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Posts Tagged ‘Moderate To Strong Recommendation’

Book Review: “Running Blind
Today’s book review is “Running Blind” (2000©) written by Lee Child.  This is the fourth in the Jack Reacher action / mystery series.  In this episode, Reacher is co-opted by the FBI to help them solve a serial murder case.  The case seems to be related to the military, hence the need to involve a former officer in the Military Police.
By “related” I mean the murders involve females who were sexually harassed while in the military.  The initial “perp” profile indicates it “might” be someone like Reacher because blah, blah, blah and he handled a bunch of these cases while he was in the service.   If fact, he is detained by the FBI because he seems to be a likely suspect.  He worked on the cases of a couple of the victims, so he seems to be a common thread.
The story follows what is becoming the standard story for this series: Reacher is dragged into something, he goes from being an unwilling participant to being a willing participant to being the brilliant “Sherlock Holmes” and solving the mystery at the end.  The problem with the series remains: there are already twenty plus books in the series and this is only number four, so there can be no personal tension, no matter how much the author tries to create a build-up.  We know he is going to live to be in the next book.
Having said this, the book is a good, fast read even though it felt longer than the earlier books in the series.  It weighs in at 519 pages in my paperback version.  If there is one difference in this episode, it is that we have a continuation of the story arc from the last book.  That arc is his love interest and the house he inherits from the father of the love interest.  Let’s just say, Reacher is a rolling stone, and leave it at that.  It is interesting because it is the first hint the books are not 100% stand-alone stories.  Does it “matter” in the grand scheme of things?  Not particularly.  Just interesting.
Final recommendation:  moderate to strong.  It is a good story, but I knew who the real perp was before the big resolution at the end of the book.  I didn’t know the how or the why, but I had pretty good ideas.  As an aside, I was expecting a super-twist at the end.  It didn’t happen.  Perhaps that’s why I was a little disappointed.  Anyway, I’m still looking forward to reading more books in the series.
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On This Day In:
2016 There Is A Difference Between Dangerous And Frightening
2015 Always A Goal
2014 Standing Strong
2013 Shaken And Stirred
The Bird With The Broken Wing
2012 Friends In High Places
2011 Objective Independence

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The Divergent Series – movies review
As of this writing, “The Divergent Series” are two movies based on the trilogy of young-adult adventure books by the same name.  The released movies are: “Divergent” (2014) and “Insurgent” (2015).  There are two more movies projected to complete the book trilogy.  The next two movies are due out in 2016 and 2017.  I have not read the books, so I can’t comment on how accurately the films follow the books.
The basic story is that humanity has almost destroyed itself and in an effort to preserve the species has built a giant wall around the city of Chicago.  Within the walled city, the people have divided themselves along five basic character types: Abnegation (selfless), Dauntless (courage), Erudite (intelligence), Candor (truth) and Amity (peace).   There are technically two additional “factions”: the factionless (those who don’t accept the faction system or who can’t pass the initiation phase of the chosen group) and the divergent (those who can fit in more than one group).  The factionless are ostracized and the divergent are to be killed.  The Erudite are seeking to take full control of the city and initially try to use drugs on the Dauntless to control them and force them to slaughter the Abnegation who the Erudite consider to be their main threat.
The main characters are:   Beatrice “Tris” Prior (divergent) played by Shailene Woodley, Tobias “Four” Eaton (dauntless) played by Theo James, Caleb Prior (erudite, brother of Tris) played by Ansel Elgort, Christina (dauntless, female friend of Tris) played by Zoë Kravitz, Peter Hayes (dauntless, minor bad guy) played by Miles Teller, Jeanine Matthews (erudite, main bad guy) Kate Winslet, and Eric Coulter (dauntless, main “muscle” bad guy) played by Jai Courtney.
