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Zachary Koenig "K-Dawg" RSS Feed (Forest Lake, MN)

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Shakespeare In Love
Shakespeare In Love
DVD ~ Gwyneth Paltrow
Price: $5.53
42 used & new from $3.96

1.0 out of 5 stars If You Are Looking For Serious Shakespeare, You Need Not Apply, August 25, 2014
This review is from: Shakespeare In Love (DVD)
After reading a piece of historical fiction regarding the life of William Shakespeare, I figured I would give this Academy Award-winning film a try while inspired. Unfortunately, what I found was very nearly a complete and utter mess of comedy trying to be mixed with serious themes.

For a basic plot summary, "Shakespeare in Love" weaves the tale of the creation of William Shakespeare's (Joseph Fiennes) "Romeo & Juliet" with his strikingly similar romance to Viola De Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow).

There are so many things wrong with this production that I wonder where to even begin. Here are the things that really turned me off the most:

-I'm not Shakespeare historian, to be sure, but the plot of this movie seems like complete fiction to me (a real-life romance inspiring "Romeo & Juliet"). If someone can tell me if this has any basis in fact, please let me know, as I would be very interested. As it were, I could not separate the great play from this cheap effort to produce concurrent narratives.
-You can't play Shakespeare off as a goof! Mr. Fiennes may be a better actor in other roles, but he completely lacks the gravitas to play The Bard.
-More to the above point, director John Madden is unable to find a medium between comedy and drama. This movie had to be either one or the other, and instead it ends up being neither. In my mind, Shakespeare either has to be taken reverently or be given the "life and times" approach, looking at him from a real-life perspective. This film does neither. He's a bumbling fool from beginning to end and somehow magically happens to put together this wonderful play.
-Don't even get me started on the casting. Ben Affleck is a joke, among others, while I would say that only Paltrow turns in a decent performance from the entire lot.

I guess what it came down to for me, then, was the fact that I couldn't "buy in" to the notion of "Romeo & Juliet" being inspired by a real-life romance. That seemed like too much of a reach for me. It is mind-boggling to me, in hindsight, that this film snagged the Oscar over "Saving Private Ryan". Talking about your Shakespearean tragedy (!).

Coming Back Stronger: Unleashing the Hidden Power of Adversity
Coming Back Stronger: Unleashing the Hidden Power of Adversity
by Chris Fabry
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.62
110 used & new from $0.34

4.0 out of 5 stars Brees + New Orleans = Magic, August 23, 2014
For nearly a decade now, Drew Brees has been quarterbacking the New Orleans Saints. I have enjoyed watching him over the years and thought I would give this bio a try. By and large, it is a great look at the "early years" of Brees both in life, football, and with the city of New Orleans.

For a basic plot summary, "Coming Back Stronger" tells the football story of Drew Brees. It starts with his days playing college ball, then proceeds to getting drafted by the San Diego Chargers. After a roller-coaster existence in SD (that includes a gruesome arm injury in his final game with the game), Brees makes the big life decision to move to New Orleans...a town and football franchise in ruins. Paired with Head Coach Sean Payton, however, Brees helps to turn the franchise around, while also doing the same for entire city in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The book concludes with the Saints' SuperBowl season of 2009-2010.

This book is structured in a similar format of other athlete biographies. What makes it different? Mr. Brees really makes an effort to "tell it like it is". Drew seems like a man of very high character, and it shows in "Coming Back Stronger". In other sports bios that I have read in the past, many times the athlete in the spotlight will use the opportunity to "explain himself". Brees does no such thing. Instead, he uses this book to show all the many ways in which his life has been blessed...though not without a healthy share of adversity along the way.

As sports bios go, this is one of the better ones I have read. The bond between Brees and the city of New Orleans truly seems like a special one, and the man himself does the best he can in order to describe it and inspire others to have similar experiences. If you are an NFL fan in general, Saints fan in specific, or just have had the pleasure of Drew Brees leading your fantasy football team to dominant seasons, pick this book up. I think you will appreciate it more than other similarly-themed bios.

Alias Hook
Alias Hook
Offered by Macmillan
Price: $10.67

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Could Captain Hook Be The Good Guy?!, August 22, 2014
This review is from: Alias Hook (Kindle Edition)
Pretty much every person alive knows the story of Peter Pan. But, what if what we have been told is wrong? What if Captain Hook is the real hero of the story? That is what "Alias Hook" proposes.

For a basic plot summary, this book posits the notion that James Hookbridge is trapped in Neverland (a dreamland thought up by The Pan as a refuge for boys wanting to escape "real life"), doomed to repeat battles with Pan and the Lost Boys for eternity. One day, however, a woman shows up in the Neverland that may bring salvation to Hook...but not without the introduction of fairies, mermaids, Indians, and even an infamous reptile out for blood.

The concept behind this book is golden. For fans of all things "Pan", this is an incredible interesting romp through a re-imagined Neverland. All the elements from the James Barrie tale are present, but (as is the point), the tables are turned this time in the characterizations. Could Hook really have a redeeming side to him? Could Peter be looked upon as something other than an innocent child? Author Lisa Jensen explores those topics thoroughly in this tale.

The execution of the text? To be honest, there were some parts that got a little too "fantasy" for me (but maybe that is a personal taste...we are talking about Neverland after all), with verbose asides to concepts that might not be all that important to the plot. That is the only reason why I didn't give it the full five stars.

For the most part, though, "Alias Hook" is a great new take on the Pan canon. The most interesting part of the whole experience? One could easily see the events of the book dove-tailing with Barrie's "real" (or is it?!) text. In the world of fiction, it isn't too far-fetched to lose credibility with those (like me) who want a tight Pan story.

