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Deb Nam-Krane "dnkboston" RSS Feed (Boston, MA United States)

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The Suspect [Blu-ray]
The Suspect [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Gong Yoo
Price: $16.55
29 used & new from $6.32

5.0 out of 5 stars A fast-paced meditation on corruption, June 29, 2015
This review is from: The Suspect [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
I would give this 4.5 stars if that were an option. Great movie, but the beginning was confusing. However, after about half an hour, the important details started falling into place and I could enjoy the (extremely high velocity) ride.

A North Korean agent has defected to the South after the murder of his young family; while he's looking for a way to avenge them, he's implicated in a murder of the wealthy Chairman who employs him. While on the run from the police and looking for the man who murdered his family, he's chased by a cynical former military agent he tangled with in Hong Kong- an assignment that left both of them compromised (I only half-jokingly thought of them as something like Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones in "The Fugitive"). He's aided by a journalist who lost her job while tracking down North Korean refugees who were trafficked into China. As both chase down leads from other ends, they realize that the South Korean government is implicated in what happened to both the Chairman and the agent's family. The meat of the movie is figuring out why and seeing if the agent can get not just vengeance but justice.

While there was plenty of action in this movie (remind me to put my car in reverse the next time I have to take a super steep hill), what stood out for me was the atmosphere of conspiracy and corruption. It was clear that the dangerous agents were only the muscle for the corrupt people who really pulled the strings. If modern South Korean cinema is to be believed, the South Korean government is far more dangerous than North Korea could ever be.

Recommended for fans of Korean action cinema.

Confession of Murder [Blu-ray]
Confession of Murder [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Jung Jae-young, Jo Eun-ji, Jang Gwang Choi Won-young
Price: $12.99
28 used & new from $7.29

4.0 out of 5 stars Wildly uneven, but on balance worth watching, June 17, 2015
The rating I would really like to give this is 3.5 stars, but I rounded up. There is on balance more right/done well than not, but when it goes off the rails it's *really* bad.

What I love about Korean cinema is that overall its films do an excellent job of marrying very serious or tragic elements with light and comedy. Korean studios also allow their movies to have a range of settings and atmosphere; one film can include glamour, grit and action seamlessly. Unfortunately, while this movie has a lot of elements, the director didn't meld them together very well.

The basic story is a detective obsessed with the Villain Who Got Away, complicated, as we later discover, by a personal connection. When the statute of limitations runs out on the crimes, a book is published that details the murders in ways only the murderer would know. The catch: the detective is a beautiful man who attracts groupies- and mainstream media attention. As macabre as it is to watch news organizations fall over themselves to get a confessed killer in their studio, anyone who's watched modern media knows it could happen. However irritated and disgusted the detective might be, the detective then finds himself in the unenviable position of having to protect the killer from the family members of his victims. What's going to put a stop to the madness? And who, really, is after what?

This movie is two hours long, but it could have been cut down by half an hour if the gratuitous action scenes had been cut. Don't get me wrong: I like action when it's well done, and the opening sequence certainly qualifies. It's fast-paced, brutal and informs the rest of the story. Those things cannot be said of the other sequences, some of which were so unrealistic I couldn't suspend my disbelief. (How do two people fight on top of moving cars on a highway and not fall off? And can you really stab a windshield and only crack it, not break it? And don't get me started on the trucks...) And while foolish action scenes don't have to ruin a movie, the writing choices that are necessitated by those scenes came pretty close.

However, strip away unnecessary action and set ups, and you have a story that shines an uncomfortable light on modern media that makes you genuinely gasp (and tear up) as it unfolds. It's a shame the writers didn't choose to flesh out the characters and rewrite the action scenes to showcase a little bit less mobile camera work. Still, if you like Korean cinema and crime dramas, you'll find a number of things to enjoy in this.

Invasion of the Party Snatchers: How the Holy-Rollers and the Neo-Cons Destroyed the GOP
Invasion of the Party Snatchers: How the Holy-Rollers and the Neo-Cons Destroyed the GOP
by Victor Gold
Edition: Hardcover
80 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars What Would Barry Do?, June 16, 2015
Twenty years ago, Barry Goldwater was still code for "reactionary conservative". It is saying something about developments in the Republican party since then that if he were in office now he would either be considered a moderate or even a liberal compared to many current GOP office holders. Victor Gold, who worked as a deputy press secretary during Goldwater's 1964 campaign and stayed in politics long after that, reflects with equal parts humor and bitterness on what happened in to the party he once called home. While this book was written in anticipation of the 2008 presidential election (it might cause a few smirks to read that he assumed Hillary Clinton was going to be the Democratic nominee), the criticisms he leveled there are even more relevant today since the advent of the Tea Party.

