Archive for June, 2008

BOOK: Last Days of Summer by Steve Klugar

June 30, 2008

I read this novel for the first time a few years ago and absolutely loved every page of it (except for the ending, which really upset me at the time). Now that I’ve read it a second time, I can say without a moment’s hesitation that this book is one of my top ten favorite novels of all time. It’s just wonderful — hilariously funny, incredibly sweet, and an absolute blast to read from start to finish.

The story is about a little boy, Joey Margolis, growing up in Brooklyn in the early 1940’s. Joey’s extremely precocious — sarcastic and stubborn and smart as hell. One of his idols is the all-star third baseman for the New York Giants, Charlie Banks, so Joey decides to write Banks a letter, asking him to hit a home run for him. When Banks responds with a form letter and signed photo, Joey is annoyed but refuses to give up. He starts sending letter after letter to Banks, each one telling an even taller tale of woe (like, that he’s dying of cancer and having Banks hit a homer for him is his last wish in life), in the hopes Banks will take pity on him and do what he wants. Charlie catches on immediately, though, and writes Joey back to tell him to knock it off. But that’s all it takes to get Joey hooked, and soon the two are close friends, Charlie ultimately taking the place of the father Joey never had.

The book is made up of letters, newspaper clippings, and other forms of correspondence, and it touches on a variety of themes surrounding the war. For example, Joey’s best friend is a Japanese boy whose family ends up being shipped off to an internment camp in the West. And eventually, Charlie himself signs up for the military and is shipped off to the Far East. Through it all runs a current of family — a story of a little boy who desperately needs a father and who, through sheer will and smarts, manages to talk one of the most famous New Yorkers into the job.

Last Days of Summer is literally laugh-out-loud funny — I can’t read it on the bus because I make an idiot out of myself by bursting into fits of giggles. And this second time around, the ending felt more “right” to me — possibly because I knew what was coming and thus wasn’t so startled by it. This is a wonderful, WONDERFUL book, and I really can’t recommend it highly enough. If you’ve never read this one, oh, how I ENVY you your first time — it’s going to be a truly wonderful few days for you. If you can actually manage to make it last that long!



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MOVIE: National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007)

June 30, 2008

Okay, listen up. I LOVED the first National Treasure movie. I thought it was funny, entertaining, engaging, and just a total blast to watch. And I know I’m not alone in that, either. So, like, what gives with the response to its sequel? Suddenly, all the critics are exclaiming, “The premise of this movie is utterly ridiculous! There’s nothing believable about it whatsoever — it’s completely preposterous. I give it zero stars! ZERO!”

Unbelievable? Dude, aren’t you the same guys who raved about the Lord of the Rings trilogy? What, and you thought the Hobbits were REAL?

This movie is 100% popcorn summer movie fun. Yes, the premise is utterly ridiculous — do I really believe that Mt. Rushmore was commissioned by President Coolidge so as to disguise the location of Cibola, one of the seven Lost Cities of Gold? Do I actually need to answer that question? But at the same time, lighten up, people — it’s a comic action movie! Just relax and go with the flow already!

Book of Secrets brings back the four main characters from the first film: Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage), his hilarious geeky sidekick Riley (Justin Bartha), his now-wife Abigail (Diane Krugar), and his father, Patrick Gates (Jon Voight). (Oh, actually, there’s a fifth returnee too — Harvey Keitel as the Feebie who is having WAY too much fun chasing after the Gates family.) Added to the mix this time include the always-awesome Helen Mirren as Patrick’s estranged ex-wife (Ben’s mother) and Ed Harris as Mitch Wilkinson, the sorta-bad guy who sets the whole story in motion by accusing one of the Gates’s ancestors of being involved in the assassination of President Lincoln.

This movie has something for everyone: comic banter (for me), history that is probably outrageously inaccurate (for history buffs who like to bitch about how everybody gets it wrong — you know who you are), a cute geek (again, for me), a U.S. president who isn’t a total butthead (for all of us), kissing (ahem, also for me), chase scenes (for the boys), and nary a gratuitous naked boobie to be seen anywhere (for the girls).

