)  This one has more hits than misses--many, many more--and even the misses miss in just minor ways for me.  My biggest beef with them is that they were maybe insignificant to me.  They might not be to you.  To each his own.

The book begins with a disclaimer that most of the stories have, of course, been previously published.  There's some claptrap about how a story is never finished, but he's got to write something there, I guess.  The fact is, these stories have been published before, and only a couple have been extensively revised, and he's publishing them now because that's the cool thing about short stories: you get paid for them once, and then if you're a name that anyone cares about, you can collect them in a book and get paid for them again.  Much more this time for King, I assure you.  I wonder if he's still getting $10M per book, if he ever was.

In front of each story is a short comment about the genesis of each.  Entertainment Weekly said these were reason enough to read the book.  These are usually distracting for me, so I read them all at once, before I read any of the stories, and then I started reading the stories the next day.  Again, to each his own.  But he's written better intros than any of these.  (My fave's probably the one with The Bachman Books.)

Anyway, some quick thoughts about some (stop now if you don't want to know anything about a few of the stories):

"Mile 81" reads well, as all his stuff does.  You're maybe sick of reading the phrase "compulsively readable" in my reviews of King's stuff by now, but I'll continue typing it as long as it stays true.  Such is the case with this story, except that it's one of my "insignificant" ones in this book, which is not necessarily a terrible thing.  Who doesn't need a good, irrelevant story?  But I read this book (impulsively and compulsively) when I perhaps should have been doing something else, so I felt badly when I felt that tinge of "So what?"  In this one, an alien vehicle kills some better drawn-out characters than usual for this kind of story, and then flies away.  And that's what happens at creepy and abandoned rest areas.  A better story could be made of this.

"Premium Harmony" is a very effective story about a guy and his wife (who very much don't get along), and a dog that prefers her over him.  This one's very memorable and very well-written, and could actually happen.  Good voice and good ending--not always a King strong-suit.  I read this one before somewhere.  Maybe in DetailsAtlantic Monthly?  There's usually a Previously Published In... page, but not this time.

"Batman and Robin..." is okay, a good story that passes the time.  Won't stick in my noggin' but it may in yours.

"The Dune" is a very good story about a judge who sees names in a sand dune, and when he does, that person drops dead soon.  Clever little ending, reminiscent of King's Night Shift days.

"Bad Little Kid" was okay.  The kid in question is sort of representative of all evil, in a ghostly kind of way.  Stands in for Death itself, too.  This is actually a common theme in this collection.

"A Death" is an extremely successful little story that'll leave you guessing until the end.  Written in a different style and tone for King, and he pulls it off.  Very good detail, and it'll make you question your belief system--even if you know how far people will go to deny, and to save their own skin, even from themselves.  I've seen way too much of that, and I was still surprised.  Created a long conversation between myself and my better half.  I read this one somewhere before, and was still impressed when I re-read it again here.  Very memorable.

"Morality" is an effective, nasty long story.  Sort of like a more shrill take on Indecent Proposal.  I read this, and "Blockade Billy," in the limited-release book that had just those two stories, and something originally written for his son, if I remember right.  Anyway, this one says something about the human condition, though I'm not sure what.  Maybe that you can't run away from your own guilt, but he's done that better elsewhere.  What was that short story about the farmer who killed his wife and tried to run away from it but kept seeing and hearing the rats?

"Afterlife" was entertaining and okay.  Probably not memorable for me.

"Ur" was also good, and a welcome back to the men in yellow coats and a bit of the Tower.  Good.  No surprises.  One of the longest in here.

I'd read "Herman Wouk Is Still Alive" somewhere before and just skimmed it here.  Very good story.  A bit of a head-scratcher about life, about depression, about poverty.  About how some find peace and some don't.  Memorable.

"Under the Weather" is probably the most effective and memorable for me.  What does one do when someone you've placed your heart and soul to dies?  So effective because I can imagine this actually happening, in exactly the way that it does here.  And I think you will, too.

For "Blockade Billy," see "Morality" comment.  This is a good story that maybe baseball fans--especially those who like the game from the early 1900s like I do--will better appreciate.

"Mister Yummy" is a bittersweet take on the same themes as the bad kid story.  This one worked better for me, but again it's about getting old and dying, and about what might come next.  There's a lot of that in this collection.

"The Little Green God of Agony" didn't work for me.  Not a bad story, exactly.  A shoulder-shrugger.

"That Bus Is Another World" could have been titled "Kitty Genovese."  I liked it's point more than I liked the story, and it doesn't go with King's intro for it at all.

"Obits" worked for me, but the love-interest tie-in didn't, and it sort of peters out at the end.  Good idea; bad follow-through.  Okay story.

"Drunken Fireworks" was the clunker of the collection for me.  Skip it.

"Summer Thunder" is the bummer of the collection, but still a very good story and very memorable, though the ending is never in doubt, and there really wasn't any other ending King could've given it.  Because of all this, it's a huge victory that this story is still so readable and memorable and sad.  It tries for a strong human will ending that was just more sad for me, though it may register a little better for you.

All in all, this is a great short story collection that shows some of King's best writing in years.  Worth your money and time.  Get it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

"The Saddest Dog in the World"--Read On for Happier Ending

Before I show the picture, know that the dog is out of the shelter now, and is happier and doing much better, but still only in a temporary foster home.  As of this writing, she's still looking for her "forever home."



Photo: © Courtesy: Rescue Dogs Match via www.rescuedogsmatch.com The picture of Lana that went viral as the 'Saddest dog in the world'.

