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The Plunder Room
The Plunder Room
by John Jeter
Edition: Hardcover
48 used & new from $0.01

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Debut novel avoids Southern fiction traps, January 25, 2009
This review is from: The Plunder Room (Hardcover)
In the spirit of full disclosure it must be mentioned that John Jeter is the owner of The Handlebar, a Greenville, South Carolina club where I've enjoyed shows by Drive By Truckers, Robyn Hitchcock, The Avett Brothers, and more. So I was already favorably disposed towards Jeter when I sat down to read his novel The Plunder Room, a story of fathers, sons, music, war, and a strange new kind of peace.

For me the problem with so much Southern fiction is twofold. Southern novels tend to be backward-looking, concerned with things of the past rather than what's happening now. A huge generalization? Maybe, but of course if a general burned a swath through your backyard you might have a hard time getting past it. What really grates about so many Southern novels is the self-conscious eccentricity, characters with goofy names and frilly book titles like The Adventures of the Piccadilly Choctaw Pecan Tree Book Club and Marching Band or something like that. (I just made that up but it does have a ring to it. Hmmm....)

The Plunder Room clears the first hurdle and completely avoids the second. It's a modern novel that just happens to be set in the South; it's concerns feel so personal and urgent that there's no room for silliness. Randol Duncan is a professional blogger who lives on the South Carolina property of his war hero grandfather, who dies as the book opens. The most important gift Randol receives from his grandfather is the key to "The Plunder Room," a locked room full of items that Grandpa collected during his military career. Getting into the Plunder Room isn't as easy as it sounds though, since Randol has been left paraplegic after his accident and has no easy means of getting up the stairs.

Jeter has more on his mind than militaristic Southern tradition though, since Randol's dissolute father Jupe is obviously more than the small business owner he appears to be and his half brother Jerod is tight-lipped about his life and the beautiful woman named Annie he shows up with on the day after his grandfather's funeral. A couple of things about Annie: she claims to be from New York and to want a teaching job in the South Carolina school system (that alone should be enough to cause suspicion) and her beauty causes every man who sees her to start quivering. Annie is the book's biggest problem; she's in the book for one reason, so the Duncan boys can uncover the truth about their father and get on with their lives. The reveal of Annie's mischief is a little fuzzy, and her methods (a child pornography website) take The Plunder Room in a direction it doesn't have time to explore.

The Plunder Room isn't a mystery though. The heart of the book is Randol's relationship with his son Eddie, a good-hearted if slightly clueless teen with a fondness for hard rock and a fear asking pretty girls out on a date. Randol is trying to teach his son the precepts of manhood. "....we are all supposed to grow, not just as people, as boys grow to men, but from one generation to the next," Jeter writes. Whether Southern fiction is your glass of lemonade or not, aren't those words what life is all about? The Plunder Room is an offbeat winner, an original offering from an new author who deserves your attention.


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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a 3-star review by Simon Crowe...(sadly, no relation), October 16, 2005
Early on in ELIZABETHTOWN, Drew (Orlando Bloom) is fired from a job at a shoe company after an unsuccessful product launch costs his boss (Alec Baldwin) almost a billion dollars. On the verge of suicide , he learns that his father has died and he must fly to Kentucky to organize the funeral...

Like most of Cameron Crowe's other films, ELIZABETHTOWN is at heart the story of a good but slightly inept man who learns to grow up and face the world. As usual, there's a hot, earthy, life-affirming woman on hand, this time a flight attendant named Claire (Kirsten Dunst) who meets Drew on his flight to Kentucky.

ELIZABETHTOWN doesn't have much of a plot, it's a collection of small moments involving Drew's relationship with the noisily affectionate Kentucky branch of his family (led by Paul Schneider and Paula Deen), as well as a glimpse of Drew's mother and sister (Susan Sarandon and Judy Greer) dealing with Dad's death back in Oregon. Crowe reserves the most time, of course, for the well-performed scenes between Bloom and Dunst. The dialogue is a little self-conscious, but the sweetness of both performers and Crowe's way with a soundtrack helps.

ELIZABETHTOWN is a film made by one man, and I tend to give the benefit of the doubt to filmmakers with a strong individual voice. Crowe clearly drew on personal material for this film, and while there are slow patches (a subplot involving Bruce McGill as a man who may have cheated Drew's father goes nowhere), Crowe overall message of life-affirmation comes through loud and clear. The concluding sequence of ELIZABETHTOWN involves Drew on a Claire-devised cross country road trip, designed to get him out there and livin'. This scene (which includes well-intentioned but irrelevant tributes to Martin Luther King and the Oklahoma City bombing victims) causes the movie to roll to a stop rather than end, but I didn't mind being on this trip.