Oh, and it also has Bruce Greenwood, who I have an enormous crush on, as the aforementioned non-butthead president. And is it just me or does Greenwood play the President of the United States rather a lot in movies? Bruce, I hear Obama is still looking for a running mate — throw your hat in the ring, man! From what I’ve seen, you’re absolutely smashing at running a country AND you look totally adorable while you do it. I was going to vote for John Edwards for roughly the same reason, after all. I think you have a shot! Call me — we’ll get started on the campaign plan.

And as for the rest of you, if you didn’t enjoy a single moment of this movie — not one funny line from Riley, not one action moment, not one scene with Helen Mirren — it’s time for you to pack up your UFO and return to your home planet. Here on Earth, we like to have FUN sometimes. And this? This is one of those times, people. Word.

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Genre: Action, Comedy
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Jon Voight, Justin Bartha, Diane Krugar, Helen Mirren, Bruce Greenwood (p.s. will you marry me?), Ed Harris, Harvey Keitel

Lettuce Rest, I’m Feeling Beet — New Rainy Day Gardening Post.

June 28, 2008

Just put up a new post at the Rainy Day Gardening blog, in which I call my lettuce a “stupidhead,” pick up my ball, and storm home.

If You Think There’s Nothing On, It’s Time to Get Cable, Cheapskate.

June 26, 2008

I’m hearing a lot of complaints from people lately that there’s nothing good on television at the moment. Nine times out of ten, this complaint is coming from people who don’t have cable or satellite TV, and to you people, I would like to say this: What is UP with your priorities, man?

Seriously — if I had to choose between having cable/satellite or paying my mortgage, there’d be nary a moment’s hesitation for me. I mean, what can my house do for me that alternative, cheaper forms of shelter cannot? I mean, BESIDES give me second degree chemical burns on my forearms, like it did last year?

On the other hand, you know what cable/satellite TV is doing for me lately? It’s making me LAUGH. And while, sure, you could argue that my house has also made me laugh from time to time, it’s primarily been laughter of the hysterical variety (you know, the kind that comes right before the total mental breakdown?), which isn’t nearly as fun.

If you don’t have cable/satellite, I’m afraid there’s not much I can do about your complaint except note that Farmer Wants a Wife seems to be quite popular on the CW (my condolences).

If you DO have cable or satellite, however, there are two new shows you need to give a try before you bemoan the lack of quality programming to me again. You one-out-of-ten person who does have cable and yet keeps complaining (you know who you are, you big whiner), pay attention to what’s coming next.

The first show? USA’s newest series, In Plain Sight (Sunday nights, 10pm). Now, the funny thing about this one is that when I first started to see ads for it, I found them so utterly obnoxious I swore I wouldn’t even give it a try. It’s very unlike me to dismiss a show without even watching the pilot, and that goes double for a show on the channel that graced the world with Monk and Psych, two of my summer favorites (p.s. stay tuned next week for a post about shows coming back this July, including these two).

So now’s where I’d like to pause for a moment to educate the people at USA who come up with the ad campaigns in the hopes they don’t make this same mistake next time: If you are trying to market a show to women that is about a strong woman, do not make the clips about breast implants and porn the primary focus of your commercials. Capice? Good.

Lucky for me, the week before this show began, I read a positive review of it in Entertainment Weekly that led to my begrudging concession to watch the first episode before dismissing it so readily as misogynist crap. And, wonder of wonders, it’s actually pretty good! It’s about two U.S. Marshalls who primarily do Witness Protection Program work, and the characters are great, the dialogue is sharp, and the plots so far have been pretty entertaining. So far, I’ve seen three episodes and really enjoyed all three. That’s a very good sign. You can watch full episodes of this one on the USA Network web site, by the way. Go get caught up — I’ll wait.

The second show, I never would’ve even HEARD about had it not been for my mother. So now’s where I’d like to pause for a moment to once again express my profound devotion to the best mom in the whole entire world (Hi, Mom!). Some mothers look out for their daughters by teaching them to avoid motorcycle trash (Hi, Dad!), not walk alone at night, or stay away from trans fats. My mother looks out for me by keeping an eye on the TV guide just in case a new sci-fi show starts up that has dialogue like, “It’s bad apples like you who put Mr. Hoover in a dress.” Man, I totally scored when it came to parents.