For the video, go to this address from msn.com

Excerpted from the msn.com article, until the drawn line:

Lana, also known as the "saddest dog in the world", is currently in a foster home waiting for her forever home thanks to an outpouring of support after her story went viral. 
The one-and-a-half-year lab mix is a foster dog with Rescue Dogs Match. She originally arrived in Toronto, Canada, when she was a puppy. 
Recently, Lana was returned to Rescue Dogs Match, a volunteer organization, after it did not work out with the family who took her in at five-and-a-half months old.
Mighty Mutts, which trains dogs, posted on Facebook that Lana had some guarding issues that were worked on when she was a puppy. "However, a year later she is exhibiting those guarding behaviors around food with people she is not completely familiar with," Mighty Mutts posted. 
Although her guarding issues were "non-existent when she was adopted," they began to surface, Mighty Mutts added on Facebook. 
"Because there were children in the family it was decided that it would be best for Lana to come back to our rescue so that we could find an adult only home with an experienced handler," Mighty Mutts wrote on Facebook.  [Go to this site to learn about these awesome people, and the godly work they do to save animals.]
Upon her return, a photo was taken of Lana and shared on Facebook of the dog appearing despondent, with her head down, leaning against the wall in a boarding kennel.  
Mighty Mutts posted that she would only come out of her kennel for two people. "She just shut down," Dahlia Ayoub, owner of Mighty Mutts and a volunteer dog program coordinator for Rescue Dogs Match, told The Dodo. "It's almost like her world shut down." 
She remained unresponsive for a day, The Dodo reported. No one could move her to go for a walk. 
__________________
But this is Lana, "The Unhappiest Dog in the World," now:

[Me, now.]  Lana is currently in a temporary foster home and is working with Mighty Mutts Training to fix her guarding issues.  (This means she gets testy when she's eating because she had to defend her food against 12 other dogs when she was younger.)  She'll soon be ready for adoption to a "furever" home--someone who can take her permanently.  
For now, Lana will continue to stay with her foster mom. This week, she will begin her strict training regime to correct her guarding issues with Mighty Mutts Training. Lana came from a terrible place as a tiny pup. She had to compete with 13 other pups for food. Although her guarding behaviours were non-existent when she was adopted, they did recently come back. We know she will do well with her training because she is, after-all, such a sweet and smart young girl. Mighty Mutts already has a plan of action for Lana's training and is confident that she will soon be ready for adoption.

We, again, want to thank everyone for their offer to help Lana. If you were touched by Lana's story and are not located in Ontario, Canada but would like to help, PLEASE check out your local shelter/rescues or trywww.petfinder.com . There are so many Lana's out there waiting for their big break. Lana is just one of millions of homeless animals that long for a family that will love them. If you are located within Ontario and interested in adopting Lana, please pop us an email to complete an application at info@mightymutt.ca

We will be looking for a home for Lana with the following requirements:

Lana is a timid girl in unknown environments. When she is with people she knows and trusts, she is silly and sweet. Lana is great left alone, good with other animals (cats & dogs), however, she may exhibit guarding behaviours around food with other animals. She loves to go hiking and is very good on a leash. The perfect home for Lana would be with one or two people who are experienced with guarding behaviours. No children. A quiet, routine home is a must. More to follow as we continue to work with Lana.

If you would like to make a donation so that we can continue to help dogs Like Lana, please click on this link (the amount raised is an accumulation of donations starting from January 2015):

https://www.gofundme.com/754zok

Please share Lana's story and help other dogs like Lana find their furever home!

[Me, again.]  I'm the super-proud owner of a saved greyhound--who just turned 13 on Halloween!!!  Happy Birthday, Jackson!!!

But I digress...There are a ton of dogs and other animals out there who need help. Lana, for example: think of what she went through to go from Mexico, where she was born, to a place that saved her in Canada.  The video said she's been with other people but saved from them, too!  Then she was at her last place for a year, and (perhaps understandably, since kids, other animals, and food guarding issues were involved) had to be sent back.  She's been sent back and forth so many times!  She must feel so unwanted and unloved!  So I saw this story, and the photo (Doesn't she look so hopeless and depressed?) and I decided I'd post the whole story and pass it on to my readers.
Please consider donating to the program that saves these animals and always, always, always takes them back.  Animals like her are at least saved for life, and are not put down or caged, or treated inhumanely. (I donate a lot to the ASPCA, who also do angelic work.)  Or consider going to your local shelter and adopting a pet there.  Adopting Jackson the Greyhound is literally one of the best things I've ever done, for too many reasons to go into.
If you live in Ontario, Canada, please consider adopting Lana when she is ready.
Please share this story on your blog, Facebook, Instagram, etc.  Your reader could be the one to help this dog.

Thank you.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

My Newest Short Story Is Up!!!

If you're looking for a very, very short story about a private detective profiling and following a possible rapist, then my newest short story, "Pink Lemonade," is for you.  It's free right now at OverMyDeadBody.com.  (It's also about letting people be; see: the last sentence and the title.)

And if you have a moment, please take a look at another Brad Foster story, "Everything's Connected," published last year at OMDB!, which the publisher was nice enough to link to this story.

I'm interested in what you think about "Pink Lemonade," so please send me an email or a comment and opine!

Thanks again for reading my stuff.  It means a lot to me.

BTW, I can log onto the website directly from my Microsoft Edge (Explorer) but not from my Google Chrome.  Can anyone explain this?

HAPPY HALLOWEEN, EVERYONE!!!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Murder Room


Photo: Book's cover, from my Goodreads page

For a writer like me (whatever that means), this is a great book, a source of story and book ideas for years to come.

It's also a great book for its content alone.  Capuzzo's writing took some getting used to, and I really didn't like how he sometimes jumped around, sometimes didn't (It reminded me of a recent time when I told someone that someone else we knew wasn't even predictable in her unpredictability), but the content is so compelling, and the cases so interesting, that you'll read on anyway, as I did.  The writing finally grounded itself about three-fourths of the way through, so that finally became a strength as well.

If you like this stuff--and I mean: investigations, tracking down killers, solving cases, profiling, cold cases, etc.--then this is a must-read.  If you don't, I don't know, because there's a lot of that here, even more than usual for books like this.  Much of it is grisly, and if you didn't have a healthy distrust of strangers before this, you will after this.  (Which is ironic, because the old adage is true in this book: 90% of all murder victims knew their killers well.)  If you can't handle the grisliness and sadness inherent in books like this, don't read this.  (The case of The Boy in the Box will especially haunt.)

The book, which is nonfiction, is about the Vidocq Society, a members-only group of the world's best investigators, morticians, detectives, profilers, crime scene analysts, and everyone else you can imagine associated with tracking down killers and serial killers.  (You need to read this if you don't know the difference between them.)  The group was started by three guys, all of them profiled (pardon the pun) here.

