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Michael Crane RSS Feed (Orland Park, IL USA)

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Mystic River (Three-Disc Collector's Edition)
Mystic River (Three-Disc Collector's Edition)
DVD ~ Sean Penn
Offered by Solo Enterprises
Price: $11.99
11 used & new from $0.01

4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Sometimes, I think all three of us got in that car...", June 9, 2004
Clint Eastwood has directed a masterpiece which is most likely his best work ever. Completely character driven and full of tension, drama and danger, "Mystic River" is a cinematic experience that shouldn't be passed up. For those 130+ minutes, I was intrigued and amazed. It's a film that doesn't rely on action or senseless non-stop violence, but it relies only on the characters.
Jimmy, Dave and Sean were best friends when they were kids, but something terrible happened. Dave was abducted by two strangers posing as cops one day, only to be held captive and abused (physically, and by "other" means). He did manage to escape, but the experience has forever scarred him. Years later when all three are grown up, they are reunited when a horrible crime arises--Jimmy's nineteen-year-old daughter ends up murdered. Sean's a cop who is on the case and Dave, still deeply disturbed by the past, is acting very strange and suspiciously. The childhood past that these three had has paved the paths of their lives today, which has set in motion these chain-of-events. It is a sad story that can only end in tragedy that will affect all three in unimaginable ways.
On the surface, this seems like a mystery/thriller when it is anything but that. True, it is a murder mystery, but the murder is not what the movie is really about. It's about how the past can never be forgotten and how these three individuals have turned out as a result. You see the characters and how they deal with the tragedy that has befallen them. The mind frame, the course of action, and the need of closure all play a very important role in this tension-filled drama. It's one of those rare films where you could've watched it unfold forever. Clint Eastwood has done a marvelous job of directing this masterpiece of human tragedy and loss.
It has to be said. The cast is PHENOMENAL. The cast could've really made this film a complete and utter failure if the wrong people were chosen, but that is not the case here. Everybody was outstanding. Sean Penn and Tim Robbins give it their all in making their roles come to life. I now know why the two won Academy Awards, and they deserve them very much. Kevin Bacon is terrific and comes off more than just a simple cop. Laurence Fishburne was a complete joy to watch, as well. I didn't even know that he was in this until I bought the DVD, and he was brilliant in a stand-out role. What it all comes down to is that the complete cast is terrific. Not one wasted talent can be found in this entire film.
There are two versions of this movie you can buy--not counting the widescreen/full screen versions. You can either buy the "bare bones" version that has absolutely no special features whatsoever, or you can buy the "Deluxe Edition," which is three discs. I bought the "Deluxe Edition." While it is a pretty nice package, I wouldn't really call this edition of the movie "Deluxe." Special features included are two making-of featurettes, Charlie Rose interviews with Eastwood, Robbins and Bacon (all separate interviews), two trailers and audio commentary given by Robbins and Bacon. The third disc is a CD that is the soundtrack to the movie with the score composed by Clint Eastwood. Like I said, nice package, but nothing really "Deluxe" about it. It's up to you whether you want to get a version that has no extras in sight or pay a little more for a couple of nice features.
"Mystic River" is an unforgettable, heart-breaking and overwhelming film that really can show you how fantastic a movie can be if you have the characters and the emotion. Not everyone will enjoy it, as it isn't action-packed, but for those who love character development are in for a real treat. If you haven't seen it yet, I really recommend checking it out. It's definitely one of the better movies to come out of 2003. It's a shame it had to come out the same year as "Return of the King," otherwise I really think this film could've won a few more awards. -Michael Crane