The show I’m referring to is called The Middleman, by the way, and the reason I would never have stumbled across it on my own is because it airs on the ABC Family channel (Monday nights, 10pm). My family, however, consists of a cat (who prefers watching squirrels) and a husband (who prefers watching MMORPGs), and so I just assumed this channel would have very little to offer me. But, and again I must say “wonder of wonders,” this show is actually pretty good too!

It’s based on a comic book series of the same name and is sort of like a cross between Dr. Who, Men in Black, The Avengers, and Due South (the guy playing the main character both looks a little like Paul Gross AND says things like, “Thank you kindly”) and though I will confess it’s a bit choppy in places, the dialogue is utterly hilarious, and I really like both the main characters a whole heckfire of a lot.

The Middleman is a guy whose job it is to protect the rest of the world from aliens, robots, and other nefarious characters, and as the series begins, he’s just hired himself a sarcastic sidekick, an artist/temp named Wendy Watson. Together, they wear snazzy suits and stop evildoers from doing evil. And, in the process, have made me laugh out loud at least six times an hour (which is virtually impossible unless you are the movie Overboard (“I just *cough* ate a bug”) or Zoolander (“What is this?  A center for ANTS?”)). It needs some polish, but I think the more the actors get the hang of the thing, it’s going to get even better.

So, you see? Those two plus So You Think You Can Dance and you’re COMPLAINING about there being nothing on? La la la, I can’t hear you, la la la!

Any other new shows I’m missing? Comments, yo!

BOOK: Stranger in Paradise by Robert B. Parker

June 25, 2008

Well, it was bound to happen sometime, I suppose. After two decades (at least — I’ve lost count) of reading and adoring every single novel Robert B. Parker has written, I finally hit one that left me feeling a little bit ho-hum. This is Parker’s latest installment in the Jesse Stone series, which some of you might know from the books and others might know from the Tom Selleck made-for-TV adaptations of the books (which I’ve enjoyed quite a bit myself). The plot of this one has to do with a Native American hitman named Crow who is hired by a rich Florida dude to go to Paradise, kidnap his runaway teenage daughter, and return her to him.

At first, Crow is all over the idea, at least until it becomes clear that his new boss actually wants him to kill the girl’s mother while he’s at it, and that he primarily wants his daughter back because he misses getting to sexually abuse her. This puts a damper on Crow’s enthusiasm, and he decides not to do the job after all. And then this ticks off the rich Florida dude, who then sends a posse of bad guys up to Paradise to track Crow down and kill him.

Stone is pulled into this story when Crow comes to him and openly tells him exactly what’s going on. The two form a plan to fix the mess, and voila, eventually they do. As plot concepts go, I’ve heard worse. But there were just too many elements of this story that made absolutely no sense for me to actually enjoy it all that much. First of all, Crow is a known bank robber who got away with ten million dollars the last time he was in Paradise, and Jesse is all “Hey, how’s it goin’, yo?” when he sees him? Sorry, but no. Second, Crow has ten million dollars stashed away and he’s taking jobs like this lame one from the rich Florida dude? Sorry, but no. Third, Crow is both so emotionless he kills on a whim, but so passionate about women that he refuses to ever hurt a lady? Sorry, but, huh?

We’re clearly supposed to fall madly in love with Crow (Stone’s female deputy even sleeps with him, despite the fact she’s happily married — don’t get me started on that one) and to respect and admire the fact he’s a brutal killer who would never, ever hurt a lady. Annnnnd, sorry, but no. In fact, Stone himself clearly admires and respects him, because even after Crow admits to killing a gang member the next town over, Jesse STILL doesn’t arrest him. Which, SORRY, but NO!

Additionally, I have to confess I’m really, really getting tired of all the subplot stuff about Stone’s ex-wife. That thread typically consumes significant chunks of every Stone novel and it never goes anywhere interesting or new. Their relationship never changes — it doesn’t improve, it doesn’t get worse. It’s just boring and stagnant. And I’ve never fully believed it, either. The emotion just isn’t there for me and it’s time for Parker to drop that ex-wife character and try to do something new with Jesse’s love life. I say it’s time to combine this series with the Sunny Randall one for good, get those two back into a relationship (there was a crossover novel a couple of years ago that was a lot of fun!), and run with it from there.