Frank Bender is (or, was, as he's died since publication) a bust-making artist of unparalleled excellence.  He could make a plaster bust of a face where one didn't exist.  He first specialized in time-lapse facial reconstruction.  What would a killer on the lam for 20 years look like since his last photo?  Bender made a cast of the guy's face, using a very old photo and a lot of whim, guessing, and innate talent, and the day after it was shown on America's Most Wanted, the guy was turned in.  Even more impressive: a skull is found with the face completely bashed in.  Using lots of research and a guess at what the partial sinus cavity would've looked like, and therefore the nose, etc., he made a bust that the murdered woman's mom saw and recognized immediately.  Fascinating.  He also had an open marriage and an insatiable drive and desire, not all of it artistic.  In essence, a whirlwind of energy you wish you had, used in ways you wish you could use it.  Bender was a very interesting, knowledgeable and, possibly, clairvoyant guy.  He said he could see and hear dead people in his dreams, and that he could feel the universe flow.  Read this book before you call that crazy.

Richard Walter is a profiler like no other.  Police departments take cold cases to him--and I mean, freezing, like over 50 years old--and he tells them where they went wrong, how they went wrong, and who the killer is.  The book makes it seem like he did this quicker than possible--he has to read case files over 1,000 pages long--but he soaks all the information in and somehow sees through all the wrong turns right away.  I've read a few myself, and I can't keep all the facts, wrong facts, suspects, wrongful suspects, theories, wrong theories, evidence, wrong evidence, and everything else straight in my head, or on paper.  He reads it, disects it, and tells you everything when he's done.  And he's always right.  BTW, the killer has over 90% of the time been questioned by police already, often several times.  Much of the time, the killer is who the police knows him (or, glaringly in this book, her) to be, but they can't prove it.  Often, Bender and Walter tell the police what they need to know so they, the police, can say it to the killer and get a confession.

William Fleisher put these guys together and started the group officially.  He's a well-respected investigator and a very well-liked and well-connected guy.  Elected the group's first president, he seems to be the glue that holds everything, and everybody, together.  He started the group with just these three guys, and now manages 82 (one for every year of its namesake's life) and hundreds of associate members.

As the society's website says, "The Vidocq Society is named for Eugène François Vidocq, the ground-breaking 19th century French detective who helped police by using the psychology of the criminal to solve "cold case" homicides. Vidocq was a former criminal himself, and used his knowledge of the criminal mind to look at murder from the psychological perspective of the perpetrator."  Bender was a former criminal as well.

Some of the many cases covered here are:

The Boy in the Box.  (Warning: This one is very depressing and disturbing.)

A robbery that was actually a planned murder.

A skull without a face.

A psychopathic murderess who worked as a waitress.

A guy who brings his case to the Society at their meeting, and is profiled as the murderer.

A young woman from Phoenix whose remains were found in Colorado.

Three cases over 50 years old.

There's so much going on in this book that it may need a second reading.  As engrossing as it was, I read some parts and I thought, "Yup, I can use that," several times.  So get past the scattered writing at first and you'll be taken for an interesting, chilly, intelligent, unbelievable, and--finally--well-written ride.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Bridge of Spies



Photo: Movie's poster, from its Wikipedia page.

First, before you read this review, go to YouTube and see Hanks and Jimmy Fallon acting out some short scripts made for them by kids, and about what kids know about spies.  The last script, about binoculars and friends, is a classic, and the kid who wrote it should get a prize.  Let the record show that the end of the movie is indeed about friendship.  And lots of the spies use binoculars on that bridge, too.

Okay, now...

Bridge of Spies is a film that is hard to rate and critique, since I can't say anything bad about the main actors or the directing (Spielberg hasn't been very bad since...Hook, maybe), cinematography (Janucz Kaminski is always very good), writing (the Coen Brothers!), or anything else.  It's all very good.

Yet I can't also recommend it with excitement, as I did with Sicario.  It's a Spielberg film, so you have to see it, and it's written (actually, re-written) by the Coen Brothers, so that's really good, and Tom Hanks is in it, and he and Spielberg haven't made a bad film together (though The Terminal took a little patience)--and yet, I found myself shrugging my shoulders on the way out, though not in a totally negative way, and I can't really explain it any better than that, though I'll try.

The acting is very good.  Mark Ryman probably performs the best, as the Russian spy.  He'll make you want to re-think your unnecessary worrying, at the very least.  (I'd say "Would it help?" to most people, about most things, but I'd get hit.)  Tom Hanks is typically outstanding in a role he's done many times now, and could perform in his sleep.  He doesn't here, but he could have and little would've been lost.  This is a step-by-step sort of movie.

And maybe that's part of the problem, though you know Spielberg will work with Hanks, and it is good casting here.  But there's no doubt that his character will get what he wants.  It's not set up as a mystery, exactly, nor is it exactly a thriller (another problem, maybe), and his character is so straight-up, so verbally astute, so good at selling, that you know he'll get his way.  The men he talks to are not idiots, either, but their hands are tied by bureaucratic nonsense, and politics, and Hanks' character has so much common sense and good ole American forthrightness that you know it'll all work out.

You can't have a thriller if the ending is never in doubt.  Also, if you remember your high school or college history classes at all (I can't remember where I learned about Gary Powers), you know he will be traded for the KGB guy.  Whether the college kid will also be dealt is the movie's greatest "mystery," but it's never in doubt, for the reasons I gave above.  I didn't remember him from wherever I learned about Gary Powers (as I remember that the U.S. thought he'd divulged everything, and that he was roundly frowned upon, but still wanted back, since he was an All-American Boy), but you know he's coming back or the Hanks character would have nothing to be smartly smug about.

Hanks's character is smartly smug, all movie long.  Normally, this would grate, but one of Hanks's abilities is to pull this off time and again, and not annoy.  It doesn't annoy here, and even seems appropriate to the film.  Believe me, if it didn't annoy me, it won't annoy you.  Those who know me will attest to this.

The movie ends with the note that Hanks's character was sent to Cuba by Kennedy to negotiate the release of 1,000 or so people, and that he walked out of Cuba with several times that many. That may have made a better movie, since nobody besides screenwriters of historical movies and History majors know anything about that, and I wonder (a little cynically) why that wasn't made instead.

The message is also very good, and maybe should have been highlighted more.  As Hanks's character says to Powers at the end, we--and only we--know what we do and why we do it.  Only we are in our own heads.  That's what makes good character, I guess, or a real man, or something along those lines.  (Though I know some real A-holes, as I bet you do, and these A-holes somehow manage to get along with themselves just fine, and undoubtedly sleep much better at night than I do.)