Most of the first movie is devoted to Tris finding out what a divergent is and that she is one of them.  Raised an abnegation, Tris chooses to be dauntless.  The struggle between her heritage and her training is what fully develops her divergence.  So…, intro story development, blah-blah-blah, action, “you’re going to be a bass-ass”, blah-blah-blah, seize the flag in a carney, blah-blah-blah, minor attempt to have a romance, then more blah and action (stop the dauntless and save the abnegation).  And… cliff hanger for second movie.
Most of the second movie is devoted to romance (Tris and Four) and Tris finding out she’s not just divergent, she is THE divergent – who is meant to save the world.  So, of course she leads a revolution.  And… cliff hanger for the third movie.  Oh yeah, I left out all of the let’s deal with our parent issues – after all this is a “coming of age” / “young-adult genre”.
Do the movies work and are they any good?  So-so and yes.    The story lines are pretty good.  The acting is okay.  The special effects and action sequences are excellent and remind me of “Matrix” and “Inception“.  That’s pretty good company!   Yes, they are both predictable, but most movies are.  If you like action movies, strong (young) female heroic leads, this series is for you.  Final recommendation:  moderate to strong recommendation – entertaining action movie series that’s a bit too predictable.
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On This Day In:
2014 In My Own Vanity
2013 Filled With Words
2012 Lectio Auget Existentiae Meae
2011 Lied Lately?
2010 Born To Work At Faux News
Lost Again (Uh, Make That Still)
Qui Genus Humanum Ingenio Superavit
They’re Back… (Part 1)

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Today’s book review is: “The Aims Of Education” (1929 ©), by Alfred North Whitehead.  The book is a collection of papers and presentations (speeches) given by the author on a number of topics: education, freedom and discipline, science, the function of universities and the nature of thought itself.  Although a relatively small work, it is quite deep and scholastic / academic in tone, which will not be to everyone’s taste.
Whitehead was a mathematician who emigrated to America and became a philosopher in his later years.  Apparently, Cambridge had a lecturer time limit of twenty-five years and he was forced into retirement.  He lectured in London for another dozen years before moving to Harvard where he also spent a little over a dozen years.
The book is really in two parts for me: the parts I understood and agreed with wholeheartedly (the first half of the book) and the later part (mainly dealing with the “organization of thought” and “the anatomy of some scientific ideas“) which I believe I understood, but which I disagreed with.  Metaphysically speaking, Whitehead poses that reality is what we (individually) perceive it to be and the normalization of perception is (what we agree on collectively) what we “scientifically” say is the “real” world.  In a strange way, the only things which can be real are those which we perceive to be real and on which we can agree with others in their perceptions.  This “relativism” of a perceived real world has consequences, but I’m not sure I have ever been able to get my head around them.  (I went through this in a political theory class back in my own university days.)
While I feel I understood what Whitehead was trying to express, I found it extremely dry reading and in the end (after several weeks of having the book on my bedside table), I had to force myself to read the last 30-40 odd pages.  My difficulty was less my “disagreement” with his proposition, as the general feeling of its irrelevance in “my” real world.  I don’t really care if all the universe is really changing and even mountains are eventually reduced to sand.  For my lifetime, they are mountains.  I recognize that in a billion or so years, the Earth will no longer be here (or the mountain), but for now, I still need to climb it, ski it, or build a train tunnel through it and I (we) can still ascertain (agree) on it’s location, height, circumference, etc.  It is as real as I need it to be.
If this review seems a bit negative, let me also high-light the books strengths (or at least the parts I agree with), too.  The book’s title refers to the first lecture in the book and describes what we as a society should hope to gain by educating our youth.  It describes the “rhythm” of education in a person’s life.  It also relates Whitehead’s views on subjects to be taught and their order of learning.  As mentioned above, he goes on to discuss the value of a liberal education, the use of classics in education, and the role of a university in developing the leaders society requires.  Whitehead does not neglect the necessity of practical and technical training in the spectrum of education .  He simply notes they will be sufficient for the masses and remain a minimum standard for the well developed (pre-) university graduate.  This seems an extremely elitist view until one recognizes that education is a lifetime endeavor and returning to school (university) is not (or it should not be) prohibited for those who start their working lives as tradesmen and technicians.
