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H. Bala "Me Too Can Read" RSS Feed (Recently moved back to Carson, California, or as I call it... the center of the universe)

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Thieves' Highway (The Criterion Collection)
Thieves' Highway (The Criterion Collection)
DVD ~ Richard Conte
Price: $24.22
17 used & new from $17.28

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars some folks really want their apples, August 31, 2015
An apple a day may keep the doctor away. But apples hauled on delivery, trucker falls prey to fast thievery. Who knew a fella had to endure such rumpus in order to acquire, transport, and sell fruit and produce? I now appreciate my groceries more. Thieves' Highway is a 1949 film noirish thriller. Richard Conte stars as Nick Garcos, a war veteran and a mechanic who, after an extended sea voyage, has returned home to Fresno, CA. He's saved up enough money to start his own business. But he never counted on coming home to find his father crippled and robbed, courtesy of a treacherous fruit & produce merchant named Mike Figlia (Lee J. Cobb). Out for blood, Nick, now a truck jockey, sets out on a 36-hour, 400 mile, no sleep haul from Fresno to San Francisco, his truck overloaded with sumptuous apples, these highly in demand so early in the market season.

Nick is partnered up by Ed Kinney (played by Millard Mitchell who is terrific). Ed is an opportunistic cat who himself had welched on paying a debt to Nick's dad. Except Nick has his eyes on the bigger prize. He wants to get even with Mike Figlia, him what casually commits perfidy in Frisco. Off they go to the City by the Bay, Nick driving ahead, Ed lagging behind on account of a drive shaft's effed up universal joint. So, yeah, we end up tracking two storylines. Because Ed himself ends up beset with his own sackful of woes.

Nick isn't your classic intrepid hero. He's brave but impetuous and naive in the ways of the fruit and produce trade. This and that obstacle conspire to torment him, from the near fatal fallout of his succumbing to sheer exhaustion from driving non-stop to the deplorable machinations of Mike Figlia. In Frisco, Nick bumps into a beguiling dame (Valentina Cortese), and so that's one more bit of jeopardy. But maybe Rica will prove to have a heart of gold. Or not.

Thieves' Highway deftly executes the mechanics of film noir, all hail director Jules Dassin, for whom this was the last American film shot before getting blacklisted. The tone is cynical. The hero is flawed. La femme est fatale. And whoever shot the cinematography deserves massive props. I loved the atmospheric play between light and shadow. A.I. Bezzerides submits a potent screenplay, and probably it helped that he had his own trucking background to plumb. The actors deliver compelling performances, from a determined Conte to that garrulous chameleon Lee J. Cobb to the calculating Millard Mitchell to the alluring, exotic, duplicitous, big-hearted, big-on-hugs Valentina Cortese. Call me a sucker or a hopeless romantic, but, even more than Lee J. Cobb's getting what's coming to him - and here I'll inject a big, honking ***SPOILER ALERT*** - I relished the sappy Cinderella ending. Julia Roberts, you eat your heart out.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 3, 2015 9:05 AM PDT

Manhattan Transfer
Manhattan Transfer
by John E. Stith
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.66
24 used & new from $8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars John E. Stith bubble-wraps Manhattan, August 31, 2015
This review is from: Manhattan Transfer (Paperback)
Were John E. Stith's Manhattan Transfer adapted to cinema, it'd be a cool sci-fi movie. Were the movie to remain faithful to Stith's plotting, the action would only jam-packed in the beginning and in the end. The middle bits would instead be about a quartet of explorers embarking on a scientific expedition to the unknown. The core characters are all thinking man's heroes, and Stith incorporates hard science into his story yet does it without sacrificing that sense of old-school pulp adventure. This is what they call a crackerjack read. This is what The Fantastic Four movie should've been like.

I love the scale of it and the sensational, audacious opening as the island of Manhattan is ripped off its moorings by inscrutable aliens and abducted into space in a mammoth spacecraft. Suddenly, the panicked citizens find their metropolis confined in a bubble on a vast plain, merely one dome amongst many others, all of them encasing similarly seized cities from a multitude of alien worlds, an artificial sun looming over them all.

