KAZReviews
One, Two, Three …. Eight, Nine, Ten

This is my first try at fiction so don’t expect a lot

One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten

Elkin Gornov got home from work early that day. Something was wrong. Two of the living room lamps were missing. Barbara’s books and computer were not on the desk in the bedroom. As he reached into the refrigerator to get a beer, she entered the front door.

 “Elkin, I have something to tell you.” Her eyes were dark. Her natural smile was missing. “I’m leaving. I have already packed and moved out. I know this will hurt but I don’t love you. I found someone.”

Elkin was speechless. A voice inside counted “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight nine, ten.”

  “Well don’t you have something to say?”

Elkin stood frozen. He blinked his eyes which started to water. His lip quivered. “Why?”

”Elkin, you have become the most boring, overweight, controlling man in the world. Now that the girls are gone, I have no reason to stay. I need to enjoy life again. Besides, your counting scares me,” she recited.

 “Who?” Elkin muttered. Barbara bolted out the door.

For the next few days, Gornov was semi catatonic. He did not eat or sleep or go to work. His boss and good friend Gerry Harris found him alone in his newly purchased 8x8 aluminum shed in the back yard.

 “What’s going on Elkin? You didn’t even call. We were worried. No one answered your phone. Are you alright?”

Elkin turned his head and mumbled. Gerry took him to the local hospital where he was admitted. The diagnosis was obsessive compulsive stress disorder. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight nine, ten.

Three days later, Elkin was home, on medication and back to work. A plan was being born. Elkin was humiliated.

 “Am I more hurt by the betrayal or the fact that I had no clue. I didn’t even suspect that Barbara was seeing someone. What do I tell my daughters or fellow workers or neighbors? – that I’m boring, fat and out of touch with my wife of 35 years.”

 Recently Barbara had seemed aloof. They had their share of fights. The last few years after the girls left for college, the fights had escalated. But Elkin was reasonably happy and he thought Barbara was too. Her Tuesday night book club was obviously a lie.

The last fight was the most telling. Forgetting it was Tuesday, Elkin innocently asked “where are you going?”

 Barbara’s angrily responded “ Why, do you really care? Do you even know about my book club which I’ve been going to for the past year?”

Elkin shouted, “ bitch.”

Barbara slammed the front door on her way out. Her tires screeched as she drove out of the driveway. “An obvious clue. Am I really that oblivious?”

But all of that was beside the point. “No need to dwell on what could have happened. I need to find the paramour.”

On Wednesday, Elkin took his cousin Jimmy’s car to work. The gray 2009 Honda Accord was relatively inconspicuous. His cousin was out of the country in Malaysia for a few months. He asked Elkin to start his car occasionally especially in the cold New England winter.

 Elkin worked for an architectural firm where he could make his own work schedule. He left work early and drove to Barbara’s office in downtown Worcester. She worked as a receptionist at the Health Connector on Eden Street and usually parked in the lot across the street. He waited tapping the dashboard at the corner of Sudbury Street. At 5:13 Barbara stepped out of the Health Center, crossed the busy street and went to her car, a black 2006 Nissan Maxima. Elkin let one car get ahead of him and followed hanging back as safely as he could making sure he was not seen. He wore a newly purchased Yankee baseball cap with the front turned down and a false mustache. He was a Red Sox fan. 22 minutes passed until Barbara pulled into a driveway on Maple Street in the suburban town of Shrewsbury.

 “Jesus, this is Wilbur’s home.’ Wilbur Wyatt was Elkin’s friend since high school and the best man at his wedding.

 Elkin shouted, “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight nine, ten.

Thoughts ran through Elkin’s head. “Revenge. An eye for an eye. Choose a weapon. Kill Barbara. Kill Wilbur. Hide the bodies. Buy a gun. Target practice. Poison. Push off a cliff.  Strangulation. Use a venomous snake. Stab with a knife. Buy burlap bags. Buy plastic bags. Choose a location. Pick a time of day. On the way to work. At home. On the road. Fire. Acid. Torture. Make it seem like an accident. Prepare”

         As he drove north on Route 13 toward Polson, Elkin Gornov could hear his heartbeat. He had never thought about murder, about ending someone’s life, for real. At the same time, he was excited. There is some joy about what he was about to do. The satisfaction of a well thought out plan. The minute details to achieve success. The sweet taste of revenge.  “But why am I afraid?,” he thought. “Of course this could end badly. I could get caught.” “Am I mad like Jack Nicholson in the Shining? “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight nine, ten

Route 13 is a winding 2 lane highway meandering through the wilderness of southern Maine.  Light snow was falling like in the opening scene of Doctor Zhivago. A major northeaster was forecast for that evening. The wet snow would hide footprints and tire prints. He wore skin tight gloves which he purchased at Target with cash. Jimmy’s Honda spun through a couple of icy spots.