At any rate, that's the reason the KGB guy comes across so well.  He's just doing his job, after all, and he's doing it--patriotically--for his country.  He's fully aware of what may happen to him when he returns (though, according to the print at the end, it doesn't, and all was well), and just doing their job for their country is probably what some SS guys said at Nuremberg, but whatever...The point of most Spielberg-Hanks movies lately is that this is the way an upright man will behave, and in essence that's what we have here.

Maybe my biggest caveat here is that I felt like I shouldn't like or appreciate this movie, but I do, and I suspect you will too.  I also say this because I know it's gotten a 90% approval rating, and universal acclaim, as it should.  It's very solid, if not spectacular--and maybe that's yet another misgiving. From Spielberg, we expect spectacular.  I've been waiting for another Munich, another Saving Private Ryan, another Schindler's List, for a long time now. But he seems to be in another phase--let's call this the Moral American / U.S. History phase--and he seems to want subtlety, and behind-the-scenes manners that result in dramatic and important history.  This is what Lincoln and Bridge of Spies have in common.  Neither is a bad film, though Lincoln had Daniel Day-Lewis to hang its hat on, and Bridge of Spies doesn't.  That's not a slam against Hanks.  The movie simply isn't a tour de force, with that kind of central character and a performance necessary to carry it.

Anyway, you should see this, especially if you feel, like I do, that one really ought to see every Spielberg film, if you like movies at all.  But if there's a lot that you want to see out there right now (as there is for me, with The Martian and Crimson Peak still in the wings), and if you can't see them all, then wait to rent this one, or see it on cable.  But it is worth seeing, so don't miss it.  You probably won't want to see it again, though.  (I own every Spielberg movie, so I'll get this one, too, but I doubt I'd re-watch it.)

A very strange review, I know, but my reaction to it was a bit different than usual.  Still, see it.

P.S.--It seemed for awhile that this movie would be about how all Americans, or anyone embroiled in our justice system, deserve a fair trial, which the KGB guy certainly never gets, as the 5-4 Supreme Court ruling (against him) suggests.  It reminded me for a moment of Kevin Costner in JFK, where he tells his wife and crying kids that he's simply fighting for What's Right, or for Truth, more than anything else.  A very good film can still be made of this, with maybe this part of Bridge of Spies as its starting-off point.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Sicario





Photo: Sicario's movie poster, from its Wikipedia page.


A pulsing soundtrack, tense you-are-there direction, a fact-filled, dramatic screenplay and great performances--especially by Benicio Del Toro and Emily Blunt--all make this a great movie you just have to see.  The cinematography by Roger Deakins is an unbelievable plus.

Modern political topics like the U.S. / Mexican border, violent drug cartels, and free-wheeling cops all converge when Blunt, a specialist at knocking down doors in prototypically suburban Chandler, Arizona, is asked to join some federal operatives as they try to interrupt the drug cartels.

It's some very serious stuff, handled stylishly and seriously by French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, who I've never heard of before.  (The screenplay is also by guys I'm not familiar with.)  There are a lot of helicopter shots--which actually deserve a special mention.  These shots are not only beautiful and tense, but also weaved smartly into the plot and screenplay so they're not drawing attention to themselves.  How's that done?  By frequently having the characters talking to cops in helicopters "tracking" the bad guys via heat sensors and long-range video.  Good stuff, but still things that can be done from the ground, or in advance.  You'll see what I mean during the tunnel scenes; surely the drug traffickers can hear, if not see, a helicopter in the distance.  But you don't think of that at the time, because everything's so tense and beautiful.  There are some other nice directorial touches in those tunnel scenes.  They grabbed me so much that I ate much less popcorn than usual.

Emily Blunt's character works very nicely as the audience stand-in figure.  The movie has a you-are-there feel because she's there.  She's always tense, scared, and confused--and so you are, too.  The ads may make you think she's in almost 100% of the scenes.  She's not.  She's the main character, but quite a few scenes happen without her, especially those with Del Toro--who's the real scene-stealer of the movie.  I've never seen him in a role like this.  By the end, you'll be wondering who the real "bad guys" are.  (But don't forget what the guy at dinner had hiding behind the walls in that house in Arizona.)  Josh Brolin also does a good job in a small role.  He's had many such roles before.

The music is so pulsating, so tense, so grabbing, that it almost transcends the film.  (Currently I'm listening to it on YouTube.  I'll probably buy it.  It's that memorable.)  It makes the tense scenes even more tense, almost unbearably so.  It's very good.

Notice I've used the word "tense" a large number of times here.  It's not necessarily lazy writing; the movie is, in a word, tense.  Everything about it is tense: the acting, the action, the direction, the music.  It may be the most tense two hours you spend at a movie.  If you like that, go see it.

And let me know here who you thought the bad guys really were.

P.S.--On a side-note, kind of, ask yourself why Judas Iscariot had a last name in the Old Testament when nobody else did.  Even Jesus was called Jesus of Nazareth, or The Nazarene, in His lifetime.  (And he was called Joshue, or Joshua, of course, as well.  Christ, for those who don't know, is a Greek word that means "Anointed One" or "The Lord."  He was never known as Jesus Christ in His lifetime.  Neither the first name, nor the last, was ever his own.)  I mention all this because this movie begins with a definition of the word "sicario."  Compare it with the word "sicarii."  I'm just sayin'.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Quick Jots Oct. 2015

Just a few things:

--What the Pope said to Kim Davis: "Really?  Really?"

--Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders: Only in America, man.  Truly their political success makes this country special, in every sense of the word.

--Actually, the Pope said: "Can you make your husband change his clothes now?"

--The chances of your child "getting" autism from the flu shot is much, much, much, much less than your child dying of the flu, or of spreading it to someone who may die of it.  Or of making the flu more virulent.

--In India right now, a strain of the plague exists that is not vulnerable to any antibiotic at all.

--Since I published my recent Kim Davis blog entry, I lost a follower of this blog.  I wish you well, and I'll leave the light on for ya.

--But you still can't decide which part of your public job you're not going to do.

--BTW, the Constitution does not guarantee you the right to wield your religion as a weapon in your war against those you hate.  It guarantees you the right to have that religion, and it guarantees you the right not to be thrown into jail by the government for having that religion.  And that's all.

--You still have to do all parts of your public job.  And you have to serve wedding cakes to everyone, too, for that matter.

--Freedom of Religion means the government can't discriminate against you, and you can't discriminate against others.  Get it now?

--Note to bakery couple: You're spending more money on your defense than you would have if you'd just paid the damn fine and made that damn cake.  And, P.S.--How do you know the person who just made your pizza wasn't gay, and spit on it?