I love Stith's approach to this. He posits that, in times of crisis, New Yorkers would unite and pool resources and work together. There's a bittersweet tang, of course, given that Stith's story foreshadowed the events of 9/ll eight years later, in terms of how New Yorkers did come together. Not to mention, the Twin Towers are prominently referenced in the book. Sure, Stith caved to the mechanics of storytelling and had to introduce internal conflict in the shape of a deranged yet charismatic street preacher whose doomsday sermons end up swaying the frightened masses. But, mostly, Stith delivers a cast of characters who are grown-ups and dedicated professionals and who do their durndest to problem solve their way out of such a terrifying situation.

In case you're an oldhead and were wondering why there's a sense of familiarity with Manhattan Transfer, it bears a whiff of Arthur C. Clark's Rama books, what with the similar premise of humans aboard a gargantuan starship run by enigmatic aliens. Heck, one of the few criticisms to Rendezvous With Rama is the dearth of strong characterization. That's the case here, as well. Our leads are experts in their fields, uber-responsible and not the sort to torture themselves with angst and crap of that nature. Sure, there's attraction between the alpha male soldier and the UN linguist, but it develops in restrained fashion, and, again, I can't help but feel that Stith threw that in there in service of plot mechanics. And yet Stith writes his characters as really likable. I couldn't help but cheer them on.

So, what's the haps? Is Manhattan now part of some cosmic zoo exhibit? Or part of some scientific experiment? Are they fresh groceries? These are all questions raised by our cast. The truth is equally alarming and would propel our experts and explorers in a desperate race against time to stave off extinction. What Stith does really well is not only maintain but heighten that sense of urgency. And while the middle bits are all about our team of explorers tunneling from city to city, there is narrative momentum and a fascination in the minutiae of it all. Maybe that's what I liked best - the day-to-day details that Stith puts in. I was so interested in the steps taken by these professionals in the face of such an unfathomable event, the planning, the logistics of it all. I also soaked in Stith's detailed depiction of the various alien cultures that the explorers ran into, although I think it does stretch credibility that Abby Tersa, the UN linguist, would turn out to be such a formidable interpreter. But what do I know? Maybe UN linguists really do have mad skills. A sense of humor does permeate the narrative. First, there's something so very Douglas Adamsy about the heist of Manhattan. Maybe what made me chuckle the most is that scene, late in the game, when the mayor opens up the 911 lines for New Yorkers who may have ideas about how to defeat the alien menace. That opens up a whole kaboodle of wild suggestions. Crazy thing is, one of those ideas actually end up being instrumental in saving the day. I've read Manhattan Transfer a number of times now. It hasn't lost its knack for transporting me to a place of wondrous imagination. It's one of those books that is unabashed in its championing of human ingenuity and pluck and perserverance. But, also, the aliens are wondrously diverse and creepy. Man, I even liked the swerve of what the abducting aliens turn out to be like.

Love Finds You in Sugarcreek
Love Finds You in Sugarcreek
DVD ~ Tom Everett Scott
Price: $12.77
45 used & new from $6.39

4.0 out of 5 stars Sugarcreek, Ohio - come for the Swiss festival, the warm hospitality, the boulder tossing contest... and the murder mystery, August 30, 2015
This review is from: Love Finds You in Sugarcreek (DVD)
I don't know how closely the UP TV movie adaptation, LOVE FINDS YOU IN SUGARCREEK, OHIO, hewed to Serena B. Miller's novel, but it drew me in enough that I feel like looking up the novel. The movie has this quaint Swiss and Amish vibe to it while still remaining very much a mystery. The story sets itself in Ohio's Amish sector, in the small, picturesque town of Sugarcreek, in the thick of its annual, tourist-flocking Swiss Festival. Rachel Troyer (Sarah Lancaster, CHUCK) is the tough local policewoman. She tends to be fiercely protective of her three elderly Amish aunts who happen to be the proprietors of a tumbledown farmhouse inn. When the aunts take in a scruffy drifter (Tom Everett Scott) and his sickly 5-year-old boy, it triggers their niece's bump of paranoia. Officer Troyer observes the shabby clothes on the new tenant but also the $300 shoes, the lack of ID - dude claims that his wallet was stolen - and just the general shadiness of him. Now, Sarah, historically, has had her share of trust issues. Being orphaned at an early age has turned her into a lifelong cynic. And when there's smoke, there's fire, right? Sarah promptly initiates a background check on the stranger. This could take a while.