Gold does not mince words about almost every major political figure of the last fifty years, and party affiliation is no insulation. As much as he disdains Bill Clinton for his insincerity, Newt Gingrich was the narcissist who forgot that all politics was supposed to be local, not personal; while he got a first hand taste of how ruthless and duplicitous Johnson and his staff could be, Bush 43 and Cheney made disagreement tantamount to treachery. Written almost a decade before allegations of sexual abuse, Dennis Hastert, whom his contemporaries are currently falling all over themselves to describe as having a "clean" reputation, was well known for his pork barrel politics; and Tom Delay used his position to leverage lobbyists for his personal gain. Of course, he doesn't have one positive thing to say about Donald Rumsfeld, who first earned his contempt during the Ford administration when he kept trying to thwart...Bush 41.

Admittedly, those actors are low-hanging fruit, but Gold is equally merciless about Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice, the two usually considered reluctant participants in the march toward the Iraq War. Gold does not buy the "good soldier" narrative Powell apologists have been peddling for over a decade, and concludes in the case of Rice that she swallowed her intelligence (and principles) to tow the party line. (For the record, he refers to Madeline Albright's activities as "nation building".)

Aside from Goldwater, the two figures he has the most respect for are Reagan and Bush 41. Reagan was someone who was able to get the numbers he needed to get through and controlled the coalition he'd built better than any of his successors. As Gold notes, he had the ability to make people hear what they wanted to (and what he needed them to); while he shouldn't be praised for laying the groundwork that enabled the "theo-cons" to take over the party, at the time the strategy was to "keep them so close they couldn't move their arms". As for Bush 41, Gold doesn't offer one criticism; on the contrary, he considers him an energetic, shrewd, intelligent politician who was more pragmatic than dogmatic and eschewed trading on pathos of any kind to gain sympathy (or votes). (I'll note that his biography of Bush 41 makes it sounds as if he came to Texas as a pioneer in a covered wagon, which isn't true. While he did turn down the opportunity to work as a stockbroker for the family firm, he did have a significant investment from his family to set up his business endeavors.)

As Gold notes, the culture of cynical, win-at-any-cost politics and corruption isn't new; what's so frightening about the current climate is the acquiescence to the practice of executive privilege. Thus Gold uses the "d-word" (as in "dictatorship") several times. Again, this was written before the outcome of the 2008 election, but perhaps his most important point in the book is that once established, that privilege will live on, never mind which party is in charge. In light of what we've discovered about domestic surveillance, it's a shame more people didn't share his concerns.

Recommended for anyone who follows politics.

Alchemy's Daughter
Alchemy's Daughter
by Mary A. Osborne
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.52
38 used & new from $0.52

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Something for everyone, June 15, 2015
This review is from: Alchemy's Daughter (Paperback)
I have been impatiently awaiting this book for almost five years, and it did not disappoint.

Although this is a prequel to Nonna's Book of Mysteries (the main character here is the great grandmother of the main character of the previous book), this can easily stand on its own. Whereas the previous book dealt with the dawn of the Renaissance, this one is firmly pitched into the Middle (or Dark) Ages; the reader should appreciate that whispers of witchcraft and heresy- and childbirth- are not to be taken lightly. While a wealthy young woman like Santina may have some license to push the boundaries of social convention, first by falling in love with someone unsuitable and then by following her desire to learn midwifery, it's easy to understand why these things inspire panic in her family. Then again, Osborne subtly poses the question whether those taboos- and others- would be as significant if they were given less weight by people like her father and sisters.

Osborne notes at the beginning that she's an artist and not a historian, but her story is still rich with painstaking detail, whether it's the food the Pietra family serves for family celebrations, the herbs Santina and her mentor gather to heal the sick, the description of her town or the stalking path of the plague in Italy. As with Osborne's last book, I'm incredibly impressed with the amount of research that went into this.

There is something for everyone here: romance, history, adventure, philosophy and, perhaps most importantly, very serious questions that remain pertinent in any period about power, justice, free will and the power of the individual versus the group. While I happily recommend this to YA readers, I also think this would be a satisfying read for most adults.