Final recommendation:  moderate to strong recommendation.  This book is a definite “classic” and I feel I am “better” for having experienced it.  But, and this is a rather large qualification for me, it isn’t a book I left feeling many others would be interested in.  Primarily because of the nature of the subject matter, but also because of the way it’s expressed (extremely erudite language), this is not a book (I believe) many will force themselves to wade through.  Very reminiscent of a description I once heard of the book “A Brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawking, this is a book you want people to see on your coffee table, but which nobody ever actually reads.  Stick to the first bits on education, liberal arts and the purpose of a university, and leave the rest for when you tire of insomnia.
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On This Day In:
2014 Sums
2013 Memories & Binging
Admiration Due
2012 Choices Matter
2011 Acceptance Is The Key
2010 Just A Permanent Crease…
Bodily Functions

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Over the last couple of days I watched a couple of movies and read a book.  In order, the two movies were: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier“, “Transformers: Age Of Extinction“, and the book was: “Casca: The Eternal Mercenary #1” (1979©).
It’s been a year since my first review of CA:TWS (see original review here).  Well, I picked up the DVD and thought I’d take another look.  My initial review is still pretty much spot on…  This is a look at the darker side of technology as used by today’s governments to try to “maintain” security and “protect” the people.  It is also a general statement about the need to minimize secret organizations – even when they purport to be providing security and protection, as it is far too easy for them to fall into the wrong hands.  Final recommendation: still highly recommended!
The second movie T4:AoE also came out in 2014 and stars Mark Wahlberg as Cade Yeager (a more-or-less unemployed robotics expert and single parent living in Texas and, of course, trying to mind his own business), Nicola Peltz as Tessa Yeager (Cade’s daughter, who when threatened, becomes daddy’s reason to get even with the bad-guys), Stanley Tucci as Joshua Joyce (a billionaire corporatist who thinks a lot of himself and yells a lot at his minions), Kelsey Grammer as Harold Attinger (the CIA bad-guy and front for the evil transformers), Jack Reynor as Shane Dyson (the daughter’s boyfriend and a race car driver).
This is a movie with lots of sound effect (explosions) and special effects (mostly computer generated transformers but also explosions), who’s main purpose seems to be to move away from the main human characters of the three previous movies and create a new thread for the franchise to follow.  Fair enough, but is the movie any good?  Within the strict paradigm of an action movie (large robots fighting, car chases, and multiple explosions) – yes, it does.  Quite well, in fact.  If you are looking for simple-minded entertainment (please don’t even try to think about the plot), this is a high quality production which delivers action and explosions.  My one “real” fault with the movie is it is loonnggg – 2 hours and 45 minutes – and actually seems longer.  I don’t usually say that about “action” movies, but this felt too long.
Final recommendation: moderate to strong recommendation.  If you’re into the Transformer movies (and I am), you’ll enjoy this addition.  If you believe this is just another movie to market toys to youth, well, yeah, it’s that too.
The book – Casca: TEM#1, is the first in an ongoing series of books about a fictional / mythical character – based on the Roman Legionnaire who put the lance in Jesus Christ’s side.  There are 42 books in the series so far.  In this first book, Jesus looks down at Casca and says: “You are content with what you are.  Then that you shall remain until we meet again.”  Henceforth, Casca is cursed to live forever – or at least until the second coming.  Each book in the series is about a segment of his 2,000 years (so far).  The series was initially written by Barry Sadler of “Ballad of the Green Berets” fame.  I have the first 22 volumes in the series.  These are the ones written by Sadler (or at least ghost written for him with his name on the book).  I have not read any of the subsequent volumes.  This volume covers most of his first two centuries of life – Roman rule times.