Because I'm a guy, the first thing that sunk in was the high ratio of babeness in Sugarcreek's police force. With CHUCK, I was always waffling between who was sexier, Yvonne Strahovski or Sarah Lancaster. Lancaster and the actress (Nicole Badaan?) who plays the Police Academy graduate are really easy on the eyes. I'm glad that Sarah is staying active. I'd already seen - and enjoyed - her performances in three other made-for-TV movies: Oh Christmas Tree! (a.k.a. FIR CRAZY, 2013), LOOKING FOR MR. RIGHT (2014), and ALONG CAME A NANNY (2014). She just comes across as a really sweet person. As Officer Troyer, she's got a more hardened edge to her as she gets to exhibit her dramatic flair. Tom Everett Scott is also perfectly cast in his role as the man of mystery who should've known better than to show off and reveal a key detail about his past. But when Sarah Lancaster's in the room, you can't help but show off. So I don't blame his goof.

There really aren't a lot of suspects, so I'm guessing you'll be able to suss out the guilty party just be the process of elimination. The movie doesn't try to keep you in the dark as far as Scott's true identity or why he's been on the run for months now. Early on, the tabloids give it away. So, if the mystery isn't as arresting, then what's the draw? For me, from jump, it's Sarah Lancaster. But, as I watched the movie, I sort of fell in love with the cinematography. Ohio has never looked so good. It's also a beautiful depiction of the Amish community and how kind and charitable those folks are. I thought Kelly McGillis was fantastic as one of the Amish aunts. She may be decades removed from TOP GUN and WITNESS, but she still has this ability to stand out, this time with her acting chops. I also dug the scene in which Scott competed in the Swiss Festival's boulder-hurling event. It certainly bought him more credibility in Officer Troyler's eyes. But, maybe, my favorite scene is the one in which Scott deftly deals with a pack of pushy reporters. So, to sum up, this is a terrific movie. It's a good-looking movie. It's wonderfully acted. It presents moral lessons that could never get old, nuggets about not judging a book by its cover and that the simpler life offers its own share of bounty. LOVE FINDS YOU IN SUGARCREEK, OHIO does present some dark subject matter that sort of creep under the wholesome surface, so there's that. But there's no objectionable language. The two leads have a solid chemistry. The kid actor didn't get on my nerves. The love story is low keyed and nicely executed. And I am now clamoring for a Swiss Festival in MY town. With boulder tossing.

Having Wonderful Time
Having Wonderful Time
DVD ~ Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Peggy Conklin, Lucille Ball Ginger Rogers
Price: $14.99
30 used & new from $7.85

3.0 out of 5 stars in which Rogers and Fairbanks, Jr. try to romance each other with sweet, sweet talk about backgammon, August 25, 2015
This review is from: Having Wonderful Time (DVD)
When was the last time you got a postcard? Remember what vacationers used to write on them? "Having wonderful time!" they'd scribble. Anyway, this is a flimsy romantic comedy that RKO released in 1938. It has a running time of 70 minutes which means it doesn't wear out its welcome. For Ginger Rogers, this movie presented another chance to break away from her musicals with Fred Astaire, to get away from being typecast as just a hoofer.

It's sketchily based on the play by Arthur Kober, except that the Hays Office determined that the play - revolving around Eastern Jews at play in the Borscht Belt - wouldn't translate so well to cinema seeing as how the material was too skewed towards a specific demographic. The Hays Office was also concerned that, should the film stay faithful to the play, it may trigger a rash of anti-semitism. Whatever. All the Jewish content was taken out, and Having Wonderful Time became a loopy romantic romp for young Gentiles of the lower middle class persuasion.

So, here's Thelma "Teddy" Shaw (Rogers), typist from the Bronx, embarking on her two-week jaunt to a resort in the Catskills. Some background on Teddy: She dwells in cramped quarters with all sorts of rambunctious family members, so you can imagine how she just can't wait to get away for fresh air and for some peace and quiet. Teddy has a good mind even if she never went to college. She's reading books all the time to improve herself. She admits she's a bluff, which makes it easier to condone her putting on airs when she's out in public. Except, in Camp Kare-Free, she shouldn't have done it in front of Chick.