Elkin was going to Wilbur’s summer cottage on Lake Bowman in a small town named Polson. Years ago, Elkin also had a cottage on Lake Bowman. The lake was bounded by about 20 homes mostly summer cottages. The Wyatt and Gornov families spent many happy weekends together while their children were young. Elkin knew Wilbur visited his cottage on weekends in the winter. Wilbur loved to spend a full day ice fishing with his drinking buddies from Polson. Wilbur would probably be alone and cell coverage in the mountains was spotty at best. With luck, Wilbur would be out in the middle of the lake by the time Elkin arrived.

As Elkin turned onto the lake road, his heart raced. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight nine, ten. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight nine, ten.”

 There was a light on in the cottage. There were 10 to 15 persons on the ice cold lake. There was one lean-to, hopefully Wilbur’s. Elkin kept driving on the narrow lake road. At the first curve, he backed into a vacant lot as far as he could so as not to be observed from the street or the lake. He shut down the engine, grabbed the binoculars from the back seat, stuffed the colt 45 into his pants and put on the galoshes all of which were recently purchased with cash. A back up hunting knife was already attached to his lower left leg. The walk to the cottage was slippery.

The snow continued to fall now in huge puffy flakes. The road was narrow but there would be little traffic during this season. Elkin walked at a brisk pace with hope that his heart would slow. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight nine, ten.

As he reached the blue and white one level cottage, he could see in the windows. The home was level with the street and only 6 feet from the street. He slowed his pace. There was no one inside as far as he could tell. He walked past the building and focused on the lake. It was too distant to make out faces but that’s why he brought binoculars. He stopped behind a tree near the road and set his sights to the figures on the ice. He scanned from left to right. Standing next to the lean-to was Wilbur without a doubt. He had to get back to the cottage and go inside before he was noticed by any of the ice fishermen. He turned around and walked at the same pace as before. When he got to the cottage, he peered though the windows to make sure no one was inside. After a few minutes, he was convinced. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight nine, ten. Luckily no car had driven by since he began his walk.

This was the dangerous part. The faster the better. He climbed 3 short steps to the side door without being noticed by the persons on the ice.  If anyone saw him and alerted Wilbur, the plan would have to be aborted. He might have to run to his car to get away. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight nine, ten.  

Monuments Men - A Movie Review

I needed a sedative after watching manic American Hustle, intense Gravity and over the top The Wolf of Wall Street.  Monuments Men was the perfect answer.  While I did not sleep (I never do) or snooze, I did hear some snoring in the theatre. Even the few scenes of violence were lethargic. When one of the main characters, Lieutenant Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville) was killed, it was with a single shot behind a wall. Ho hum. No one in the theatre seemed to care and his fellow movie characters gave the most low keyed condolences. You could tell they were reading from a script, a poorly written one. The writing was bad. I was hoping at the end that at least President Truman’s lines would be inspiring. Not so. Truman wondered if saving 5 million pieces of art was worth the price of 2 dead soldiers. I don’t think he watched the movie.

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The film was based upon the true story of the greatest treasure hunt of all time. Lieutenant Frank Stokes (George Clooney) convinces President Truman to commission a group of 7 museum directors, curators and art historians to rescue the destruction and loss by the Nazis of artistic masterpieces during World War II. To do so, they would have to go behind enemy lines into Germany; an impossible task by persons more familiar with The Pieta than a M1machine gun. This was one of the more inspiring stories of the war. Too bad director George Clooney gave us mostly biopic and little emotion. This historic story deserved better.