The books are adult, historical fantasy / fiction.  The main character is Casca Rufio Longinus and is loosely based on the Christian legend Saint Longinus.  Being Catholic and knowing a little (very little) about the Spear of Destiny, I picked the book up and thought I’d have a laugh.  I was very pleasantly surprised that it completely captivated me.  In fact, I’ve read the book several times, about once a decade, since I purchased it back in the early 1980’s.  I’ve also re-read a few of the other volumes, but they never seemed to capture me the same way this initial book did.
Final recommendation: Highly recommended book (and series).  If you enjoy historically based fiction about combat / war, this is a very good book / series.  Caution: it can be graphic in the depiction of violence so this is not appropriate for youth – probably up to late teens.
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On This Day In:
2014 True, Vibrant And Open
2013 Remembering, Yet Again
2012 Something Of Value
2011 Sleep All Day

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I had a few days off last week, so I relaxed by watching a few films: Cash McCall, StarTrek Into Darkness, Fist of Legend, Interstellar, Annapolis and Atlas Shrugged 1, 2 and 3.  Because there are so many, I’ll apologize in advance for the length of this posting.  I hope some of you make it all the way through, though…
Cash McCall (1960)
Wealthy “youngish” industrialist Cash McCall (starring James Garner) makes his money by purchasing unsuccessful businesses, whipping them into shape and then selling them for a profit.  (Shades of Richard Gere in “Pretty Woman“.)  When Cash comes across a small corporation which manufactures plastics, he realizes it might be a gamble to buy the company, but the company’s owner, Grant Austin (played by Dean Jagger – better known as the General in the holiday favorite “White Christmas”), is the father of an old love interest, Lory Austin (played by a young Natalie Wood), he buys the business just to get a second chance at romance.
Well, that’s pretty much the “love story” aspects of the film.  Very predictable and, to be honest, not as funny / humorous as I thought it might be.  Be that as it may, there are a few interesting things about this movie.  First, Woods is absolutely gorgeous in this film.  She plays a “wealthy” daughter and nails the “acts very entitled” role.  The camera loves her.   Strangely, although Garner is only 10yrs older than Woods in this film – in real life that is – he “looks” much older.  Granted he’s still a sexy Hollywood male lead, but to me, the couple didn’t really gel because he “felt” so much older than her.
Perhaps the most interesting thing in the movie actually has very little to do with romantic comedy and everything to do with predicting economic reality.  Bear with me on this…  At the end of his second term as President of the U.S. Eisenhower warned of the dangers of the military / industrial complex.  There is a scene where Cash is explaining his view for the companies he’s consolidating (in the movie) – a plastics and an electronics firm.  The one he already owns is a financial conglomerate – which by the way owns a private security / detective agency and a credit / business checking business.  Anytime someone investigates him, Cash gets a report from both companies.  The second company is interesting because it’s a plastic firm.  If anyone knows anything about films from the mid to late 60’s, you almost certainly know the famous line “One word, son: Plastics”, from “The Graduate“.   Well, in this film, the star is saying (six years before “The Graduate”) you have patents on manufacturing plastics and the patents are worth more than your company because plastics are the future of manufacturing.  He then goes on to say, but that is only a bridge because the long term future is selling electronics (mounted on plastic) to the military and he doesn’t want the electronics company as much as he wants the retired general who is running the company, because he (Cash) wants an inside track with the officers in the Pentagon the retired general can provide access to (because he knows them all personally).  Who knew Hollywood could be so prescient about the future of industry in the U.S. (and the world).
Bottom line: a fairly typical rom-com with a very attractive couple.  If that’s all you’re looking for, this will be okay.  If you make the effort to look at the movie more deeply, there is a whole lot more going on…  Highly recommended!!  (By the way, I am a Jim Garner fan from his “Maverick” TV series days and I make no bones about my lack of objectivity.)