Chick Kirkland (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) is a law student who moonlights as a waiter at the resort to pay off law school. And, brother, does he have a chip on his shoulders. You can see why Teddy's snooty attitude doesn't sit well with him. Teddy and Chick get off on the wrong foot. And you know what that means. Camp Kare-Free presents all sorts of fun activities for its clientele: canoeing, hiking, horseback riding, badminton, late night dancing, and, uh, Japanese fiestas. And lots of canoodling. Right, Teddy and Chick?

Rogers and Fairbanks, Jr. work well together, but there's only so much acting you could invest in such pedestrian plotting. Still, I got a kick out of the two leads' biting banter, that is, until that turn when they inevitably get all swoony about each other. They're backed by a swell supporting cast, notably Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, and Jack Carson, with all of whom Rogers co-starred in Stage Door. Making his film debut is Red Skelton who plays the camp's madcap social director. Do you enjoy Skelton's brand of comic mugging and physical shtick? They you'll be giggling like mad because he goes into his "how to dunk a donut" and "how to walk up and down the steps" routines. Overall, I had fun watching Having Wonderful Time for the lightweight stuff that it was, and I liked looking at the location shots of Big Bear. But, honestly, I found the movie interesting more for the behind-the-scenes details, for how it was so significantly tweaked from the play. Well, that's the Hays Office for ya. Ain't censorship grand?

So Not a Hero
So Not a Hero
Price: $2.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars super-powered crimefighting, second chances, and misogyny in Charlote, NC, August 25, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: So Not a Hero (Kindle Edition)
SO NOT A HERO was a weird read for me. It's in the alley of superhero prose, and that's my jam. The lead character is interesting and likable. And I got into S.J. Delos' world-building. But there's a gross sex scene within the first few pages that just threw me off and almost made me stop reading, and then another one halfway thru that went on for many pages and bored the pants off me (but not in a good way). So, yeah, let me get what I don't like about this book out of the way, so I can then go into what I did like. Foremost is this misogynistic vibe that I found pretty repulsive. I wasn't down with all the fairly explicit sexy time and that Karen ends up doing most of her crimefighting in her undies. And I skimmed thru all the passages in which Karen went shopping or engaged in boyfriend chatter with her new bestie. Also, what does it say when the most interesting character in the book is Karen's ex-boyfriend supervillain?

What did I like? I like Delos' ideas regarding the source of his characters' enhanced abilities. I'm not saying they're fresh ideas, because the supers and the "Slips" (short for "slip-ups") remind me of George R.R. Martin's WILD CARDS world populated with Aces and Jokers. But I appreciate the background details he puts in, like the notion of the Enhanced Naming Convention Act (which breaks down how supers can legally attain a code-name) and the superhero policy of always confiscating stray villain tech that gets dropped in the heat of combat. I'm also a sucker for the old "bad guy turned good" twist - the best example of this being Jim Bernheimer's CONFESSIONS OF A D-LIST SUPERVILLAIN. And if the lead is of a different race or ethnicity? All the better.

Standing 5'6," looking like she weighs 115, although she's actually closer to 815 pounds, Karen Hashimoto, a.k.a. Crushett, is a super-villain recently paroled after a two-year stint in Federal prison. She's homeless now, in Charlotte, NC, having just been evicted because her landlady just found out that Karen is a convicted felon. Out wandering the streets, Karen runs into one of those life-defining crossroads. She inadvertently ends up helping the superhero, Mister Manpower, take down a crew of supervillains and receives a membership offer from him to his superhero group, The Good Guys (seriously lame name). Not really sure about it, Karen still opts for the fresh start.

Minus all the T & A, this is a pretty cool read. S.J. Delos orchestrates these neat action sequences that showcase what the ex-Crushett can do. She's a bit like the She-Hulk! Delos does throw in a late plot twist that you may or may not see coming. There's also an emotional sub-plot revolving around Karen and her estranged parents. I enjoyed Karen's fractious interactions with several of her new teammates who doubt very much that Karen's truly been rehabilitated. Doctor Maniac is an intriguing villain with his own warped code of honor. There's a sequel due out in 2016, titled SOME KIND OF HERO, and I really want to check it out because Delos really has created a gripping new world of supers, and I want to keep on rooting for Karen. But there's the other stuff...