--And if you want to use the Bible as your weapon, you do so at your own peril.  It says that divorce is bad, too--and Kim Davis has been divorced three times.  The only things more surprising than that are that she has been married four times--and that she has been married at all.  Let the record show that she has not refused marriage licenses to those previously divorced.  Though she did (inadvertently, is my guess) give a marriage license to a transgender person.

--In all seriousness, this Pope--who is more liberal than the New Masses--probably did not pat her on the shoulder and say, "Good job."  I'm betting he very politely gave her some what-for, no matter what she ends up saying later.  I can see him whispering, "I've just worked very hard not to distance people from this religion, so will you please knock it off?"

--If there's to be yet another Carrie remake or sequel, she should be in it.  That's perfect casting.

--Now, from out of left field: Though the Yanks (See what I did there?) made the playoffs and the Sox didn't, the Sox are currently playing much, much better, and have more reason to be excited for next year than the Yanks do.

--The Yanks are not long for these playoffs, either.  They're old, they're tired, and they cannot consistently hit, drive in runs, or pitch well in innings 1-6.  They're in the playoffs because they have three hitters with 80-95 RBIs, and because their 8th and 9th inning guys are lights-out.  That won't be enough in the playoffs against teams with much, much more.

--Religion, politics and sports.  Yup.  Sorry about that.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

New Disasters--The Black Death

Interesting little book--just 111 pages--about the Black Death of the Middle Ages, between 1347-1351.  I saw it in my local library while I was researching plagues and flus for my next novel.  Though I'm focusing more on the Great Plague of the 1660s in England, and not the Black Death of the Middle Ages (for they're not the same thing, and there are a great number of differences), I figured I could learn a little something from this.

It's broken up in sections: its arrival; recent scientific re-assessments (this was published in 2003, so it's still relatively recent); writings about the plague from the time; and the repercussions of the Black Death.

What I learned, in no particular order:

--It seems now rather certain that the Black Death wasn't just the Justinian Plague, carried by fleas on black rats.  Lots of evidence indicates that anthrax (the disease that killed cattle, not the powdery stuff used in germ warfare today) was also going around, either on its own or as a unique anthrax / plague strain.

--Part of the evidence for this was the unbelievable number of animals dying before the people started to die.  Also, the deaths did not abate much in the winter--odd for a plague dependent on fleas and rats to spread it.  (Neither survive or move around much in the winter.)  And people died with extreme rapidity from a third strain of the plague; it was said that they could go to bed feeling fine and be dead by morning.  (This does not seem to be an exaggeration.)

--The plague was said to come from vapors within the Earth, released during earthquakes.  It was believed that breathing man-made yuckiness--like from latrines--was beneficial, and would fight off the nastiness from within the Earth.  Planet alignments and other astrological things were also blamed.

--People died faster than they could be buried.  Putrefying bodies of people and animals would lie in the streets, and the stink was said to be incredible.

--Gravediggers, doctors and clergy died fastest, as they attended to the dead and dying.  Since nobody was left alive to bury the dead--and since those left alive didn't want to touch the dead or dying for fear of getting sick from their "humours" and "vapors"--a lot of money was paid to people who called themselves becchini.  These people would take the dead from their homes, from the streets, etc. and bury them.  But after awhile, nobody wanted to touch or associate themselves with these people, either, so the becchini became disgruntled and homeless, and often turned to crime.

--Those who couldn't afford to be cared for or buried simply weren't, and died alone in horrible conditions, and their bodies left to rot wherever they died.

--The Black Death may have some DNA in common with the HIV / AIDS virus.  Recent evidence suggests that 12%-15% of those with European descent--and an ancestor who contracted the plague and survived it--may be immune to the HIV / AIDS virus as well as the Black Death.

--The same plague from the Middle Ages is alive and well in a few spots, including the Midwestern U.S.  Some cases have cropped up in Colorado recently.

--A strain of the Plague--as well as strains of other viruses--are immune to today's strongest antibiotics.  A cocktail of super-antibiotics is used to fight these resistant viruses now.  Once the viruses become immune to these cocktails--which is very soon--there won't be anything left to stop them.

--God, then like today, was thought to be punishing the bad people.  [See: AIDS in the 80s.]  But then everyone, of every stripe, class, age and religion, started dying, so that theory was dashed by everyone--except the living, of course, whose every breath proved their moral superiority.

--A common "cure" was to bleed and purge the victim.  This led to an even more rapid death due to blood loss, exhaustion, dehydration, and a weakened immune system.  Those who came in contact with the blood or feces of the victim could contract the illness as well, so that the "cure" killed them, too.

--Mercury was often recommended, which made plague victims die of the plague and of mercury poisoning.  Several learned people complained that their doctors were killing them quicker than the pestilence was.  (BTW, the plague was never called the plague at the time.  It was called a "pestilence" or "the Great Pestilence.")

--The most common thing doctors did for the victim?  Study their urine.

--In some towns, when one member of a family got sick, the entire family was sealed inside the home, so that everyone--the healthy and the sick--died.

--Before everyone died of the plague, those blamed for it the most were the Jews and the undesirables of society.  [See: World War II.]  It was commonly believed that Jews were poisoning the wells, and tens of thousands of Jews across Europe were hunted down because of this belief, including entire communities.

Anyway, a little book that, in these virus-ravaged days, makes for some eye-opening, if not chilling, reading.  With the Earth long overdue for a pandemic like the 1918 super-flu, and with our current attitudes about change and blame, this book made for some quick, interesting and thought-provoking reading.

The more things change, it seems, the more things stay the same.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Girl in the Spider's Web

An exceptional novel that I almost gave up on in the beginning.  As bad as the first 1/4 or 1/3 was, the book picks up speed and quality after the death of a noted computer specialist--and the emergence of Lisbeth Salander.  Whether by design or by accident, the book becomes extremely good after she emerges.  Her character meshes everything and everyone else, and makes it all work.  Before she appears, it all flounders.

The four books have the same tagline on the front cover: "A Lisbeth Salander novel."  Though Mikael Blomkvist is also in all four books, Salander, again, is the fulcrum that powers the works.  David Lagercrantz, taking over for Stieg Larsson, undoubtedly knows this.  But you wouldn't know that at first, as Lisbeth is behind the curtain and is only barely even spoken of.  Larsson notoriously hindered his last novel by doing the same to her--keeping Lisbeth prone in a hospital obviously paralyzed her movements, and when Lisbeth isn't moving, neither is the book she's in.