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The cast was impressive if odd. Beside the iconic Clooney, there was John Goodman, Bill Murray, Matt Damon and Kate Blanchette. But why choose 2 comedians for such a serious narrative? Blanchette was also miscast. Seems that George chose mostly his friends.

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OK so what did I like? Monuments Men was really a documentary. If nominated for an Oscar in this category, it could win. Unlike most documentaries, it had recognizable characters. The cinematography was above documentary standards. Well that’s all I can think of. One more thing. The movie conveyed a piece of history which otherwise would be left on the shelf. It was from a nostalgic era of my parents – the greatest generation. My Dad fought in that war and I’m proud of his service.

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So instead of 2 stars out of 10, I give it 4.  

Education

Seems to me we have the best education system in the world. How do I know? Because we have the strongest and most vibrant economy in the world. All of the studies comparing test scores of kids from different countries are bogus. Passing a test and being educated are 2 different things.

My plan to make education even better: 1) eliminate the department of education 2) eliminate the education departments or offices in each state. 3) Require all teachers to have an advanced degree 4) Require all persons to get a high school diploma or face 1 year in jail.

Don’t worry about being original, she said dismissively. Yes, everything’s been written, but also, the thing you want to write, before you wrote it, was impossible to write. Otherwise it would already exist. You writing it makes it possible.

Alexander Chen reminisces about studying with the inimitable Annie Dillard, who echoes Mark Twain’s contention that all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, Alexander Graham Bell’s assertion that "our most original compositions are composed exclusively of expressions derived from others,” and young Virginia Woolf’s observation that "all the Arts … imitate as far as they can the one great truth that all can see.”

Chen’s full essay is well worth the read. Pair with Annie Dillard on writing.

(via explore-blog)

Yup!

(via yeahwriters)

dreamofacommonlanguage:

In answer to a question from that bright-light Iranian journalist in Tehran, Asadollah Amraee, editor at Golstaneh, off the top of my head this morning I wrote these ten writing tips (which surely need their revision):

1. Know that your consciousness is both singular and universal. What does this mean? No one else has your subjectivity: you were formed by many influences and have a birthright and particular way of seeing the world. Hence, you can offer a distinctive story of the world to others. That said, your consciousness also partakes of the universal: the more specifically you articulate your stories, the more you help to articulate the inarticulable. In this way, you are giving a gift to others who crave such articulation.
2. Read widely, deeply, promiscuously. Read so as to remind yourself of all the stories already flowing through you. Read intelligently, questioning, performing close reading, taking real or invisible notes. Look at character, sensibility, structure, plot, word choice, beginnings and endings, milieu, description, point of view, style, sudden seams and ruptures, moments in which a text conforms to your ideas of the world and moments in which it surprises.
3. Some writers are Apollonian and some are Dionysian; some like to plot far ahead and some like to get lost in the woods. Try embracing your inner Dionysian; surprise yourself as you write so that your reader is surprised.
4. Revise and revise again. Keep the flame of your original inspiration if you wish, but revise ferociously. Read your work aloud. See your work.
5. Be like a devoted workman: show up to your work at the same time every day, ideally in the morning before the day’s currency of words comes to deplete your own dream-state stock. If you show up, the muse will show up. The discipline creates the vessel and your inspiration fills it.
6. See if you can get out of your own way. Write first, let yourself be fully that writer! Only later be the editor, coming in as your own critic. If you begin as the critic, you will never get anything down on paper. Write first, let your writing cool off on the shelf for a week or month, work on other things, and then revisit your writing as the critic. 
7. Anything you do for at least half an hour every day becomes part of you.
8. Sometimes it is good to trick your superego by giving yourself a word quota: say, that you write 200, or 500, or 1000 words a day. Do this first thing in the morning and you have no guilt or concern the rest of the day. You have shown up at your work. The next day, revise those 200 or 500 or 1000 with, primarily, the aim of writing another new 200 or 500 or 1000. 
8. Consider the path of least resistance: whatever comes most easily to you is your gift. As water moves downstream, your creativity also has its own natural flow and interest. If you find it boring or difficult to move characters, for example, from one locale to another, then no need to put in the movements, the elaborate choreography. Your patience and impatience are part of the trance which you are trying to induce in your reader. 
9. Induce a trance. Induct us into your way of seeing.
10. Imagine an ideal reader who will help magnetize your aesthetic.