Johnny The Homicidal Maniac: Director's Cut
Johnny The Homicidal Maniac: Director's Cut
by Jhonen Vasquez
Edition: Paperback
Price: $17.96
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Dear Die-Ary, Today some friends came over...", June 8, 2004
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I can say, without any sense of doubt, that "JTHM" (short for "Johnny the Homicidal Maniac) is unquestionably one of the most perverted, sickest, deranged, gruesome and disturbing thing I have ever read in my life. Normally, when you hear somebody describe something with such words as the ones I have used, you'd think there's no way in the world that the person enjoyed it. However, I'm telling you that I really enjoyed myself reading this. Sure, it's sick and twisted--but that's the purpose of "JTHM." It's not here to solve world hunger or bring peace to the world. It's here for entertainment purposes.
This book is a collection of "Johnny the Homicidal Maniac" comic strips about a twisted and sadistic character, Johnny. Johnny is one disturbed cookie, as he goes around killing numbers of people on any given day. Sometimes he kills them quickly--other times, he likes to play around and torture them. He doesn't know exactly why he does what he does, and he even questions it all at one point. There's a wall in his house that must be kept painted with fresh blood from his victims, or an unspeakable horror will reveal itself. Johnny is also extremely suicidal and attempts to end his life many times, but there's always something that gets in the way of him trying to do himself in. While he hates everybody in the world--which is the cause for all of his violent outbursts, the only human being he can tolerate is a cute little kid known as "Squee." However, he keeps traumatizing the kid with his "crazy antics."
I know what you're thinking. How can something so deranged and gruesome be viewed as "funny?" Well, there's really no easy answer for that. It's funny because you know that it's not serious and it's not trying to take itself seriously. Jhonen has created a nightmarish world of pain and suffering, but is able to be humorous and openly sarcastic about it. He's always grinning at you along the way, throwing in subtle little jokes that are hidden throughout the book. In fact, this is something you need to read more than once, as you're bound to miss a few hidden things the first time around. Vasquez has created a ghoulishly world filled with unspeakable terror and dark comedy.
In no way is this recommended for people with weak stomachs. You have to really have a warped sense of humor to appreciate "JTHM," and yes--I am a pretty warped person. The book is bound to get a reaction out of you, whether it's pure disgust or helpless giggling. It does contain graphic violence, adult themes, and dark and disturbing imagery. It's a work of fiction that is in your face and refuses to make any apologies for its existence.
Sick and demented, "JTHM: The Director's Cut" is a disturbingly good time that is bound to give you some messed up dreams if you read it all in one setting late into the night. It might be nothing more than a sick-fest of blood and guts, but I think it's done in a clever--and yet, zany way. If you're looking for something dark and unrelenting, this is definitely something to check out. Just make sure you know what you're getting yourself into once you decide to open that door... because Johnny is never fond of allowing his "guests" to leave once they enter his house of horrors. -Michael Crane

Ghost World
Ghost World
DVD ~ Steve Buscemi
Offered by Brand New Rarities
Price: $29.97
66 used & new from $2.89

21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I can't relate to 99% of humanity...", June 7, 2004
This review is from: Ghost World (DVD)
From a first glance, "Ghost World" appears to be your ordinary teen comedy/drama when in reality nothing could be further from the truth. This is a strange and very well made film that is touching, funny, sad and twisted. One of those rare gems that did not fall victim to a "Hollywood" formula. I don't know why it took me so long to finally watch this, but I'm glad that on a day when I had nothing to do that I decided to pop this into the DVD player.
Based on the underground comic book by Daniel Clowes, the story focuses on two characters who have just graduated from high school, Enid and Rebecca. They love to snoop around in other people's lives and find ways to humiliate them for their own amusement. When they play a practical joke on an isolating loner, Seymour, Enid can't help to feel a little guilty--which is something she never feels in similar situations. She ends up forming a strange and open relationship with him after that, and that's when things become complicated for Enid. While Rebecca has more of a focus on where to go next after finishing high school, Enid doesn't have a clue about her future. She feels trapped in a dead end town that offers no sanctuary for her. All of this makes way for a drama/comedy that sticks out from other films.
I had been told many times that this was a movie that I had to see, and now I finally understand why. It was completely different from what I thought the movie would end up being. It's funny and sad at the same time, which is a very difficult task to accomplish without it ending up being corny. The movie is very well written (co-written by the very man who did the comic book), with very realistic dialogue and characters. The movie doesn't really feel like a movie, because it feels like real life. You feel like you know these characters and have seen them before. We all went to school with people like this at some point. That's when you know when something really works--when you feel like you are there.
One of the great things about the movie is that there is not a big payoff in the end. There's on grand finale or an ending that lets you know that everything is going to be all right. I know this was a disappointment for some people, but I couldn't envision the film ending in any other way. It's a realistic and beautiful moment. And to me, that was the greatest payoff you could find. It also shows you that this film refuses to conform to Hollywood standards, which is always refreshing.
The DVD has a few things to offer--"few" being the keyword here. Don't get me wrong, I was happy with the features that were included, but I was hoping there'd be a few more goodies for a standout movie like this. The picture and sound is very good, so no problems there. Extras included are deleted and alternate scenes, a "making of" featurette, trailers and a music video. I think a great opportunity was missed here, as this is the perfect movie that screams for a commentary from the cast and crew. Despite the fact that it isn't loaded with a ton of extras, it's still a very nice package.
"Ghost World" is a phenomenal achievement in filmmaking, in my opinion. True, it is not something that everybody will be head-over-heels for, but those who end up loving it will really appreciate it for what it is. It's a film that takes risks and never falls into a basic movie formula. If you're looking for a movie that is different from the rest, this is an excellent choice. A superb film on all fronts. -Michael Crane