Um, other than all the bad stuff, though. . . great book! *cough*

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MOVIE: Lifeforce (1985)

June 23, 2008

I had an extremely long plot synopsis for this Tobe Hooper sci-fi film (the latest selection for Final Girl’s Film Club) all written out for you guys, but the more I got into it, the more I started to realize that A) it was getting WAY too long for a movie of this nature and B) there was a better way to go about this whole procedure.

So, instead, what I’m going to give you is a very SHORT plot synopsis, followed by a list of life lessons this movie is attempting to teach us. That way, you can read the list of lessons, put a checkmark next to the ones you already know, and decide from what’s left whether or not you need to see this film in order to obtain the knowledge you lack.

Short plot synopsis: This movie is about a bunch of aliens that look like humans and were chilling out in Halley’s Comet when they were “rescued” by some dumb astronauts who didn’t know any better and then let loose in England. Once on Earth, they begin French kissing everybody they encounter (with lightning bolts!) in order to suck their life forces out of them and sustain their own beings. Any human who has macked with an alien turns into a mummy who must then mack with someone else in order to restore themselves back to normal. And once they are back to normal, they must mack with someone ELSE every two hours or else they turn back into a mummy again. Commence worldwide epidemic of orgy.

More important than the plot, however, are the lessons this film teaches us about the nature of sci-fi movies, the nature of humans, the nature of this planet we call home, and the nature of Patrick Stewart’s hair (or lack thereof). Here’s the list — if you already know all these things, you can safely skip this film. If you don’t, however, I’d suggest renting it ASAP and avoiding anybody who wants to French kiss you until you’ve mastered the following ropes. It’s for your own good.

1. All astronauts should be required to watch Tobe Hooper’s OTHER movie, Poltergeist, because if the astronauts in THIS movie had done that, they would’ve known better than to go towards the light in the alien space ship, which is they got themselves into this mess. If you ever see a bright light, I would strongly suggest NOT going towards it unless A) you are trapped in a cave or B) you are accompanied by Zelda Rubenstein.

2. Naked women ain’t nuthin’ but trouble. Boy and howdy!

3. The target demographic for bad sci-fi movies is the 14 year old male. Hence the fact I lost count of the gratuitous boobie shots somewhere around number 87,456.

4. French kissing strangers is never a good idea. Especially if the strangers shoot lightning bolts out of their throats and/or say things like, “It’ll be much less terrifying if you just come to me.”

5. If you are a woman who needs to escape from a secured building, try taking all your clothes off. Because as soon as you are naked, all the male security guards will be so stunned by your luscious boobies they’ll let you waltz right out the front door, even as they mutter things like, “A naked girl is not going to get out of this complex!”

6. Patrick Stewart has been bald since he was 13 years old.

7. If you’ve noticed that, since the aliens arrived, people who at first glance seem to be dead tend to rise up later and kill others, leave the corpse behind when you board your escape helicopter.

8. Never trust the Prime Minister of England. Jesus, I thought EVERYBODY knew that guy was an alien by now!

9. Don’t assume that just because everybody around you has turned into a soul-sucking mummy, the military has noticed something strange is going on. The military is usually the last to know. Unless it’s all their fault to begin with, in which case, they will just PRETEND to be the last to know and then act all surprised when you finally tell them.

10. DO NOT HAVE SEX WITH ALIENS. Regardless of the lusciousness of their boobies.

And, last but not least: 11. If you are going to stab an alien through the back with a 3-foot sword, do not embrace her from the front while you ram the sword through her. Because that’s a really good way to also ram it through yourself. And then you’re pretty much stuck with her for the rest of your life.

Though, fortunately for all of us, that will not be much longer.

Did I mention I loved this movie? Because I totally did. Tobe Hooper can do no wrong in my book. The man’s a genius.