Thanks for the great advice

Welfare Equals Lazy?

I’m not sure I’ve ever met a lazy person. I mean someone who gets up each morning and wants to do nothing except maybe watch TV. I don’t think you’re lazy if you read a book. Lazy people probably exist but not in my field of friends and acquaintances. Most of the persons I know or have known are workaholics – working 60 to 80 hours per week as if the world would go crashing down if they stopped. It is an obsession for many. No, I think it is an obsession for most.

 In my real estate working days, I used to make sure that I took one day off a week and tried for 2. Friends marveled at my ability and discipline to do so but privately, I think, they resented my days off.  For me, it was a way of insuring sanity. I knew I was obsessed with work. My dad worked hard and was proud of it. My mom too. And all my uncles and aunts. In contrast, laziness was vilified as if it were the devils work

 But as for those who are truly lazy (if they exist), it seems to me that they must be depressed or at least have some kind of mental imbalance. Work gives us meaning even if we don’t like the work. And let’s face it, most persons hate their work. Ok maybe not most. Each one of us searches for meaning in one way or the other. Most seek meaning in their jobs, others in their family, and others in recreation or creativity. The search for meaning is as innate as the will to live.  

 And what about welfare which is constantly maligned and denigrated. Welfare is invariably associated with laziness like it’s a mathematical formula – welfare equals being lazy.  I have known quite a few persons who depended on welfare assistance. Every one that I can remember had either a physical and or mental problem or both. They did seem lazy – but they had a good excuse. They could not work. None of them seemed happy. Some had a job if only part time. Health problems can be debilitating.

 I really doubt that people who disparage welfare recipients ever met a person on welfare. I’m sure they were never friends with a welfare recipient. In many ways this is a form of racism – vilifying others to make you feel superior.

 Here is something posted today by one of my Facebook friends.

Is this a racist statement? Yes it is – makes him feel superior to “those people.” Has he ever met someone who could not find a job and had to accept food stamps? Probably not. Has he ever really thought about this? Probably not.

August: Osage County – A Movie Review

Meryl Streep is the Dallas Cowboys in their heyday as America’s Team. They could do no wrong and neither can Meryl Street. She has to be one of the best actresses of all time. I’ll be surprised if she does not get an Academy Award for her portrayal of Violet Weston. And I’ll be equally surprised if Julia Roberts does not win an Oscar for best supporting actress for her portrayal as Barbara Weston Fordham, Violet’s daughter. Two very powerful performances.

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But the plot was equally powerful. It is basically a story about an Oklahoma family, the Westons. They are brought together with the disappearance and then suicide death of the family patriarch Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard), Violet’s husband.

Barbara arrives from Colorado with her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and 14 year old pot smoking daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin). Middle daughter Karen (Julliete Lewis) arrives from Florida with her newest boyfriend Steve, a sleazy businessman (Dermot Mulroney). Violet’s sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) arrives with husband Charles Aiken (Chris Cooper). Violet’s youngest daughter Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) is the only one who lives locally. Mattie Fae’s and Charles awkward and shy son “Little Charles” shows up late for the funeral because he overslept.

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Each family member has their own particular peccadillo. Violet is a drug addict and mean as a bobcat. Barbara and Bill are separated and on the verge of divorce. Ivy and cousin “Little Charles” are in love. An embarrassing family secret is eventually revealed.

The highlight of the movie is the dramatic after funeral dinner where all of the family is present. It is filled with acrimony, shouting, and screaming punctured with black humor. The family sins are laid out by truth telling Violet. It ends with Barbara attacking Violet and taking away her prescription pills. The dinner is probably one of the most formidable scenes in all movies.

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As I watched, I was thinking of my own extend family and their fights and arguments and laughter and love. Violet reminded my so much of my own mother. And Charles reminded me of a combination of a few of my uncles. And Jean made me think of my 2 daughters who I love so much. I think writing this makes me tear up even now.

This is definitely a must see movie for anyone who has a family – each of us.