by Kurt Vonnegut
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $6.00
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So It Goes..., June 6, 2004
"Slaughterhouse-Five" was my first introduction to Kurt Vonnegut in the novel form. I had read a few of his short stories and was already impressed with his status as a writer. I would've never expected what I experienced when I read "Slaughterhouse-Five." It's hard to put into words that'll actually do this masterpiece the justice it deserves, but I will try.
Listen: Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time. This meaning that he relives certain moments of his life in random order like a scrambled movie. He has absolutely no control over it whatsoever and he never knows what part of his life he'll have to reenact. The majority of the moments that we witness take place during his involvement in WW2 as a POW and also when he is taken aboard an alien spaceship with creatures known as "Tralfamadorians." There is no ending for Billy Pilgrim. He witnesses his beginning as well as death... and then the show starts all over again in a continuous loop throwing Pilgrim into random segments of his life.
Reading this novel was a completely new experience to me. I had never read anything like it, and now I know that I will never again read anything like it, as there is no way the book can be successfully duplicated by others. Vonnegut is able to take a serious matter (such as war) and still throw in a balanced sense of humor that will take you by surprise. The book pokes fun at just about anything you can imagine while still showing respect and care to the main subject matter. The story is outrageously subtle and unpredictable. This novel is a very easy read and once you begin it, you won't want to put it down until you have finished it. Vonnegut is one talented writer with a very unique sense of style that I have never witnessed in any other book.
One thing that people will probably dislike about the book is how confusing it can be at times. Since the book jumps around and is not in order, you have to always be thinking and paying attention to every detail. It's very easy to forget what has already happened and what has yet to happen since it is in scrambled order. However, this is what really makes the book that much more special. You'll want to reread it again for this very reason, as you'll most likely miss a few things with the first read. It wasn't very hard for me to keep track of what was going on since I found the book to be so involving.
While this is indeed a classic, because of the strange manner that the book is written in, it will most likely not appeal to everybody. This is a risk-taking work of literature that is bound to not have everybody loving it. Still, I think it's worth anybody's time to pick it up and give it a chance. "Slaughterhouse-Five" is a rare find that will keep you on your toes throughout the entire time. You'll never know what to expect next. A very touching, funny, sad and dark story about a flawed entity known as "human-beings." This has very quickly become a new favorite of mine, without question. -Michael Crane
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 9, 2008 6:14 PM PDT

Invader ZIM - Doom Doom Doom (Vol. 1)
Invader ZIM - Doom Doom Doom (Vol. 1)
DVD ~ Andy Berman
Offered by CAC Media
Price: $42.29
40 used & new from $2.22

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Awww, but I wanna watch the Scary Monkey Show!", June 2, 2004
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Yes, kiddies, it is true! Invader Zim has finally come home to DVD. The cult hit that was too bizarre and dark for Nickelodeon to handle. The fans have demanded for the show to be available, and now here it is. "Invader Zim Volume 1: Doom Doom Doom" is fantastically wild and zany--a show unlike any I have ever seen before.
Zim has been banished by his own planet for the mayhem and destruction he had caused, but to get him out of their hair the higher ups decide to give him a "secret mission." That mission is to take over a planet that nobody on the Irken planet has ever heard of--which turns out to be Earth. The higher ups don't expect him to be successful, but Zim doesn't know that and takes the mission head on with his brainless, but highly entertaining robot slave, Gir. Dib is a kid who is obsessed with aliens and other sorts of "phenomena," and is determined to stop Zim at all costs--that is, unless his sister destroys him for taking the last soda! All of this makes one heck of an entertaining premise for an off-the-wall animated show.
I was extremely happy when this DVD came out and got it as fast as I could. The shows have a very high replay value and they never fail to get a laugh out of me. It's hard to believe that such a show used to be on Nickelodeon... but I guess that's why it isn't on that channel anymore. It is dark and creepy, but it is extremely humorous as well. While Zim is very funny with his outbursts of anger, I have to say that Gir really steals the show. That robot always makes me laugh in some insane way. All of the episodes are great and never lacking.
The DVD has some cool features to offer. It is a two-disc collection that contains episodes 1-9 (most have two episodes each). Some features include commentary, animatics, interviews, and for fun, "Irken" subtitles that can be turned on during each episode.
"Invader Zim: Doom Doom Doom" is definitely something to check out for those who have a warped and dark sense of humor. Don't let the "Nickelodeon" icon fool you, this show is incredibly bizarre and outrageous! Adults are bound to enjoy it as much as the kids, if not more. It's great to see this show finally get the DVD treatment. Now, you can relive some of your favorite episodes over and over again. And if your favorite episode doesn't appear in the volume... never fear. Volume 2 is on the way. Highly original and entertaining. -Michael Crane