Everything, Everything
Everything, Everything
by Nicola Yoon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $12.99

5.0 out of 5 stars What's the difference between living and being alive?, June 14, 2015
This review is from: Everything, Everything (Hardcover)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I finished this book in one sitting, no longer than three hours. Yoon put me not only into the sterile white room Madeline lived in, but also her happy if sheltered mindset. Although Madeline turns eighteen at the beginning of the book, she comes across as more of a well-adjusted, bookish eleven year old.

Her life is interrupted by the arrival of Olly, the Boy Next Door with a wicked sense of humor, a desire to see the world as an equation and a troubled home life. The two begin their romance via email and instant messaging, but soon virtual isn't enough and Madeline's nurse helps sneak Olly in for visits. First the visits are short and chaste, but the two can't resist a kiss. When Madeline's mother finds out, she has to make a choice between the safe life she's always had and the more dangerous one that makes her feel alive. But what if Madeline's mother is right and being alive is deadly?

It was obvious that something was not quite right with the timeline of Madeline's life. The way the author brought the threads of the discrepancy together was intellectually satisfying but also heartbreaking. However, watching Madeline "grow up", albeit in a short period of time, was equally uplifting.

Highly recommended for YA readers.

Momofuku Milk Bar
Momofuku Milk Bar
by Christina Tosi
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.43
94 used & new from $16.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Mad Scientist training plus Childhood Tastebuds = some of the best baked goods ever created, June 9, 2015
This review is from: Momofuku Milk Bar (Hardcover)
Not sure how I missed this when it came out a few years ago, but I've been making up for lost time this week and experimenting like a crazy person.

That's not entirely an exaggeration: you do need to be a little of a mad scientist to appreciate some of the recipes and get into Tosi's philosophy of baking. Also, as much as she's using super accessible ingredients and favorite flavors, her formal training shows in her dependence on glucose syrup (corn or cane syrup are fine substitutes) and gelatin (agar works as well) to get the perfect consistency for many of her signature recipes. On the other hand, she also explains in just enough detail why she eschews the classic but fussy techniques of sifting and tempering (both eggs and chocolate). Because she details her experience (and experiments) so well, it's easy to feel confident forgoing them yourself.

It's easy to see a recipes with names like Crack Pie or ingredients like Fruity Pebbles showing up on menus in expensive, upscale restaurants and assume that Tosi is intentionally in some elitist "slumming", but the joyful way she describes the evolution of her recipes should put that notion to rest. When she reminisces about the way leftover milk tastes in the cereal bowl or how delicious it is to eat crackers with frosting, your inner twelve year old is going to nod right along with her. She's the real deal, and you are not being condescended to.

I have been absolutely gleeful this week as I make milk crumbles (toss them with some matcha powder and they're like an edible version of the best green tea latte you've ever had), passion fruit and mango curds, cereal milk with Cap'n Crunch cereal (which makes a FABULOUS addition to frosting) and, though not in Tosi's book, play with things like Dr. Pepper in chocolate cake (the closest I've come to a red velvet cake that I actually like). Tosi has a way of inspiring you to remember flavors you've always loved; maybe the "real thing" is a bit much for your adult palette, but spreading it out in a baked good is a great use for an old love.

My only complaint is that this could have used some more pictures (seriously, what does that delicious sounding Pistachio Lemon Meringue Pie look like?). But that's it; this is a totally joyful baking guide, and I recommend to anyone who enjoys delicious baked goods.

The Thieves
The Thieves
Price: $2.99

5.0 out of 5 stars It's con against con against con...with a heart (and trunk) of gold., June 2, 2015
This review is from: The Thieves (Amazon Instant Video)
When the story first began to unfold, it looked a little like Ocean's Eleven, but no. You'll see very quickly that the members of the team are working at cross purposes. The biggest mystery is what Macau Park, the ring leader, is really up to. Is he trying to acquire a priceless diamond, make up with an old flame or settle a score? And if it's all of the above, how does that work out?

The action scenes are fun, intense and even glamorous at the beginning, but the shoot out towards the end is brutal and bleak; once again, I'm impressed with the range a Korean film has. The stories (and fates) of the characters are just as varied: there's the glad-handing, would-be leader Popeye, the wounded, betrayed Pepsi, the selfish and amoral (even for a thief) Yennical, the world weary Chen and Chewing Gum, the frightening idiotic Andrew and the secretive Julie- and that's just for starters. While you're probably going to satisfied with what happens in the end to the main characters, not everyone is going to get what they deserve. Finally, the movie is not without humor; the scenes in the beginning and end especially are hysterical, and it's due in no small part to Gianna Jun, who's come a long way since White Valentine.