9 out of 10 stars

Winter’s Tale – A Book and Movie Review

At about page 100, I realized that “this does not make sense.” Nevertheless, I trudged on hoping for anything that resembled a plot. Often, books begin slowly and end up being very good (i.e. Gone Girl). At page 300, it dawned on me that Winter’s Tale was for wordsmiths written by a wordsmith, author Mark Halpern. It was written for persons who like figures of speech, expressions, styles, terms, prose, phrases, and language. There was no plot although there were a few story threads. The characters were boring at best. They had no substance, just lots of meaningless words. They kept striving for justice, I guess.  But I slogged on knowing that the movie premiere was a week away. The numerous movie promos on TV made me wonder. Maybe the movie is as bad as the book and that’s why they need the promos.

 

Now don’t get me wrong. I like words and language. By page 829, I was kinda getting used to the beautiful flow of words which often were totally baffling. Let me give you a taste:

“And though the machines were ready, Jackson Mead doubted that conditions had coalesced. He doubted the coming of the high shimmering gold that would commend an instance of perfect, balanced justice, for he doubted that anyone remembered or cared for justice either natural or divine. They had all defined it according to their own lights, which meant that it always had to be quick and uncomplicated”

Maybe I just don’t get it. 

Since the book was so bad, I decided to read some movie reviews. They were all in total 100% agreement – this time travel movie was terrible. So now I felt guilty for taking my wife to see a bad movie based upon a bad book. She is often much more critical then I. My one consolation was that our fellow movie goers were not able to make it. They probably read the reviews.

 

But my wife liked it and so did I. I think the critics don’t understand fantasy. Fantasy does not have to make sense. After all, it’s make believe. For me, the movie made sense out of the senseless book. Although it was really not very sensible. It took 2 threads, the love story and supernatural, and left out the rest from the book – thankfully. If I told you about the bridge er bridges, you would think I’m crazy for finishing the book.

The love story was believable – well not really – but who cares. Love stories are always soothing to the soul no matter how contrived. Colin Farrell as Peter Lake and Jessica Brown Findlay as Beverly Penn were charming. I loved them both. And little Willa and little Abby were a delight. Their acting was not great but the writers did not give the actors much to work with. In fact, they gave so little to one of my favorite actors, Russell Crowe, it was almost comical. And certainly, Will Smith’s role as Lucifer was definitely laughable like out loud laughable. Although no one in the theatre laughed out of sympathy for Will. Actually, there were only 3 person in the theatre beside my wife and myself.

 

I’ll end on a good note. The cinematography was excellent. Central park in the winter is certainly beautiful and the director took great advantage of it. And the lake scenes were breathtaking.

Although I liked the movie because I like love stories that make me cry, I can only give the movie 2 out of 10 stars. Zero for the book

Corporations are not people

Please urge your Congressman to support an amendment to undo the outrageous Supreme Court ruling that puts “We the Corporations” ahead of “We the People.” The 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. F.E.C. declared that all corporations - even billion dollar corporations - have the same political speech rights as I do and can spend unlimited cash independently to influence out elections. This is not the American Way. Corporations are not people. They have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders, not to the American people. To them, our elections and our elected officials are little more than acquisition plans and hostile takeover challenges

Meet Joe Black – A Movie Review

Lots of people die in movies.  The subject matter may be war or serial killers or out of luck drifters or historical events. Death points to the sanctity of life. But very few movies are actually about death. Meet Joe Black is about death. In fact, the main character is death, played by Brad Pitt. 

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But it is much more – also a romantic comedy and, of course, a fantasy – my two favorite genres. 

Bill Parish is a media billionaire nearing his 65th birthday. This is where it hit me as I am also near the big 6 5. He feels some severe chest pains and you know what is coming. But the surprise is in the form of handsome Brad Pitt who shyly introduces himself as death. He explains that he has been intrigued by Bill’s life and philosophy and wants to explore life. He’ll keep Bill alive as long as he stays alive with Bill. Death took the body of a man who Susan, Bills daughter, met in a coffee shop that morning and who was tragically killed in a car accident as he turned back to look at Susan. 

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No need to describe more. Rent the movie. It is a good one; a chick flick I suppose. But you won’t shed too many tears. The plot is intriguing and unpredictable. It keeps the tension because you’re not really sure how it will end. Will Joe stay human? Will he keep Bill around or maybe give him a second chance? Will Joe take Susan with him? 