Here's a list of recommended superhero books:

- Marion G. Harmon's Wearing the Cape
- Peter Clines' Ex-Heroes
- Jim Bernheimer's Confessions of a D-List Supervillain
- Matthew Phillion's The Indestructibles
- Mur Lafferty's Playing for Keeps
- P.S. Power's Proxy (The Infected Book 1)
- Trey Dowell's The Protectors: A Thriller
- R S J Gregory's Cosmic Girl: Rising Up
- Blake M. Petit's Other People's Heroes
- C.J. Carella's Armageddon Girl (New Olympus Saga, Book 1)
- Rob Rogers' Devil's Cape
- Joshua Guess' Next (The Next Chronicle Book 1)
- Blake Northcott's Arena Mode
- Austin Grossman's Soon I Will Be Invincible
- Kirby Moore's Starfall City
- George R.R. Martin's classic Wild Card anthologies

Government Girl
Government Girl
DVD ~ Sonny Tufts
Price: $17.99
25 used & new from $13.09

3.0 out of 5 stars Olivia de Havilland and couth be damned, August 25, 2015
This review is from: Government Girl (DVD)
Government Girl is one of two wartime romantic comedies that Olivia de Havilland starred in, in 1943. See if you can follow: Perhaps as punishment for her ongoing show of discontent, Warner Brothers loaned de Havilland to David O. Selznick who then handed her over to RKO. This lightweight movie, produced by RKO and plagued with behind-the-scenes drama, was the final straw in de Havilland's heap of grievances against Warner Brothers as she would end up suing her home studio over her contract. It proved to be a watershed legal battle, won by her, in that it established the de Havilland Law in which studios are barred from extending to their actors contracts that go past seven years.

In Government Girl, de Havilland plays Elizabeth "Smokey" Allard, one of the crap ton of women trying to make do in a bustling Washington, DC, circa World War II. This was a period in time when most of the boys were away doing their part, and so the ratio of women to what's left of the men was ten to one. So, imagine the attention paid to Mr. Ed Browne (Sonny Tufts), a tall, strapping gent who apparently is big noise in the capital city. Ed is a Detroit mechanic and a sort of efficiency expert with a knack for getting things done. As such, he's called to Washington to oversee the mass production of bombers or, as I prefer to call them by their awesome nickname, flying fortresses. Ed isn't the tiptoeing kind of guy. He bellows and stomps and is impertinent and doesn't give a what if he ruffles feathers. He's in the dark when it comes to the subtleties of diplomacy. He's soon making enemies left and right.

Observes a hotel manager: "All sorts of things happen in Washington hotel lobbies since the war started." Ed and Smokey meet cute in a Washington hotel lobby, in a scene that hammers home how cramped and in dearth were the living accommodations during the wartime era. It's a run-in that also promptly pits our two leads against each other. Sucks for Smokey when, come to find, she's the office girl who gets assigned to the maddening Ed Browne. It's a priceless scene that allows you to take in that horrified expression that crosses Smokey's face during that big reveal. But Smokey turns out to be Ed's secret weapon. See, Smokey knows the ins and outs of Washington politics. She's networked thru and thru and comes thru like a boss when Ed inevitably lands in a big jam.

You figure a romance will develop between them. Except the movie sure plays the waiting game. Smokey's dance card happens to be real full. She's dating two guys simultaneously. And Ed isn't exactly on the ball when it comes to courting girls. He's a workaholic who thinks marriage is lame.

In its best moments, Government Girl presents a fun, zany vibe. And credit to de Havilland for engaging in physical slapstick. She's pretty much a whirling dervish in this one, whether she's careening down crowded corridors or skidding on her stockinged feet or crawling underneath furniture. It's refreshing when actresses known for their ladylike demeanor let their hair down and act the goof. She must've been so unhappy while filming this, but you can't say she's not a trooper. Just look at her throwing herself around with abandon.