Bubba Ho-Tep (Limited Collector's Edition)
Bubba Ho-Tep (Limited Collector's Edition)
DVD ~ Bruce Campbell
Offered by Maple Bar Movies
Price: $29.49
107 used & new from $1.84

89 of 102 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Don't make me use my stuff on ya, baby!" (4.5 stars), May 29, 2004
In the tradition of the "Evil Dead" movies, Bruce Campbell is back in true form in this horror/comedy/drama flick that's a roaring good time. You just don't know what to expect next once you start this bad boy. Filled with laughs, horror and surprisingly, heart, "Bubba Ho-Tep" is everything you'd want from a B-Movie and more.
Campbell stars as an elderly Elvis who lives in a Texas retirement home. People keep thinking he's just an impersonator off his rocker, but in reality he had traded places with an "Elvis" impersonator so he could get away from all of the fame and hardships of a rock-n-roll star. However, something strange has been happening in this retirement home. Folks are dying mysteriously every night without any clear explanation. As it turns out, an Egyptian mummy is the cause for the deaths and it needs to feed on their souls to stay alive. It's up to Elvis and his buddy, JFK, to take on this monstrous foe before it slaughters every living person in the retirement home. The end results are unpredictable and off-the-wall.
The premise alone intrigued me to see it. That, and Bruce Campbell. I'm always in the mood to see a good funny horror movie, and this movie did a great job of fulfilling that need. Not one minute went by where I was bored or disappointed. While the story may be over-the-top, it's done in such a creative and clever way. The movie has fun with itself and it's very easy to see. Bruce Campbell does a marvelous job as "Elvis," and let's not forget the great Ossie Davis as the one and only "JFK." The movie combines elements of comedy, drama and horror. It doesn't know what it wants to be at times, but the cast knew that from the get-go and they even goof on that fact (watch the featurettes and listen to the commentary).
The DVD has some outstanding features. The movie sounds and looks really good for a flick that was done under such a low budget. The commentary tracks are definitely worth you time, and you MUST listen to the commentary track where Bruce Campbell does it as "The King" and stays in character the entire time. It is the funniest thing I have ever heard. Other extras include featurettes, a music video, deleted scenes, the original trailer and more. All of this makes one heck of a great package.
"Bubba Ho-Tep" is a great time from Campbell and company. Any fans of the "Evil Dead" movies will definitely want to put this on their list. Just keep in mind that this is a movie that you watch to be entertained and nothing more. This movie was pure enjoyment from beginning to end. It's bound to become a classic sooner or later. The King still lives, Baby! -Michael Crane
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 31, 2015 11:26 AM PDT

Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses
Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses
Price: $4.99
108 used & new from $0.33