And so I have to believe that it is by design that she doesn't appear for awhile here.  Maybe Lagercrantz believed he was building tension, or maybe he believed he didn't have an open door for her until he finally did.  I don't know, but these books don't work like Dracula did; the more you didn't see the Count in the book, the more mysterious and terrifying he became.  Salander isn't like that.  She's not terrifying (except maybe to the men who hate women); she's kinetic.  She bristles with energy and fury.  (Maybe her fury gives her this hyperactivity and kinetic energy.)  It's possible that Lagercrantz believed he could offer up too much of a good thing by making her appear too early.  If so, he's probably right, as it's really not possible that someone of her limited physicality could actually brim with as much energy and survive the shocks her flesh was heir to.  (I'm a rather hyperactive slim guy, but I haven't been shot multiple times, or been abused as she had been in her youth and in the first book.)

The writing is very Nordic Noir: very dry, very "Just the facts, ma'am," and very specific.  In the beginning, this was to the point of being pedantic, and it almost became stale before Lisbeth appeared.  Then, the writing fit her persona, and it all took off.  Lagercrantz also does a good job playing the cards he's been dealt by the first three books, and then running with them.  Though his writing is a little different from Stieg Larsson's, by the end it does seem possible that Larsson could have written this.  None of the characters do anything they shouldn't do.  They don't behave strangely or do strange things.  There is a relationship that gets downplayed here, but I was expecting that.  For this series to take off with Larsson's passing, one relationship had to sort of cool, and one had to sort of subtly pick up.  If you've read all the books, you should be expecting it, too.

And, finally, Lagercrantz somehow manages to flesh out Salander here, without going too far.  He does toe the line, but he doesn't cross it, and what we learn and see of her past is worthwhile, riveting, and completely at home with her character.  There are also some very interesting premises here, including a neat little section that shows how computer intelligence has increased in just five years.  This section posits the question: What would happen when a computer can learn by itself, and fix its own mistakes?  A character wonders what a computer would think when it realized it's owner--who can turn it off, remove its insides, and essentially kill it--is much less intelligent than it is.  It all sounded too uncomfortably like a computer very soon could be some sort of HAL, Skynet, Blade Runner hybrid.  This stuff alone made the book interesting and worthwhile to read.  It all stays just on the good side of info-dump.  As in Larsson's books--and as in the genre itself--there is a lot of character-explaining here, and they sometimes talk a little too long, longer than it seems that real people do.  But, again, it stays just on the good side, and it never slows down the pace of the book once the pace establishes itself.

And so finally this book was a winner for me.  It's clearly better than the third Larsson book, possibly better than the second, and equal to the first.  Possibly it's better than any of them.  You should read it.

P.S.--Unlike most book series, this book builds upon and needs the other three, and so the reader should read each of those before he reads this.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Appreciation From Time to Time

Very enjoyable sequel to Time and Again until the ending that almost ruins the whole thing.  This book violates a rule that Finney seems to have established with the first book: a sense of wonder and fun is more important than a sci-fi plot device or message.  The ending is a cruel trick on a character who deserved much better, just to re-state a message already mentioned many times over. 

This also does an injustice to the sinking of the Titanic, treating like an "ah-ha" morality trope, rather then the world-changing tragedy (as the book itself says) that it was.  Also unfortunate were that the two characters who witness the sinking of the Titanic don't describe it--an impossibility, as it jarred for life every single survivor.  Here it's unmentioned, and the narrator offers a sort of epilogue and the thing ends.

There's also false advertising, as the back of the book blares the news that the novel revolves around the main character's attempt to change the course of history by changing the fate of the Titanic.  But, actually, the Titanic doesn't show up in the book until the last 20 pages or so, and the main character's only on it for 10.  Despite the ad copy, this book has almost nothing to do with the Titanic at all.  In fact, this book could have very easily ended without including the fateful voyage at all.  Had it done so, it would have been a much better book.

This time, everything I'd written about the wonder of the 1880s of Time and Again also fits here.  The era is 1912, of course, and it mostly focuses on Broadway, its plays, and an odd but entertaining digression about vaudeville performers and other circus-like performers.  They evidently graced the Broadway stage in the time, as did many other types of performances that may surprise you.

Again, the main reason to read this is the description of NYC in 1912.  The plot doesn't matter.  The tropes don't matter.  The messages don't matter.  If you can lose yourself in the world described here, and forget the ridiculousness of plot and morality--passed off here as philosophy, but don't be fooled, it's morality--then this book is still worthwhile.  It's taken me a few hours to get over the ending, and the movie Titanic has been on HBO all day, and is on now as I write this, which doesn't help at all, but the two books really are fantastic escapism into another time and place.  They are worthy of reading and of wonderment.

What isn't worthy, again, is Finney's treatment of his female characters, who are again very minor, very in love with the main character, and frankly treated like little girls who can't help themselves.  Both girls (Julia from the first one, and the unnamed woman [!] from this one) are better women than their author treats them, and deserved better.  You'll probably tire, as I did, each and every time the main character apologizes to the reader (and to Julia, by association) for kissing this book's heroine, which he does consistently and, apparently, uncontrollably.  Again, she deserves better than the ending she got, and the name she didn't get, and I'm getting annoyed about it all again as I write this.

Whatever.  Feel free to just let those things pass and to lose yourself once again into the very well-realized New York City of the past.  Again it'll seem like you're walking down Broadway yourself, seeing what he sees and living the life he lives.  It's worth it to do this.

If you do, let me know if the ending bothered you as much as it did me.  I can overthink things sometimes, which you already know if you've read my reviews. Too bad Finney died at approximately the same time this book was published.  As he re-wrote the ending of the first book to make this one possible, so too could he have changed the ending of this one in the beginning of a third.  These are now as stuck in time as his two New York Cities are in theirs.  It's a curious statement of the solidity and permanence of history, as their own unique--yet similar--times and places, to be experienced and appreciated, never to be either again.

Time and Again the main character states an appreciation for the moment he has just experienced, the thing he has just seen, the air he has just breathed, appreciated for the unique and temporal experiences that they were.  If only I could do the same, as often as I should.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

A Sense of Wonder--Time and Again

I read this book partly because I'm researching a book of my own that takes place partly in 1892--ten years after the 1882 of this book, but still, I didn't have any 1880s information at all.  Turns out, Finney infamously uber-researched for this book.  In fact, it seems that the sole reason he wrote this book is to simply describe 1882 until it felt like he lived there.