Also with Jessica Biel, Gailard Sartain, Loudon Wainwright, and My Morning Jacket as the band performing at the memorial service...If you have liked Crowe's other films, you will like ELIZABETHTOWN.....Recommended


The Ballad of Jack and Rose
The Ballad of Jack and Rose
DVD ~ Daniel Day-Lewis
Offered by Bridge Records Ireland
Price: $7.96
183 used & new from $0.01

9 of 23 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars good cast in pretentious nonsense, September 24, 2005
This review is from: The Ballad of Jack and Rose (DVD)
Quite possibly the worst film of 2005, Rebecca Miller's THE BALLAD OF JACK AND ROSE is an obnxious & overly determined bore. Jack (Daniel Day-Lewis, the director's husband) is the last member of a '60s commune living on some potentially valuable island property off the East Coast in the mid-'80s. The land surrounding Jack's commune is the target of a developer (Beau Bridges) with whom Jack has an adversarial relationship.

Jack's daughter Rose (talented newcomer Camilla Belle) who appears to be about 15, lives with her father, does not go to school, apparently has no friends, and not the faintest understanding of the emotional and physiological changes she's going through.

We're meant to sympathize with Jack (who is dying of a heart condition) as the last of a dying breed, but in fact he is monstrous. Jack and Rose's delicate and much too sexually tinged relationship is disrupted by the arrival of Jack's girlfriend (Catherine Keener) and her two teenage sons - one gay, the other a budding sociopath. Keener's character realizes Rose is in trouble but Jack seems oblivious.

The real villain of the piece is of course capitalism itself. Jack cant stand against the forces of development by himself but ironically has no hesitation about using his inherited wealth to manipulate people. Day-Lewis burrows in as usual and makes the best of it, but some of these scenes (particularly the Jack-Rose stuff) are just unplayable.

A film filled with rank hypocrisy and some unfortunate ideas about child rearing, THE BALLAD OF JACK AND ROSE is a disappointment on every level.


Okemah And The Melody Of Riot
Okemah And The Melody Of Riot
30 used & new from $0.99

3 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars old habits are hard to break, September 4, 2005
A great deal that's right and wrong with the CD from Jay Farrar's reconstituted Son Volt is evident in first minute or so of the opening track, "Bandages & Scars". After an agreeable blast of electric guitar from Farrar and Brad Rice, Farrar intones: "Been doing a lot of thinking/Thinking about hell/Thinking about ozone/Thinking about lead/Thinking about the future/And what to do then".......

With all this stuff on his mind, it's really pretty cool of Jay to take time to do something as trivial as make a CD, isn't it? It gets worse: the next line is "Words of Woody Guthrie ringing in my head." It's reassuring to know that Farrar is receiving transmissions from Mr. Guthrie, and even nicer of him to tell us. Thanks Jay, we appreciate it. The second track is a road song....what road in particular? Dylan's Highway 61 of course!

The good news is, the self-appointed successor to Guthrie and Dylan has made a pretty good album. The landscape of most of the rest of the songs is rather more personal, and several tracks seem to refer to the current political situation. The band, whose lineup has changed since the Cd release, provides first-rate support. Best tracks: "Jet Pilot", "Endless War", "6 String Belief", "Gramophone".

Since the first Uncle Tupelo album, this streak of self-importance has marred a lot of Farrar's work for me. He seems to feel a need to tell us he is an Important Songwriter making a Big Statement. I was encouraged by the second half of OKEMAH, and wonder what territory an older and wiser Farrar may be exploring in the future. Recommended.....


Lunar Park
Lunar Park
by Bret Easton Ellis
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.95
158 used & new from $0.01

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars self-loathing or satire?, August 29, 2005
This review is from: Lunar Park (Hardcover)
In LUNAR PARK, a famous writer named "Bret" - whose books happen to have the same titles as the "real" Bret Easton Ellis - tries to find suburban happiness with a movie star wife and their estranged son in upstate New York. Almost immediately, unexplained events (a stuffed bird come to life, weird email) in the house lead Bret to believe that his dead father is trying to communicate with him and that his son may be in danger.

After a brief, funny, chapter recounting Bret's drug-soaked life to this point, most of LUNAR PARK is the story what ultimately becomes Bret's desperate attempt to deal with his feelings about his father and save his new family. Depending on your level of cynicism, this novel is either filled with regret at missed connections or a sendup of popular genre fiction tropes. The uncynical interpretation would lead one to believe that Ellis regards himself as totally devoid of value as a human being and incapable of sustaining the most basic of human relationships....

....still, the guy can write. Even though I think the story gets away from Ellis in the end - I'm still confused about the fate of Ellis' son - his spiteful descriptions of overmedicated kids and unhappy parents kept me reading. LUNAR PARK is shot through, though with a yearning to be part of that community, or any community.

A difficult, problematic, novel....one best appreciated by those familiar with Ellis' other work. (barely) Recommended


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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars welcome back Terry, August 27, 2005
The dominant personality on THE BROTHERS GRIMM is that of the director Terry Gilliam, whose love of myth and fantasy and of course silly Pythonesque irreverence of course infects this film.

Will (Matt Damon) and Jacob (Heath Ledger) Grimm are con men who make money by staging paranormal incidents and then "exterminating" the witch, monster, whatever. Most of the plot involves the brothers efforts to stop a real monster, a Wicked Queen (Monica Bellucci, underused) who has kidnapped a dozen children from a village in an attempt to regain eternal youth. Plenty of scares and silliness ensue before the brothers final showdown with the Queen.