The characters are engaging. You like them all even villain Drew (Jake Weber). They are each underplayed and shy except for Quince (Jeffrey Tambor) who is as comical as he is ineffectual. image

Marsha Gay Harden as Bill’s other daughter Allison is a lesser character but perhaps one of the most tragic. Claire Forlani as Susan reminded me so much of my daughters. I just wanted to hug her. Brad Pitt seemed out of character as he was shy and reserved unlike in most of his other movies. At some point, I thought he was miss cast but his innocence is what really made the story work. And Anthony Hopkins was well cast as a strong caring businessman and father. image

This is not a great movie. It is a good movie. It is entertaining. It is light, will make you smile, maybe shed a tear or two.

8 stars out of 10

Gone Girl - A Book Review

If you can get by the first 50 pages, you will be rewarded. But those 50 are tough. If I had not received Gone Girl as a Christmas gift, I would have put it down. I’m glad I stuck with it. 

The book begins with separate first person narratives from husband and wife Nick and Amy Dunne. They are self-centered, narcissistic and neurotic. Very unlikeable. But I kept reading with hope that some bit of niceness would show up. I kept searching right up to the last page - #419.

 Gone Girl is one of those books where the reviewer can easily reveal too much and spoil it. There are a number of not-possible-to-see twists. So I’ll just tease, that Gone Girl is a psychological who-done-it thriller that keeps you guessing. At about the half-way point, I couldn’t put it down. But the story is also a treatise on marriage; the struggle of unraveling and tip toeing into each others inner sanctum,  discovering that the thrill of the romance is gone and then accepting or not.

 Gillian Flynn is an excellent writer. Her prose is fresh. Her story telling is superb. I wonder how she or anyone could come up with the incredible surprises.

 She is now writing the screen play for the movie. Word on the street is that she is changing the ending which makes me cheer, I think.  I guess a movie audience and a book audience are not the same. 

Except for the beginning, this is a good book. Can’t wait for the movie.

 9 stars out of 10.

American Hustle - A Movie Review

Don’t worry about the plot. It’s a little difficult to follow at the beginning but comes together at the end. American Hustle is about characters. It is character driven. Pay attention to the characters. They are rich. They are flawed. They are fun. They are each trying to make their way in the world today. They are you and me – or not.

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David O Russell is one of my favorite Hollywood film directors.  His Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter were two of the best movies of the past few years. His love of characters is his movie achievement. Movies, books and all of literature should be about characters, their failings, insecurities and dreams.  I was very much awaiting American Hustle.

My favorite American actress is Jennifer Lawrence. Her portrayals in Winter’s Bone and The Hunger Games Trilogy were Oscar nominatable – if that is a word. It seems she receives a nomination for best actress in every one of her movies. So I was very much awaiting American Hustle.

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Neither Russell nor Lawrence disappointed. 

American Hustle is loosely based upon the Abscam scandal of the late 1970s. It begins with the statement “some of this is true.” The FBI enlisted the help of a reputed con artist to conduct an elaborate operation targeting political corruption in New Jersey and New York. In the end 31 officials were convicted including a US senator and 6 members of the House of Representatives. Some have described this as entrapment. It was. 

But the movie is only tangentially about the sting. It uses Abscam to shed light on the characters. David Russell’s movies are all about the characters. The lead character Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale, also one of my favorite actors) is an overweight, pompadour wearing con artist who prides himself in being gifted; a charlatan with finesse and smarts. He meets and falls in love with a fellow grafter Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) who pretends to be an English aristocrat although her choice of clothing points more to her previous profession as a stripper.  She also has a talent and panache for her new calling. The two meet at a party where they bond over their love of the big band music of Duke Ellington. It is love at first tune. You may have surmised that this is a comedy, a black romantic comedy. The two join forces in loan scamming and selling forged paintings.

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 But the noble Rosenfeld refuses to leave his adopted neglected son and zany wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) who is a true screwball. She is addicted to self-help books, causes small house fires and seems to search for trouble. She desperately wants to be loved. You can feel her pain and self-doubt. She has the films’s best one liners. 

Lastly is over zealous FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) whose manic behavior rivals Rosalyns.  He seems to be replaying bipolar Pat Solitano in Silver Lining Playbook. His ridiculously perfect curly hair bedevils his over the top ambition. This excessive drive ultimately sets in motion the entire story line. He blackmails Irving and Sydney into conducting the sting. Rosalyn hilariously does her best to screw things up. Irving comes to the rescue to save the day. I think I’ve revealed too much.