This he does.  If you're at all interested in the past--and the 1880s in particular--you should read this book.  If you live in New York City and want to know how Broadway and Fifth Avenue and the many buildings constructed in that time became alive in their own right, and then grew into the life's fabric of the city, you should read this book.  If you're even a little bit a traveler or an explorer at heart--if you're even a little curious or interested in history and people at all--you should read this book.  And if you think it's interesting to understand the people of the era--the actual, flesh-and-blood people of a time--more than just the important historical facts themselves (as I do), then you should read this book.

In short, this was quite a little pleasure, a rare, quaint joy that reading should bring but often does not, even when reading a good or important book.  This gets you away.  Not just into 1882 NYC, but the mid- to late-Victorian Era of your own town and city.  Have you ever wondered what it was like in 1882 where you are?  This book may give you an idea.  Chances are, it was like this, just maybe on a lesser scale.

But the air was clean and the people were evidently a little more carefree than the early pictures would have us believe.  There were horses and sleighs everywhere; children played outside, even in the winter.  There were no screens to enslave us, no computers to weigh us down.  People awoke early, at sunrise, and went to bed just after sundown.  There were telegraph wires everywhere, like electric wires today, so the landscape wasn't as bare as you might think.  The el rattled the city, and electric trains shouldered aside horse-drawn carriages and coaches.  Everyone walked, and people probably spent more time with each other.

This is romanticized history, of course.  You won't see how the very poor live here; in fact, the author just barely refers to them at all.  Most of the action takes place in the richer Broadway, Fifth Avenue part of Manhattan.  There aren't minorities here, either--these things, and the way Finney handles female characters, make the book seem a little less sophisticated than what we may be used to today.  They aren't jarring, and they aren't what this particular story is about, but there it is nonetheless.

It was written by the guy who wrote the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (that was the other reason I wanted to read this), so there's a slight sci-fi aspect here, but it is very slight.  This is more historical fiction than it is science fiction.  It's a bit of fantasy, too, if you think of 1882 NYC as another world, which it sort of is.

My favorite thing about this book (and books like it) is the sense of wonder that it instills in the reader.  Finney clearly was enjoying himself as he wrote this, and the writing and tone exude a sense of wonder that he himself must have been feeling while writing this.  You get the feeling that if Finney has the chance to walk into 1882 NYC and to stay there, he would have as well.

Would you want to stay in the 1882 of your own place?

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Kim Davis and Issuing Marriage Licenses

A few thoughts about Kim Davis:

1. She's being called a martyr by some, but I'm not so sure she is.  Why?  Well, she's obviously enjoying herself here, proud of her self-righteousness and her popularity.  I guarantee you that the second nobody cares about her situation anymore, she'll say okay and get out of there.

And, oh yeah--Martyrs don't typically enjoy their punishment as much as she clearly is.  Getting crucified, stoned to death, or hanged upside-down on a cross are not enjoyable experiences.

2. This is not about her religious beliefs.  It's about her.  In a narcissistic way.

3. And it's about her power.  Her mother issued marriage licenses for 37 years, and she was her deputy clerk for 27 of those years.  She's been issuing licenses herself for who knows how long, and her son has been her deputy clerk for years.  I'll bet she's thinking, Nobody...Nobody, not even a federal judge, can tell me who I have to marry.  In this way, it's not at all about religion.  It's about power.

4. Speaking of power, it's also about the power of judges--in the Supreme Court, and in other courts who have ruled on this--who don't like it when someone stands in front of them and tells them she is not going to follow their law.  No Supreme Court, or Superior Court, or any other type of judge will appreciate this.

5. Anyone notice that she looks like Carrie White's mother, minus the blonde hair?  Look at her eyes.

6. Someone find me the New Testament passage where Jesus says that marriage is only between a man and a woman.  What was Jesus's stance on this?  I don't know.  I guarantee you, Kim Davis doesn't, either.  Apparently, she's blipped on the passage where He says to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  After all, she has been married four times.  And what about those who are without sin casting the first stone?

7. Speaking of that, I like how her husband has been taking her side on this from the comfort of his own home.  He's behind her, all right--way behind her.

8. It's very disconcerting to see almost every Republican candidate for President publicly siding with her on this.  I didn't expect them to suddenly be for the gay community, but I'm surprised they are all so openly and blissfully unaware of the democratic dictum of Separation of Church and State.

9. I would not vote for anyone who so clearly did not understand the importance of separating Church and State.  Our Founding Fathers--who were very, very religious men--still put democracy over their religion.  They did this for a reason: Because when Religion rules the State, history has shown us that we'd have something really, really bad.  Look at many news stories today in some parts of the world.

10. Her lawyer is clearly not giving her quality legal advice, and may be purposely throwing fuel on the fire, which lawyers are not supposed to do.  His law firm is a Christian firm, and only has Christian clients with Christian issues.  He's clearly espousing his own agenda here, and not giving his client good legal advice.  This is the man who compared this woman's jail stay to that of Martin Luther King's.

11. Some politicians, judges and lawyers are saying that she should be excluded from issuing these licenses because of her religious beliefs.  They are trying to pass legislation that would exempt someone from doing any part of their job that they say violates their religious beliefs.

This is, of course, impossible, and ridiculous, for many reasons.

a) You can't decide what part of a job you will do and won't do.  In this case, her public is her employer, and she therefore has to follow the law that governs her public.  As one of the men seeking a license said, he was a taxpayer who was paying her to oppress him.  That is obviously a violation of his    civil rights, and is obviously unconstitutional.

b) Can I say that every single aspect of my job violates my religious beliefs, and therefore I will not do them?  Can I say that the parts I mostly don't like violates my religious beliefs? Cuz if so, I'm doin' it.  And still getting my paycheck.

c) Where is the line for the term religious beliefs?  Can Creationists flat-out refuse to teach evolution at all, not even mentioning it as a theory?  What would atheists say?  How about people who don't want to work with--or serve--divorced people?

12. Does the phrase, "...the right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness" mean anything to anyone?  I mean, really, can anyone tell people that they can't get married?

13. Marriage comes with some good tax breaks, insurance benefits, and ability to inherit money and land from a loved one.  It is not constitutional to prohibit marriage to someone for this reason alone.