I'll be blunt and say that, while it does have its winning moments, Government Girl lacks the delightful charm, wit, and whimsy of de Havilland's earlier-in-the-year picture, Princess O'Rourke. Who knows how much better Government Girl would've been if only it had landed its earlier choice for male lead, Joseph Cotten. But, somehow, Sonny Tufts got the part. Tufts just doesn't do it for me. He's stiff as a plank and comes off more as one of those supporting characters usually played by blustery cats like Jack Carson. So, no, I don't buy that de Havilland could fall for him, not that they have chemistry anyway. I'm betting RKO's inability to nab Joseph Cotten probably contributed to her getting fed up once and for all and filing that landmark lawsuit against Warner Brothers. As for Government Girl, if you happen to catch it on some classic cable channel, stick around. It's not bad. But de Havilland's done much superior comedies: Hard to Get (1938), Four's a Crowd (1938), My Love Came Back (1940), and, of course, Princess O'Rourke.

Travel Team
Travel Team
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars rise of the Middletown Cocktail Napkins, August 24, 2015
This review is from: Travel Team (Kindle Edition)
Down the years, I've come across Mike Lupica's sports columns and found them to be excellent (and, sometimes, provocative) reads. But I must say that I relish his middle grade/YA books even more. Lupica specializes in the underdog sports story. TRAVEL TEAM was published in 2004 and I remember enjoying it immensely. I just got done re-reading it, and, guess what, it hasn't lost its magic, its knack for hooking in the reader.

Lupica, being the well-rounded sports newspaper columnist, covers any number of sports. TRAVEL TEAM is about 12-year-old seventh-grader and basketball player Danny Walker. Lupica, several times, mentions how the kids sometimes know basketball more so than the grown-ups. When it's just the kids involved, Danny gets his just propers. He eats, sleeps, and breathes basketball. The other kids recognize him as one of the best players in Middletown, New York. They love playing with him because Danny is one of those unselfish, fundamentally-sound players who'll always find a way to dish the ball to you if you're open. Thing is, Danny is small for his age. Maybe his size is why he gets left out of the travel team roster. Or maybe it's because his coach, who sees himself as the big man in Middletown, nurses this age-old grudge against Danny's dad. See, Danny's dad, Richie Walker, is a celebrity of sorts. Richie was once the home town hero, a legend on the court, and even briefly made it in the NBa playing for the Golden State Warriors until an auto accident snipped his career short.

Lupica likes to stack the odds against his protagonists, and father-son conflicts seem to be a staple of his books. Danny's parents are divorced, with his schoolteacher mom, Ali, raising him. Danny and an embittered Richie don't see much of each other, and there's surely deep-seated resentment festering there. Anyway, is it a spoiler to say that, even though he didn't make his team, Danny does find a way to play basketball? He ends up on a newly-formed team composed primarily of other players who were also cut from tryouts and kids who weren't good enough to try out in the first place. Lupica stages some terrific basketball sequences. If you're into hoops and your preference is the point guard position, then you're in hog heaven with TRAVEL TEAM. Lupica dives into the make-up and mentality of the point guard. Lupica also covers the family angle, and I'm so glad he depicted Danny's mom, Ali, in such a positive light. Danny has a great support group, what with his mom and his school friend, Tess, and his chatterbox best buddy, Will. Will has the funniest line in the book for me as he reacts to Danny's getting grounded by his mom: "No IM! No tube? She's turned you into the Count of Monte Cristo." But, after Danny, my favorite, most rootable character is Colby. Who's Colby? I don't want to spoil it.

TRAVEL TEAM has stuff to say about how hard work and teamwork and big heart and a great support system (and, okay, some mad skills) can compensate for the limitations imposed by one's small stature. And Danny Walker, tapped as the underdog lead, and on a team of rejects and no-hopers, proves that he's far from being one, when all's said and done. What a good read!

DVD ~ John Wayne
Offered by Van Buren Boys Entertainment
Price: $29.89
44 used & new from $6.57

4.0 out of 5 stars "Now, would you like to try for England's free dental care, or you gonna answer my questions?", August 24, 2015
This review is from: Brannigan (DVD)
Far as I know, John Wayne made only two urban cop movies, and these after he rejected the role of Dirty Harry only to see that movie smash the box office. So, I guess to put his stamp on this trend about the anti-hero cop, a chagrined Wayne made McQ (1974) and this one, BRANNIGAN (1975). Wayne plays maverick Chicago cop, Lt. Jim Brannigan who, armed with extradition papers and handcuffs and his beloved .38 Caliber Colt Diamondback, travels across the pond, to London, to hunt down a mobster on the lam, wanted by the government for taxes and by Chicago PD for extortion and indicted already by a grand jury.