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I will remember before I forget...", May 28, 2004
Yes, it is true. Slipknot's newest album "Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses)" is a much more different album than any other that has been created by this band of nine talented individuals who fight their demons through music. The album is not as heavy or brutal as "Slipknot" or "Iowa," but the darkness and edge is still very much there. While I understand that this album will most likely make some fans angry or disappointed, I have to admit that I really love this new album--and this is coming from someone who loved "Iowa" a lot more than their self-titled album.
This new album is a unique experiment. The band has taken their music to a new level and has expanded on each of their contributions to the project. This album is a much more melodic and haunting album than the past two. Corey does a little more singing on this one, but he in no way has forgotten to yell and scream like a man possessed by a dark power. They have found ways to create memorable and dark songs that will stay in your head for days without just merely yelling out a bunch of curse words in a row (which I find nothing wrong with at all, but it's nice to see a change). There are heavy songs, and there are more mellow songs. And, there are also sick and twisted songs with lyrics that will rattle inside your mind once you allow them in. Rick Ruben did a fine job producing this overwhelming work of musical bliss.
Does this album sound like a Stone Sour album? I couldn't disagree more. I've heard both bands, and trust me, THIS is Slipknot. Anybody who is worried that the band has gone soft should listen to or read the lyrics in "the virus of life" and "vermilion," which are probably the two most disturbing songs on the album--and yes, they're done without any profanities, which makes it all the more disturbing!
This is another album where I can pop it into the stereo and just let it play all the way through without worrying about skipping certain tracks. I have my favorites, of course, but I really enjoy the entire album. The ones that stick out to me the most are, "the blister exists," "three nil," "duality," "before I forget," "circle," "vermilion," "pulse of the maggots," "vermilion pt. 2," "welcome," and "the virus of life."
It's certain that the album has lost some fans along the way, kept some old ones, and gain some new ones. With change--not the album, but just change in general--comes frustration and disappointment, as well as excitement and satisfaction. It is just a fact of life. If you really think about it, the band has evolved with each album. They evolved with "Iowa," and now they have even further evolved with "Vol. 3: (The Subliminal Verses)." People who are expecting to hear the Slipknot from "Iowa" will most likely be disappointed. The best approach to this album is to listen to it with an open mind, allow the album to play all the way through once, let it all soak in for an hour or so, and then listen to it again. I can honestly say that I think this is Slipknot's most creative and risky album. While it's not certain that it is my absolute favorite by them as of yet, it is an album that I have grown to love more and more after each listen. -Michael Crane

The Book of Ralph: A Novel
The Book of Ralph: A Novel
by John McNally
Edition: Hardcover
61 used & new from $0.01

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Boys Will Be Boys... (4.5 stars), May 24, 2004
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
You know a book is successful when you find yourself having a hard time putting it down. That's exactly how successful John McNally's "The Book of Ralph" is. Once I started reading it, I was hooked. I knew there was no turning back, and to be honest, I liked that. It's only a matter of time before these very pages began to turn themselves without any consent from me.
"The Book of Ralph" is a collection of stories that revolve around two characters, Hank and Ralph. Hank is a smart and good kid--a straight shooter. Ralph is a delinquent with a criminal record. Even though the two couldn't be bigger opposites of each other, the two are friends. They get thrown into some of the craziest, most humorous, and disturbing situations while trying to survive the eighth grade. With a buddy like Ralph, you just never know where you'll end up.
While these are a collection of stories, "The Book of Ralph" reads very much like a novel. The stories are in perfect order and flow very much like the chapters you'd find in a regular novel. The book is separated in three sections: The Present (the majority of the book), The Past, and The Future (which is all one big story that is much darker and more unpredictable than any of the other stories). And even though all of these stories tie into one another, each one is a living and breathing organism that can stand on its own.
What really impressed me about this book was how clever and funny the writing is. It's very straight to the point and never drags on. You never feel bored and you never know what's going to happen next. The characters are very animated, but at the same time have a very human quality to them that makes them real. Every character is worth getting to know and they make the stories that much better. McNally knows exactly how to execute each of these stories in an entertaining and fascinating way.
The best stories, in my opinion, occur in the beginning (which is in the "Present" section). Reading about Hank dressing up as Gene Simmons on Halloween and Ralph becoming a thug for hire with a list that shows the cost of certain inflictions of pain he can make happen is only a taste of some of the crazy and unforgettable moments that will stay in your head. While I really enjoyed the last portion of the book (the "Future" section), the tone was much different from the rest of the book, leaning more towards the darker route. I had a hard time trying to remember that they were in fact grown-ups at that point, as I was so used to getting to know them as kids. Still, it is all a very enjoyable read altogether and I don't think a wasted moment ever happened in this book.
"The Book of Ralph" is a fantastic read that really kept my attention the entire time. I couldn't wait to finish it and I was sad to see the journey end. It's definitely something I will be rereading again. If you're looking for fiction that is funny, sad, sometimes disturbing, and darkly outrageous, then this is something you should consider picking up. John McNally has created very memorable tales about childhood woes and obstacles, and so much more. -Michael Crane

The Sims Bustin' Out
The Sims Bustin' Out
Offered by Bargain Buyers Software
Price: $28.79
119 used & new from $1.87