14. Beware of someone whose life revolves around one person or thing.  Her religion is not that one thing.  Her beliefs are.  It's important to understand this distinction.  Because of this, her happiness predominates, to the point that she does not consider the happiness of others relevant.

Like I said, Narcissism.


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Rights to "Pink Lemonade" Sold to OverMyDeadBody.com

I'm happy to say that another short story, this time "Pink Lemonade," has been sold to OMDB!  (Well, the rights to the short story were sold, but you know what I mean.)  Anyway, the good folks over at OMDB!--namely the editor, Ms. Cherie Jung--also published another Brad Foster short story, "Everything's Connected," in August, 2014.  I'm grateful again to Ms. Jung.

I don't know when "Pink Lemonade" will be published, so I'll keep you updated.  Remember that OverMyDeadBody.com is a free fiction site (though it pays its authors, of course), and it publishes quality short mystery and detective fiction.  If you like the genre, please give it a shot.

Thanks again to Ms. Cherie, all the folks at OMDB! and, of course, to all my readers.  You all rule!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Bones by Jan Burke



This book has been sitting on my shelf for years, so maybe there were unrealistic expectations.  I was also impressed with the Edgar Award for best mystery this book won, as well.  But I wasn't overly impressed by the end.  It left me underwhelmed.

The first third or half was solid.  Investigators in the mountains; a serial killer with them.  Bodies turn up and you know the killer will get away.

But there were so many missteps after that.  The dialogue is really, really terrible.  Very stilted, very unrealistic.  It talks down to the reader and overexplains really simple things, as if the author didn't think the readers could follow along.

Some scenes just backfired.  When the killer mails to the main character, a reporter, a pair of her own underwear, she and her co-workers break into inexplicable laughter.  The author tries to say that the hilarity is due to extreme tension, but it never comes across that way.  It's just an awkward scene.  There's a lot of those.

An example that blends both of these: a bomb is set up beneath one of the bodies in the mountains, and the killer gets away (after awhile) in the confusion.  The author/narrator (or the first-person main character) asks: How could have known that was going to happen?  I read that and immediately thought, I did.  You will, too, even if you're not a particularly astute reader.  Awkward.

And the end is unrealistic.  The killer, a genius, suddenly comes to her workplace, where there's an armed guard or two, plus co-workers, plus a helicopter that lands on the roof--and he doesn't know any of this, even though he has stalked all of his other victims to the point of knowing their lives better than they do.  The ending is really unfulfilling.  It hinges on the identity of the killer's helper, but you'll figure that out before too long.  You might even see it right away, not too far into the book.

These could be forgiven if the writing was good enough, but it's not.  It's awkward, the dialogue is just plain bad, and it mellows in a sentimentality and, at times, in suddenly jarring religious-speak (the main character suddenly says out loud to someone that they don't have to work on the Lord's day--even more confusing, since the narrator says she's mostly a non-believer)--and, well, the book's an award-winning mess.  I have nothing against a suddenly and unrealistically religious character, or occasionally bad dialogue, or scene and plot missteps--but not all at once in the same book.

This book is the 7th in the series, but you don't have to read any of the previous ones to read this one.  Unfortunately, I have no desire to do so, nor to read any of the next ones.  I see that I have written more negatively of this book than many have, but I don't see any way around it.  If you wish, someone please let me know if the previous ones, or the latter ones, were any better.  I've never seen the show based on these books, but the clips look good, and the show's been successful for some time now.  If you're watching that, please let me know if it's any better than the books.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson



Photo: from the book's Wikipedia page, here.

A very readable, funny and surprisingly informative book, great to read while you're sleeping on the couch in the living room every night so you don't have to put The Cone of Shame on your dog, which will make him (literally) cry, which will keep you awake.  It's also good to read any other time.

This book, about Bryson's attempt to walk all 2,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail, is a good read even if you don't like hiking.  It's not about hiking at all.  It's about doing something strenuous; it's about stepping out of your comfort zone; it's about chilling out overall, but especially with Nature; it's about disconnecting to all media and connecting to yourself, to Nature, to your inner being.  Or, like, whatever.

You get the idea.  But, really, stepping away from the cellphone and from the Internet and going for a walk is a really good, healthy idea.  You don't have to do so for many months, non-stop, as some people do when they walk the Trail--the whole Trail, from Georgia to Maine.  That sounds insane to me, and is just impractical.  I mean, we've got lives, right?

But I'll bet your state has its own trails.  Even mine does, and I live in the smallest one.  So why not just unplug and get out there, even for just a few hours?  Maybe there's a trail that traverses your state--and I don't mean Route 95, or even an actual road at all.  That's not legal, so don't hike those. But how about a bike path that goes across the state?  Walk it in steps, for three hours every Saturday (for example), until you walk the whole thing?  Drive to a spot, or, even better, get dropped off at a spot and then get picked up at a later spot.  Or take the bus home.  Who cares?  Just, for God's sake, get out there.

This is Bryson's overall message.  He knows it's not easy, but that's why challenges are...um, challenging.  That's the point, isn't it?  To set a reachable goal for yourself, and then exert yourself to reach it?  So what if you don't know the name for every tree, plant or flower you come across?  You'll be out there, exercising, getting in shape, accruing better cardio-vascular health.  Maybe even shed a few pounds.  (I have to mention here that you should consult your physician first, so you can't sue me or Bryson.)

Take this book with you on those jaunts when you need to sit, drink water, eat a little, and rest.  It's a breeze to read, and you'll maybe find yourself agreeing with Bryson when he dryly attacks the Trail's administrators' ridiculousness.  The Forest Service and other government entities get their comeuppance as well--and they should, when you read what they've done to our natural resources over the years.  He takes a potshot at stupid people--I'm talking shockingly dumb here--which I'm all for, as well.  (Quick, extremely minor example: People who park their car at a spot on the Trail, walk ten minutes in, walk ten minutes back, and tell their friends that they've "walked the Trail."  They do so, on the Trail, while on their cellphones, of course, thereby bringing to the Trail that which the actual walkers are trying to escape from.)

Anyway, sever that technology cord and get on a trail or path near you.  And read this book, too, when you can.

P.S.--If you intend to see the upcoming movie, as I do, it's best to read the book first.  And see if you agree that casting Nick Nolte in the role of Stephen Katz is a no-brainer.