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 Russell’s intermingling of these great actors is his true brilliance. Amy Adams received the Golden Globe award for best actress in a comedy. She has been nominated for an Oscar. Jennifer Lawrence received the Golden Glove award for best supporting actress in a comedy. She has been nominated for an Oscar. Bale and Cooper were just as good and both have been nominated for an academy award. 

10 stars out of 10

The Wolf of Wall Street - A Movie Review

I almost avoided this movie because it is 3 hours long. Three hours is OK for football but not so much for a movie; not usually. But this one was OK. It kept my interest right to the end. In the off color spirit of the story, there was so much action I did not have time to get up to take a piss. Although 5 more minutes would have been the limit.

The Wolf of Wall Street is a filthy sophomoric black comedy. It is based upon the true story of Jason Belfort who created a penny stock boiler room where he and his company defrauded millions via fraudulent stock sales. He was eventually convicted of securities fraud and money laundering and served 22 months in jail. He lived a lavish life style. The story is about this life style and his unscrupulous sales practices.

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Since it did not contain any redeeming social value, I believe The Wolf of Wall Street is pornography. And I loved it. Sometimes things that are disturbing teach us something. The message is that hedonism is good. Now we all know that this is not true but maybe it is for a little while.

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First the filth. The language was about 3 octaves beyond the typical male buddy discourse. Lots of F words. I mean lots. And also a few c words, n words and homophobic ones.  I would guess that the language was offensive to at least half the audience and half the general population.

But the worst was some of the raunchy scenes such as Donnie (Jonah Hill) urinating in front of  500 co-workers into a waste basket filled with FBI subpoenas or also Donnie openly masturbating at a party when he first sees gorgeous Naomi (Margot Robbie). The tone is set at the beginning by mentor Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughy) who advises Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DeCaprio) to adopt a life of drugs and prostitutes and to masturbate at least 2-3 times each day. You knew where this was heading and it kept going and going. 

Although the language and scenes were obscene, they were in the context of the flamboyant over the top life style of the main character, Jason Belfort, played by Leonardo DeCaprio. From what I read, most of the antics in the movie took place in real life which is a little hard to believe. Belfort basically was a man with no limits. He is all id with no superego. Ironically, he is now a motivational speaker who receives $30,000 per engagement for sharing his exploits and sales techniques.

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I liked the movie because it was a locomotive going downhill with no brakes. Director Martin Scorsese was at his best with non-stop intensity. He captured the essence of the main character. DeCaprio (just won the golden globe award for best actor in a comedy) was excellent  although nothing less is expected from this great American actor. He seemed to be playing himself. I’m not sure if that is good acting or not. His character was interesting and rich if flawed. The supporting actors were above average especially Jonah Hill and the beautiful Margot Robbie. They fittingly fed the frenzy Jason Belfort.

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If you are easily offended, skip this movie. Otherwise enjoy

I give this movie 9 out of 10 stars

The Book Thief – A Movie Review and Book Review

As always, the book was better. It was richer in description and embraced many more threads. A movie can only include so much in 2 hours. But the movie was also very good. It reflected the tension of the book; the tension between characters and the tension between the characters and the Third Reich. I was amazed to find certain scenes in the movie exactly what I imagined when I read the book. I mean exactly. Either the author, Markus Zusak’s descriptions were exceptional or the cinematographer was brilliant. Probably both. But it made me pause in awe. How could they do that? Was my mind playing tricks? Whatever, it was a joy.

 

The story takes place in Germany during World War II. It is about 12 year old Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nelisse) who is taken into foster care by Hans (Geofrey Rush) and Rosa Hubermann (Emily Watson). On her trip to the foster home, her brother dies. At his grave, she finds and keeps a book so as not to forget him. But she cannot read. The book is “The Grave Diggers Manuel.” She develops a close attachment with Hans who teaches her to read. After a Nazi book burning, she returns and takes one of the books which was only scorched. She is seen doing so by Ilse Hermann (Barbara Auer), the Mayor’s wife. A few days later when Liesel delivers laundry to Ilse, she is afraid that her thievery will be uncovered. Instead Ilse invites her into her home and into her library which is packed with books from floor to ceiling. In the movie the library is one of the places which seemed identical with my mind’s eye from the book. After being discovered in the library by the Mayor and being told never to return, Liesel returns surreptitiously numerous times to steal (borrow) more books.