StarTrek Into Darkness (2013)
This is the sequel to the hit reboot of the movie franchise from 2009.  As with the second movie in the original StarTrek movies, this is about one of the series most popular villains: “Khan!!!” – or more accurately: Khan Noonien Singh.  Khan is a product of biological enhancement, essentially a superior man – physically stronger and a genius mentally.  The problem (well, one of them) is that Khan has little to no regard for “normal” humans.  Blah, blah, blah…  Long story, lots of special effects and a very good addition to the StarTrek legend.  This is a second review and you can read my original (and more detailed review) here.   This movie has “legs” and can definitely be re-watched again and again.  (Still) Highly recommended.
Fist of Legend (1994)
This movie is kind of a “classic” in the martial arts genre.  A Chinese martial arts student Chen Zhen (Jet Li) returns home to China to investigate the death of his Sifu.  Chen discovers his master was poisoned and goes about seeking revenge.  If you’ve spent any time watching movie fights on YouTube, you’ve probably seen at least one of the five (yes, count them 5!!) set piece fight scenes in this movie.  Hence my opinion that the film is a classic.  To be honest, although the movie is 20+ years old – and I’d never seen it before (!!!) – I felt as if I’d already seen the entire movie just based on the fights – which I have seen multiple times.  I would rate this movie right up with any of the early Bruce Lee movies (“The Big Boss”, “The Chinese Connection” or “Fist of Fury”) and definitely with any of the more recent Ip Man series.  Jet Li may not have the cinematic charisma of Bruce Lee, but he (Jet Li) certainly plays the part of acrobatic martial artist just as well.
Final recommendation:  Highly recommended!!  Come for the fights, stay for the interesting social commentary about national bigotry (from both the Chinese and the Japanese).
Interstellar (2014)
Now I never saw this movie at the theater, which is probably my loss, but I did not find the cinematic effects in this movie as awesome as everyone else seems to have found them.  Having said this, I feel the movie was a “real” attempt to bring some of modern science to the big screen.  So, kudos for that effort.
In Earth’s not to distant future, a global, unexplained, biological agent produces a crop blight and second Dust Bowl which together are slowly rendering the planet uninhabitable – nitrogen is being released and oxygen is not.  A brilliant NASA physicist – Professor Brand (played by Michael Caine), is working on plans to save mankind by transporting Earth’s population to a new home via a wormhole. First, Brand must send former NASA pilot Joseph Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and a team of researchers (one of which is his daughter Amelia Brand played by Anne Hathaway) through a recently discovered wormhole near Saturn and across the galaxy to find out which of three planets could be mankind’s new home.  One of the movie’s tag-lines is: “Humanity was born on Earth.  It was never meant to die here.”
Of course there is a “conspiracy” and bad guys.  Hey this is Science Fiction, you know…  No, actually this is less a science fiction movie than it is a cinematic battle of ethics and morality.  In the end, time is malleable and family is everything, so the hero saves the day…  The movie works in a lot of different ways: as science, science fiction, special effects, acting.  The movie was nominated for multiple Oscars and deservedly so.  Final recommendation: highly recommended, but see it on as big a screen as you can find.
Annapolis (2006)
A cross between “An Officer And A Gentleman” and “Rocky“, this movie is about a fish out of water who goes to the U.S. Naval Military Academy at Annapolis.  (And, yes, that’s a bad pun.) The three main characters are:  Jake Huard (the “fish” – I mean star –  played well by James Franco),  Ali (the love interest played well by Jordana Brewster) and Cole (the antagonist played well by Tyrese Gibson).  Basically, Jake is only marginally qualified to be at the Academy and Cole is trying to force him to leave by quitting.  Ali agrees to help coach Jake in boxing for the brigade tournament and life ends happily ever after.