There's something for everyone here; if you like Korean films, watch it now.

Storm and Steel (The Book of the Black Earth)
Storm and Steel (The Book of the Black Earth)
by Jon Sprunk
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.92
59 used & new from $6.22

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well done fantasy/action, June 2, 2015
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
While I hate to use the word "realistic" when talking about fantasy, it works here: Sprunk did an excellent job of creating a varied cast of characters with different personalities and motivations. With the exception of one character (sorry, you'll have to figure it out), Sprunk also makes it difficult to "play favorites"; people who are basically sympathetic have moments of callow opportunism and/or cold-bloodedness, and those we're pretty sure are villains show us their thinking; even if we don't agree with their actions, we understand where they're coming from.

While I could have used *something* to help bring me up to speed regarding the characters and the conflict at the beginning, I did catch on by about page 75 to most of the nuances. However, Sprunk did not skimp on the world building; within a few sentences it was easy for me to imagine the settings the action was taking place in, even during intense action scenes.

Recommended for fans of fantasy and action.

Vegan with a Vengeance, 10th Anniversary Edition: Over 150 Delicious, Cheap, Animal-Free Recipes That Rock
Vegan with a Vengeance, 10th Anniversary Edition: Over 150 Delicious, Cheap, Animal-Free Recipes That Rock
by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.87
64 used & new from $12.13

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic that just got better, May 27, 2015
Is saying I Love It a cheat because I loved the first one? I say no, since this isn't just a redux of the original but a definite improvement (and not just because the cover is much snazzier). Moskowitz not only added some goodies from her other books (Pumpkin Cheesecake with Praline Topping deserves to be published twice), she also added some delicious looking photographs (ah, that's what the Pomegrante Tofu is supposed to look like, and mmm, the Mashed Potatoes with Chickpea Gravy looks even better than I'd thought).

What's more important is what she took away, namely the laundry list of ingredients which were featured in her first book. Don't worry, there's still plenty of ingredients in Black-Eyed Pea Curry, but the others are somewhat shortened. More importantly, you feel like you have a little more permission to scale down in this release if you don't happen to have everything she lists.

Highly recommended that everyone who had the original replaces their copy immediately.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 21, 2015 5:15 PM PDT

Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners
Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners
by Lori McWilliam Pickert
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.68
48 used & new from $7.85

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good if repetitive philosophy for all projects, whether for adults or children, May 25, 2015
I became aware of this book via the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum. I looked at the website before I read the book; because of that, I was expecting a little more- okay, a lot more- as far as examples of projects from start to finish. If you are looking for that as well, please know that there are none.

I think it's unfair to say that this book is an extended blog post (believe me, I've read plenty of those). This is a genuine book, if a little repetitive. The central message of the book: your child will learn more deeply if s/he directs and controls the work they do. Your job as a parent is to help your child identify which work or "projects" your child would like to do. Pickert's methods edge close to the Socratic Method, but unlike the way it's usually practiced, there is no correct answer. "What would you like to do?" "What else can you try?" "Where can you ask to find out?" are all genuine questions to you child.

Being available to your child to ask those questions is only part of the value the parent-mentor brings to the process; the other parts are to help track the work progress, including questions your child has about his or her research. Being able to track those can help restart the project if it stalls later.

One of the messages that Pickert repeatedly emphasizes is the need for what I think of as the four dimensions of creativity: the time, the space, the materials and the work. This is part of why I wish she would have included examples: as I live in a small condo, space is at a premium, and while I can afford "good" art materials now, a few years ago this would not have been an option. But even beyond seeing inspiring examples of children making projects with limited resources, seeing how families dealt with projects that stopped and re-started would also have been helpful.

The first time Pickert admonished parents to model the habits and life we wanted for our kids, I thought it was an appropriate message. By the fourth time I felt as if I were getting a lecture, if not outright condescended to. Ironically, for all of the repetition, it would have been more helpful if she had talked to an important point she made in the introduction: just as it's unrealistic to expect children to make an immediate shift in their habits, it's even more unrealistic to expect adults to immediately change their pedagogy. Again, examples of parents who had to make that shift- and the uncomfortable fits that came in- would have been very helpful.

I'm giving this four stars because in spite of the shortcomings it did spark some ideas as to how I could go about inspiring my children to start their own projects, although ours will more likely involve computers and video than paint and paper. Looking forward to Pickert's next, hopefully more specific releases.

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