 The most poignant thread is via the character Max, the Jewish son of a soldier who saved Han’s life during World War I. The Hubermann family feel obligated to take him in and hide him from the Nazis. Liesel helps take care of him, reads to him and they bond. Eventually, he is forced to flee but returns at the end as one of the sole surviving characters. This is where I cried.

 

There are a few other touching storylines which I will not reveal. Read the book and see the movie.

 One of the most intriguing aspects of both movie and book was that the story was narrated by Death. In the book, this at first creates some confusion. Who is speaking? Is it God? Less so in the movie as the beginning narrative takes place in the clouds. The tale begins with the death of Liesel’s brother and you can’t help feel that Death will visit again at the end if not sooner. This technique preserves an underlying tension. Who if anyone will survive? 

The acting was superb. I kept wondering if Sophie Nelisse was really just 12 years old. She was. Her portrayal was flawless. She has been nominated as Best Young Actress by the Critics Choice Movie Awards. She won the Newcomer award by Satellite Awards. Emily Watson was nominated as Best Supporting Actor by Satellite Awards. However, the movie’s portrayal of Rosa was not nearly as satisfying as the in the book. In the book, she is depicted as harsh and foul mouthed with only softening at the end. The movie portrayal was much softer throughout. 

The Book Thief is ultimately a war story; a story of brutality and hate. However, it is understated, gentle and sad; a tragedy told from the perspective of the “little people” whose daily life is affected. But it is also a testament to the strength of the human spirit.

 

8 Stars Out Of 10

 Here is what my fellow movie goers/friends said:

 Cal – it was a good antiwar movie

Tom – I liked the story

Robin – I was disappointed that the mayor’s wife was not more involved

Nancy – I liked it very much

Jose – the writing was excellent

Patty – I need to see a comedy

Malle (my wife) – cried like a baby. She was thinking about her mom who had faced similar circumstances as she escaped from Estonia during the early  1940s

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92EBSmxinus

Ted - A Movie Review

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I hate to write about movies that are not good. There is little incentive to do so except, I suppose, to warn you not to see it. Ted is one of those movies. The best I can say “the kiss of death” – is “it was cute.”  More correctly,  the Ted character was cute in a crude and obnoxious way. A teddy bear spouting vulgar obscenities is funny – but in this case not laughing funny. I suppose the only reason I watched to the end is because of this odd character and the Boston locale. And also, I am a sucker for romantic comedies. Although calling it a comedy is in the most broadest sense. I don’t think I laughed at all. But it was romantic and Mila Kunis is definitely hot.

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The story begins when friendless awkward 6 year old John Bennett receives a stuffed bear for Christmas. He wishes that his bear can talk and the wish is fulfilled via a magic falling star. He names the bear Ted (voice Seth MacFarlane) and they become best friends forever and ever. The movie scrolls ahead 27 years where John (Mark Wahlburg) and Ted share an apartment with John’s girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis). The story becomes a typical (or untypical) love triangle. John is forced to choose between Ted and Lori. He loses them both. Gets them back yada yada yada. You can guess the ending.

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Mark Wahlburg is totally miscast. John is supposed to be a boorish man child who never grew up. Wahlburg is too muscle bound to play a slacker. His dim witted expressions just don’t work although his Boston accent almost makes it work. I kept hoping he would pull out his AK 47 from Three Kings and blow Ted to pieces. Mila Kunis on the other hand does an admirable job considering she is basically a straight man for the two goof balls. To her credit, she never rolls her eyes.

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The movie is really a series of jokes – poop jokes, fart jokes, sexist jokes – you get the idea. Homosexuals, Jews and Asians are a particular target. There is one particular scene which is totally “gross me out.” There is a stupid fight scene between John and Ted. Ted is a coarse, offensive, politically incorrect movie which is Seth MacFarlane’s specialty. Seth is the creator of Family Guy. If you like Family Guy, you may like this.

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2 stars out of 10

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Vl5q06UElM