80 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Get a Simulated Life!, May 14, 2004
This review is from: The Sims Bustin' Out (Video Game)
A downfall of all the "Sims" games out for the PC is that they require TONS and tons of memory. Running out of memory on my PC and laptop, I had to do some "spring cleaning" and get rid of a few programs. I love all of the "Sims" games, but they just take up too much space. Well, there is a solution to that problem.
"The Sims: Bustin' Out" is now available for PS2, and I admit that I was a little doubtful at first. Nine out of ten times the graphics will never be better than the PC. Well, this is the rare instance where the PS2 version has better graphics than the PC. You get incredible zoom in functions that were very limited to merely clicking on the PC version while on the PS2 you can smoothly zoom in and out with the analog stick. The load time is ten times quicker than it ever was on the PC and the controls are more than adequate, although I must warn you that it does take some time to get used to. The longer you play, the quicker you will get used to the controls.
For those who aren't familiar with the "Sims" games, the premise is pretty simple to follow. It's like living a computerized life. You create people and have them live their lives while making sure all of their needs are met. You can have them live successful and filling lives, or you can be the reason for their torment and suffering. It's up to you. You call the shots and make the decisions. You can either play "Bust Out Mode" or "Free Play" ("Free Play" becomes available once you start "Bust Out Mode" and save). Also, if you have the ability to play games online, this game comes with an online mode that you can play as well.
As I've said, the graphics on the PS2 version are far more superior to that of the PC version. And what's great is that now you can enjoy the wonderful world of "The Sims" without wasting all of that computer memory. It does, however, eat through your Memory Cards (which you need in order to play), so make sure you have one or two that are only for this game and for nothing else. If you only want to create one Sim, then you'll be fine with only one Memory Card that has nothing else saved on it, but if you want to make more, you will need at least another one to go along with that one. That is really the only downfall of the game, but it is something that can be worked around.
Be warned. This game WILL eat up your time without you even being aware of it. What you think will be a simple fifteen minute game can easily turn into a three hour game and you wouldn't even notice. That's how addicting this game is. If you don't have the time to be addicted to a game, then you may want to pass this one up.
"The Sims: Bustin' Out" for the PS2 is a remarkable game that surprisingly outdoes the PC version. The graphics are great, the controls are very workable, and the replay value is off the charts. This is one of the few games that can show you that PC doesn't always mean "better." Save that memory on the PC and pick up the PS2 copy of "Bustin' Out," and let the fun begin. -Michael Crane
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 20, 2014 9:14 PM PST

by Don De Grazia
Edition: Paperback
Price: $17.99
114 used & new from $0.01

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Risky and Successful Epic about Growth and Concequences, May 5, 2004
This review is from: AMERICAN SKIN: A Novel (Paperback)
Don De Grazia's "American Skin" is a raw and in-your-face tale of Alex Verdi, a kid who is on the run from the cops when his parents are busted on drug charges. Not knowing what else to do, he gets out of dodge and flees to Chicago to get in touch with his sister and to try to find out exactly what is going on. The new life doesn't start out very well for young Alex, as he has poor luck with getting a decent job and gets mugged and beaten up by thugs. His luck changes by a twist of fate when he is befriended by a multiracial group of anti-Nazi skinheads. With a set of new friends and some good luck, Alex quickly adapts to their intense lifestyle. But with that lifestyle comes a price as the actions caused by Alex while in the group will end up putting him in further jeopardy with the law. It's a true and honest tale about one man's journey through hell and back, and having the choice to either live and learn from his mistakes or continue to suffer the consequences for his arrogant actions.
I picked this book up a few days after starting Columbia in downtown Chicago, as I was anxious to read a real work from an actual professor who teaches at my school. I was blown away immediately when starting this unpredictable and emotionally charged tale. The pages literally turn themselves as De Grazia knows how to tell one incredible story that is involving and thought provoking. He's able to create flawed characters that you'll end up liking in some way. He doesn't cut corners and "sugar-coat" his story in any shape or form. He took a lot of risks with this story, and it all paid off.
The thing that sticks out most about Don De Grazia's writing is his characters that he has created. Alex Verdi is a perfect example of the flawed hero. He starts out as a young and foolish boy to come out of it all a man with bruises and scars that could help him learn from his experiences. And it really can go either way with Alex. We hope that he comes out of the tale okay and has learned something from his many obstacles, but the truth is that we don't know until we finish reading the very last page. That's what makes this excellent work worth reading and that's what keeps the pages turning by themselves. It is extremely hard to put down this book once you begin it.
"American Skin" was a complete and pleasant surprise to me. I never knew what was going to happen next and I was always intrigued along the way. This is a very memorable debut from a writer that shows real promise. I can't wait to see what he comes up with next. If you're looking for a story with great character development, heart-breaking conflicts, and overall excellent writing, then this is something you should definitely consider picking up. I can say without any kind of doubt that I will be re-reading this book again. Long live the Degreaser! -Michael Crane

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