I enjoyed this one more than McQ, if we're telling truths. BRANNIGAN simply has more memorable moments. It's a weird comparison, I know, but BRANNIGAN reminds me of when Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan went to New York City. Like the bemused apeman, Brannigan finds himself out of his element, not that it bothers him any. The no-nonsense mechanics of the plot are enlivened by Brannigan's culture clash and by his often humorous interplay with Scotland Yard's Commander Sir Charles Swann (Richard Attenborough) and with his pretty liaison, Det. Sgt. Jennifer Thatcher (Judy Geeson). Wayne may have been closing in on 70 years, but he was still very much larger than life onscreen, as reflected by his habit of abusing doors when he goes in for a bust. "Knock, knock," he says with a straight face. And, of course, it wouldn't be a John Wayne flick without a crazy bar brawl, except the one here gets serenaded by the groovy strains of The Fifth Dimension's "Let The Sunshine In." Anyway, when it's all said and done, it's still the Duke, big and brawny and ugly. See him take on a dogged hitman, clever kidnappers, and uptight Limeys in general. See him slap around a shady stoolie or two and smartly circumvent not one but two bomb traps. Also, see him get dressed down by his bosses from both sides of the pond. But see, also, Richard Attenborough seemingly having a blast as the Scotland Yard commander. Attenborough gets his own licks in in that pub brawl. BRANNIGAN predates shows like DEMPSEY & MAKEPEACE and KEEN EDDIE. So, I guess it means that John Wayne was a trendsetter in this genre after all, eh?

Best Christmas Party Ever
Best Christmas Party Ever
DVD ~ Torrey DeVitto
Price: $9.98

4.0 out of 5 stars much drama in the world of holiday event planning, August 23, 2015
This review is from: Best Christmas Party Ever (DVD)
What I love about the Hallmark Channel is that it doesn't give an ef about being cool because it would rather dabble in warmth. It's a family-oriented network that's more concerned with its viewing audience than its critics. Its programming is always stuff that you can just watch with the fam without fretting about awkward, inappropriate moments that may come up during the show. I am loving its now traditional Countdown to Christmas lineup. Best Christmas Party Ever is one of twelve holiday movies that Hallmark put out for 2014 as part of that lineup, and I enjoyed it, man.

The premise is similar to Hats Off To Christmas in which the employee up for promotion gets submarined by nepotism. Jennie Stanton (Torrey DeVitto) is a dedicated event planner who had assumed she's being groomed to take over Petra's Parties. But when Petra (Linda Thorson) announces she's retiring, she instead taps her actor nephew Nick Forbes (Steve Lund) as the heir apparent and asks Jennie to train him. Jennie and Nick instantly clash over what theme to design for a senior arts center event. And then comes their first big challenge: organizing the grandest bash of the holiday season for the venerable Tyrell's Toys company, the very same toy store that inspired Jennie as a young girl to become an event planner. Can Jennie's severe work ethic and by-the-books methods mesh with Nick's cockiness and off-the-wall ideas? And will bottom-line corporate interests crush the Christmas spirit and undermine Jennie's intent to make the Tyrell's Toys Christmas Eve party the best time ever for a struggling community? Jennie talks about Tyrell's tradition of toy drives and hot turkey dinners for those in need. She argues: "Tyrell's Toys parties is about inclusion and community, not about VIP rooms and wrist bands." The suit who represents the corporation that just bought out Tyrell's Toys (and whom Jennie is dating) rebuts with "Sometimes, to maintain the old, you have to incorporate a little new." Yeah, sounds fishy to me, yo.

Well, this is a Hallmark movie, not an Agatha Christie joint, so the outcome's never really in doubt. Hallmark's all about the journey and the warmth of the story and the showcasing of universal values. And while critics and some fans may turn up their noses because Hallmark cinema is always so "bland" and "predictable," the numbers demonstrate that there's a huge market for its brand of cozy, sappy entertainment.