Just a few comments: I am not a big James Franco fan.  I thought he almost personally ruined a couple of the Spiderman movies.  Well, close anyway.  I have never heard of Jordana Brewster, but the camera loved her in this movie.  I had to check the Wiki-background on this actress because I could hardly believe she has done nothing I’ve seen in the eleven years since this movie came out.  She reminds me of a (Latin and younger) Jennifer Connelly.  Anyway, Brewster has worked, but I’ve just not seen any of it (TV or movies).  Finally, I like Tyrese Gibson!  I liked him in the Transformers movie series and I liked him in this role.  He and Brewster have both been in the Fast And Furious movie series, but I haven’t seen any of them so I can’t really comment on them in those roles.  Tyrese is multi-talented, but I wish he was able to focus more on acting.  I think he could be another Denzel Washington – and that’s saying quite a bit.
Final recommendation: better than most movies in this genre – moderate to strong recommendation.
Atlas Shrugged (1, 2 and 3) – (2011, 2012, 2013)
Back in 2012 I reviewed the first movie in this trilogy (see review here).  If anything, each movie in the series got worse.  I picked up I and II on sale for $5 each.  #1 was probably worth it.  #2 was not.  I saw #3 on YouTube.  The quality of the film was not high, but it was still better than anything else about the movie.   Terrible acting, terrible actors, terrible writing and absolutely no explanation of the reasons behind Ayn Rand’s popularity (objectivism or libertarianism).  Use the six hours of your life to do something productive and don’t watch these films.
Final recommendation:  not recommended movie(s).  You’ll get more from reading the book, than you’ll EVER get from watching these three movies.
Again, apologies for the length of this post but that’s four highly recommended, one moderate to strong recommendation and three not recommended.
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On This Day In:
2014 Get Wisdom
2013 Enjoying The View?
2012 Adam’s Rib
2011 I’m Sure I Remember That…
Memorial Day, 2011

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Over the weekend I dropped into my (nearly) local Barnes And Nobel for some discount DVDs.  I was given a store card as a birthday present last weekend and it’s been burning a hole in my pocket ever since.
Among the DVDs I picked up was “The Book of Eli” (2009) starring Denzel Washington (good guy), Gary Oldman (bad guy) and Mila Kunis (good girl / sidekick).  The story is a blend of “Mad Max” and “The Equalizer” together with a twist of religious fervor thrown in for a happy ending.
Most of the movie is shot in a kind of “sepia tint” to give you that dusty post-apocalyptic old west feel.  I guess it kind of works, but there are also dark scenes which seem almost black and white, which also have the “brown and old” feel and I really wasn’t feeling it.   The action scenes were okay-ish, but one was in black and white silhouette (under an overpass in an otherwise bright sun-lit day), so there was no feeling of depth in the action.  The other major fight scene was in a bar and was long and complicated so they needed to do multiple shots from various angles to try to make it work.  Again, in totality it was a great action sequence, but it didn’t really blow you (me) away.  There are two other gun/fight scenes which are too over the top to be at all believable, so you just have to say, “It’s Hollywood”, and go with it.
As in almost all of these movies the hero is near indestructible until they have to pass the torch to the sidekick.  Then it’s sayonara hero.  This is the umpteenth (well, at least the third I’ve seen) movie where Gary Oldman plays the deranged bad guy (also “The Fifth Element” and “The Professional“).  It’s getting to the point where you’re sitting on his overacting portrayal and waiting for him to “get it” in the end.  Just too predictable.  Kunis is just okay and is best when sharing the screen with Denzel, but it’s hard to say if they’re good or if he’s just good enough to carry them both.
I have no problem recommending the film as an action film for an adult crowd.  Some of the fights are very violent / graphic and some of the language is offensive.  Not over the top for this type of movie, but not something I’d want younger children to see / hear.  The movie is rated “R”.  Final recommendation: a decent action flick with an interesting twist in the last five minutes, a moderate to strong recommendation if you’re into this genre.
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On This Day In:
2014 Winning?
2013 Still Inventing
2012 Motivated
2011 Waiting In Line At Starbuck’s

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