There are some dead spots, but Matt Damon and Heath Ledger carry things along quite well. Damon shows a too-rarely used comic side and Ledger continues to unleash his inner character actor (as he did in LORDS OF DOGTOWN)with an impressively flustered performance. THE BROTHERS GRIMM is a farce, but also a celebration of the oral tradition....the brothers make money off the fear of old stories but learn much about themelves when the encounter a true one.

I don't want to overintellectualize though. This movie is a good time, with good effects and fun allusions to classic fairy tales. With Lena Headey, Jonathan Pryce, Mackenzie Crook, and a florid Peter Stormare as an army officer who gets in touch with his inner Grimm.....Recommended..


No Title Available

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars old TV show played for farce, August 5, 2005
I'm a little too young to remember just how popular THE DUKES OF HAZZARD was back in the late '70s-early '80s, but I know it was the most popular show at Duncan Chapel Elementary School back in the day, particularly among the guys that drew elaborate cars on their notebook paper during class.

The high-gloss new movie version goes down pretty easily, and I gather the basic formula is unchanged. Bo and Luke (Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott, I honestly can't remember which plays which) run moonshine for Uncle Jesse (Willie Nelson) in rural Georgia. The Duke farm is threatened by evil-looking Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds, looking bored) who wants to strip mine the whole county. The plot is really an excuse for the boys to use their car (the Confederate-flag topped "General Lee") to outrun as many cop cars as possible. The numerous car chases have undeniable energy, but grow repetitive after a while.

The best thing about DUKES is Johnny Knoxville, who surprisingly turns out to be a gifted light comedian. He's also more believably Southern than Scott, who performs with a doofus "I'm playing a redneck" grin plastered across his face. The one truly inspired gag involves the General Lee stuck in traffic in Atlanta, where motorists in passing lanes get to express a variety of opinions on the stars and bars. More fun could have been had with culture clash stuff, but the fimmakers were no doubt afraid to stray too far from Hazzard.

Also with David Koechner as Cooter, MC Gainey, Lynda Carter, and a stiff Jessica Simpson, who shakes it as Cousin Daisy.


Last Call for Blackford Oakes (Blackford Oakes Novel)
Last Call for Blackford Oakes (Blackford Oakes Novel)
by William F. Buckley
Edition: Hardcover
132 used & new from $0.01

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars nostalgia for last days of Cold War, August 5, 2005
In William Buckley's final (?) Blackford Oakes novel, the veteran CIA operative is dispatched to Reagan-era Moscow to thwart a plot to assassinate Gorbachev. The plot is half-baked, but Oakes unexpectedly finds himself involved in both romantic entanglements, in a network of dissatisfied Russian scientists, and in confronting the traitorous Kim Philby.

The best thing about this book is the depiction of Oakes, a man who realizes he's about to embark on the last chapter of his life. His passion for Ursina, the Russian doctor he falls for, is convincingly presented as a final grasp at youth. I was less impressed with the scenes of Russian bureaucrats bickering with each other (firmly standard issue) or with the cameos by real-life figures (Graham Greene, Ronald Reagan). Buckley has no insight into Philby, who comes off as merely a mustache-twirling villain.

Still, although a bit long-winded, this is a good read for anyone with a love of spy novels or an interest in CIA lore.


No Title Available

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars sound and fury signifying....., August 4, 2005
In MR. & MRS. SMITH, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie play an unhappily married couple who are, unknowingly, working for rival professional assassination organizations. When their identities are revealed, they turn against each other but then realize they must work together to stay alive.

The central problem in SMITH is tone...there aren't enough laughs, and the paper thin plot is really just an excuse to blow things up. Of course, what people want to see is Pitt and Jolie together....there is an undeniable chemistry between the two stars, but Pitt is terrible. He's totally unable to suggest the level of deception that Smith must maintain, or to convey much interest in the proceedings at all. Jolie, it seems strange to say, is actually the best thing about SMITH. Her confusion at her growing attraction to Pitt and the conflict between love and duty provides what little emotional content the movie has.

SMITH is credited to one screenwriter but feels like the product of mass indecision....also with Adam Brody and an unbilled Vince Vaughn.


Funeral Music (Sara Selkirk Mysteries)
Funeral Music (Sara Selkirk Mysteries)
by Morag Joss
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $6.99
106 used & new from $0.01

5 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars a little too british, thanks, July 30, 2005
In Morag Joss' FUNERAL MUSIC, the main character is Sara Selkirk, a famous cellist recuperating in Bath, England after a nervous breakdown in the middle of a concert. After making a small scale return to playing at a charity event, Sara discovers a dead body...the body of a man she never met.

The central plot of FUNERAL MUSIC revolves around Sara's emotional recovery...the circumstances of her breakdown are reveealed late, although many readers will probably figure it out early on. Meanwhile, Sara's involvement in the murder case is tangiental, driven by the fact that people tell her things almost constantly.....especially the hunky police offer whose marriage is on the rocks and loves the cello.

There almost no suspense in FUNERAL MUSIC, and much of the book is taken up with descriptions of interior design or food preparation......I'm not quite sure where this series can go.


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