I will say that I wasn't at first sure about Nick. I thought, initially, that, hey, there's a guy who isn't nearly as charming as he thinks he is. But Steve Lund plays him as a stand-up guy with enough down-to-earth warmth, after all, that I eventually caved. Although that one joke, ugh: "What do you get when you cross a vampire with a snowman?" "Frost bite." And, honestly, that I was cagey around Nick is a nod to how immediately likable I found Jennie. Torrey DeVitto plays her as a stern taskmaster but with a kind and vulnerable soul. The squabbling between DeVitto and Lund goes down in cliched fashion. We know the suit she's dating doesn't have a chance. We know Petra's Parties will land the prestigious Tyrell's Toys account (or do we?). And that Jennie and Nick will end up throwing the best Christmas party ever. I saw everything coming, and I still couldn't take my eyeballs off the screen. And I felt the same way about Hat's Off To Christmas (which, by the way, I'm still waiting to come out on DVD).

The Painted Boy
The Painted Boy
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $13.99

5.0 out of 5 stars fantastic YA urban fantasy - the opposite of malo malo, August 22, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Painted Boy (Kindle Edition)
Chances are, 'twas Charles de Lint who, if not invented, then popularized urban fantasy in literature for the past two generations. I've read tons of his stuff and I count The Painted Boy as one of my favorites. For school teachers looking for something different and more diverse to show to their students, this book'll do ya. It's a story composed predominantly of minorities. I don't know how many times I've read it. I am also a sucker for stories about dragons residing in our world in human guise (ie: R.A. MacAvoy's Tea with the Black Dragon and Roger Zelazny's Roadmarks).

Check this out: In Chicago, 17-year-old Chinese-American Jay Li has had a seriously odd upbringing, courtesy of an inscrutable martinet of a grandmother. Jay was born to the Yellow Dragon Clan. He's got this tattoo of a dragon covering the entirety of his back, except it's no tattoo. That sucker one day manifested on his back, a dreaded family crest that reflected his true supernatural worth. This story chronicles Jay's quest to come to terms with his inner dragon. It's about how his grandmother sends him away, and how Jay ends up in the Southwest, in the desert town of Santo del Vado Viejo in Arizona. There, he'll find good friends, human and otherwise. He'll toil in a Mexican restaurant and, to his surprise, be instantly fluent in colloquial Spanish. He'll fall hard for the fiery lead guitarist of the local barrio rock band, Malo Malo. And, because Santo del Vado Viejo is overrun with gangbangers, he'll size up those more unsavory elements. Somewhere in these doings, Jay will awaken the slumbering dragon inside him. But can he tame it? This is a heck of a coming-of-age story, y'all.

As much as I like Charles de Lint, he's not my favorite urban fantasist. That would be Nina Kiriki Hoffman. And maybe part of the reason why I like The Painted Boy so much is that it's written in ways that remind me of Hoffman's storytelling. Both authors are so inventive. Their stories are consistently imaginative and thoughtful and evocative. It's as if they have a finger on the pulse of something deeper and more meaningful. They're expert at overlapping the otherworldly realm with the mundane. Both write characters etched in rich dimensions, layered enough that you can't quite pinpoint how they'll behave or how things will turn out. Both authors pepper their universes with colorful secondary characters. I like so many characters in this book, from Rosalie, a teen who should be put up for sainthood, to her awesome boyfriend Ramon to Rosalie's estranged best friend, Maria, to Lupita, the playful jackalope. To be honest, I find them more interesting than the lead protagonist, Jay, who can be whiny at times. "Woe is me, I have dragon powers." Boohoo. Dude comes off a bit like a plot device that de Lint uses to introduce these other more engrossing characters. And, again, a busful of credit to de Lint for his cast of non-Caucasians. And I like that he doesn't make a big deal about it. But, yeah, culturally, it's a neat change of pace. Other bits I liked: his vivid descriptions of the desert setting and, also, how the music of Malo Malo - infused with the distinct barrio flava of mariachi, hip hop, and rock - is so integral to the plot and to the community of Santo del Vado Viejo. I like that the "cousins" (spirits from various animal clans) casually rub elbows with the "five-fingered beings" (what the cousins call us humans), like it ain't no thang. De Lint mashes up mythos from this and that culture and makes it all read seamlessly. Yeah, I'm a big fan of this book. I demand a sequel.

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