[Netflix me (available for Instant Viewing, which means I watched it using my spiffy new Roku Player!) | Buy me]

Genre: Sci-fi/horror
Cast: Boobies, boobies, boobies, Patrick Stewart, boobies, boobies.

BOOK: The Keep by Jennifer Egan

June 18, 2008

Goth tech-junkie Danny was surprised when his cousin Howie invited him to come to Eastern Europe to help convert an old castle into an upscale resort. It’s been twenty years since they last saw each other, and back when they were kids, Danny did something unforgivably horrible to Howie — something that changed Howie forever, and not in a good way. But Danny’s sort of on the run from angry mobsters these days, so, despite his trepidation, he decides any excuse to flee to the Czech Republic is probably a good one.

When he gets to the castle, Danny’s surprised to find that Howie is a changed man. He’s outrageously gleeful about the hotel project, and wildly in love with his wife and young son. He’s also got a close friend with him named Mick, and Mick and Danny bond pretty quickly, both being somewhat “other side of the tracks” compared to the insanely wealthy Howie. The more time Danny spends with Howie, though, the more he begins to realize why Howie actually brought him there. Danny’s always been charismatic, in a quiet sort of way (if that makes sense), and there’s this crazy baroness who has refused to move out of the castle’s keep. Can Danny somehow convince her to give up the castle so that Howie can complete the renovations? Or is she just crazy enough to, say, try doing them all in?

Alternating with this story is another tale, this time about a prisoner named Ray who recently joined a writing class — primarily as a way to escape his cell a few times a week. At first, his stories for class are provocative jokes, but he soon begins to craft a much more significant tale. One that slowly begins to merge with the story of Danny, Howie, and the castle keep.

And one that eventually leads to an attempt on Ray’s life. . .

I found this novel to be thought-provoking and engaging. And, even better, I was surprised by almost all of the twists, which is a pretty rare thing for me. I really enjoyed the writing and settings a lot, especially all the history and lore about the castle and its keep. But I will say that when I got to the end of this novel, I felt a little bit disappointed somehow. I’d really enjoyed the whole thing and been very gripped by it all along, and yet, I couldn’t really figure out what the point of the novel was. And sometimes it felt like substories were being introduced for ambiance rather than actual plot (like the tale of the two children who died at the castle hundreds of years ago). Sometimes novels don’t really HAVE points, of course — they just tell us a story and aim to entertain. But this book felt deeper than that — and yet, somehow not quite deep enough, all at the same time.

Nevertheless, despite the somewhat “huh?” feeling it left me with, I really enjoyed this book a lot and am looking forward to trying more of Egan’s novels soon. Recommended!

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New Boyfriend FINALLY Up!

June 17, 2008

Sorry it took for-freakin-ever (life has been rather insane the last few months!), but the good news is I have three more write-ups nearing completion, so things should be moving a bit more quickly from now forward.  Theoretically, anyway.

By way of introduction to this week’s Beau, allow me to present a list of words caught by my spellchecker while preparing his write-up.  See if you can figure out who he is based on the list:


And the one that ought to give it ALL away:  Bodhizatfa.

Click here to read the Boyfriend of the Week, and then come back over to this post for comments!

Stan Winston Dead at 62 — Crud.

June 17, 2008

Man, and I was surprised to hear about Tim Russert last week — I just found out that Stan Winston, one of the greatest creature creators ever to work the movies, died yesterday after a long battle with multiple myeloma.  He was only 62 — that’s younger than my parents!  Words can’t express my surprise and my sadness about this one.  Stan was one of the greatest special effects and make-up guys of all time, and I list many, MANY of his films among my favorites.

Which ones?

Here — clip and save, and you can have yourself a little marathon this week as a tribute.  I know I will be!

Edward Scissorhands
The Thing
Jurassic Park
Terminator 2
The Entity
Galaxy Quest
Lake Placid
The Relic

Stan — you blew our minds.  And you will be missed.

So You Think You Can Dance — Go Josh!

June 16, 2008

Gotta confess — the more I watch this one, the more I think my mondo crush on So You Think You Can Dance contestant Twitch is being replaced by an even mondo-er one on Joshua Allen. Anybody else got any favorites so far this year? (Note: the actual dance starts around minute 2 of this clip.)