The Secret Life of William Shakespeare
The Secret Life of William Shakespeare
Offered by Macmillan
Price: $11.04

5.0 out of 5 stars Brings Will To Life, August 22, 2014
There is no phrase in the English language that can terrify a high school student (or even some adults) quite like " time to study Shakespeare". But what if The Bard could be rendered interesting, alive, and relevant without a lecture? That is what Jude Morgan manages to accomplish in this interesting piece of historical fiction.

For a basic plot summary, "The Secret Life of William Shakespeare" looks at the young life of Will Shakespeare, beginning with his relationship/marriage to wife Ann and then his living in London as a playwright. Other real historical figures such as Marlowe and Ben Jonson exist within the novel.

What makes this book so interesting is that it manages to truly make Shakespeare's life and times interesting without pandering to the reader. The language (while not as bad as original Shakespeare, by any means) takes a little getting used to, but once you catch on you will really start to be drawn into the story and characters. One can tell that Morgan really did a ton of research for this novel, as it does a create job of capturing what could easily have been the emotions and experiences of the time period (late 1500s-early 1600s).

So, if you have ever wanted to "get inside" the mind of one of the most creatively gifted human beings to ever walk the planet, this would be your ticket. It takes a little bit of effort, but if you give it a little time and make sure to pay attention (you can't skim this one), you will be richly rewarded. It would also be a PERFECT read for older high school or college students from teachers looking to instill an appreciation of The Bard.

The Giver
The Giver
Price: $12.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't Judge It Because It Wasn't The First, August 19, 2014
This review is from: The Giver (Amazon Instant Video)
Many years ago, I remember reading "The Giver" as a child and being enthralled by it. I didn't really understand it at the time, but I knew even then that it was something special. When I stepped into the theater for this film adaptation of Lois Lowry's now-classic, I was nervous that it wouldn't produce that same type of feeling. I had heard many bad reviews and was a bit worried at the short runtime. What I quickly discovered, however, is that watching "The Giver" on the big screen was just as captivating as the novel experience.

For a basic plot summary, "The Giver" tells the story of teenaged Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), who lives in a dystopian/utopian (you be the judge) society in the distant (but maybe not TOO distant) future. All emotion has been drained out of life and things are very procedural. Babies are assigned to families, rules govern practically every action, there is no crime, and no colors exist. While nearing the end of his formal schooling, Jonas (and his fellow classmates) are assigned functions in everyday society. While most of his friends are assigned to normal tasks associated with everyday life, Jonas is designated the "receiver of memory" and must meet with The Giver (Jeff Bridges), who shows him visions of the past and explains the reasoning behind why the current society is how it is. To say any more would tread into spoiler territory.

For some reason, I think that this movie may be judged a bit harshly because of all that has come before it. Recently, theaters have been filled with movies such as "Hunger Games", "Divergent", and "The Book Thief" (to name a few) that are based on popular YA novels. Maybe people are starting to get weary of that genre just a bit. However, one must remember that without Lowry's Giver, you could make a case that those other titles would be figments of our imagination and nothing more. So please, don't judge it because for whatever reason it was "late to the party".

Personally, I think that "The Giver" tells an even better story than any of those aforementioned titles. It is filled with great imagery, emotional storylines, and characters that really seem to be alive and are people that you want to care about. Part of the reason is that it isn't just a "young adult" story. It can very much appeal to adults and director Phillip Noyce makes sure that his adaptation stays true to that. There aren't sappy love triangles or teenage angst in this one.

Overall, this was a treat to see. I have long held the text version in high regard, and I am encouraging anyone who has read that novel to treat themselves to this visual version. Even the controversial scenes are done in such a tactful, thoughtful way that it never seems pandering or "preachy".
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 27, 2014 5:04 PM PDT

The Expendables 3
The Expendables 3

4.0 out of 5 stars You Have To "Get It" In Order To "Get It", August 16, 2014
This review is from: The Expendables 3 (DVD)
When examining a movie like "Expendables 3", one would do well to establish the "ground rules" first, so to speak. This franchise is not meant to be 100% serious. It is a throwback to the action stars and action movies of the 1980s, to be sure, but the toungue is always firmly planted in cheek. That being said, creator Sylvester Stallone takes these films just as seriously (in terms of trying to make them quality undertakings) as anything he has ever done. But, as my title of this review states, you have to "get it" in order to "get it"!

For a basic plot summary, "Expendables 3" sees the "old gang" of Stallone, Statham, Lundgren, Couture, and Crews still wreaking havoc on bad least in the beginning. After a mission involving the new baddie (Mel Gibson) goes awry, Stallone's character decides it is time to put the others out to pasture, recruiting a new crew consisting of Ronda Rousey, Kellan Lutz, Victor Ortiz, and Antonio Banderas. Along the way, they also pick up some help from Harrison Ford, Kelsey Grammar, Wesley Snipes, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

There are two primary reasons to watch the films in this franchise: 1. For the action; 2. For the comedy/camaraderie. The first part was really heavy on the action, while EX2 was pretty much all wise-cracking comedy. EX3, however, is easily the best made film of the series, featuring the best mix of everything. Though my personal favorite may still be part two (because I love the wise-cracking comedy a bit more than the guns a-blazin'), the film-evaluator portion of me realizes that this is the best overall effort so far.

Of course, any Expendables film after the first one is going to be judged on the "new blood", and in that aspect EX3 comes through with flying colors. There are a few characters (Lutz, Ortiz) who just kind of fall flat, but otherwise all the other new additions are great. Banderas' frantic comedy nearly steals the show, while Ford, Grammar, and Snipes are perfect for this franchise (old guys getting a chance to mix it up again!). And Ronda Rousey?! Hoo-boy!!

All the reviews circulating about EX3 seem to be overwhelmingly negative, but I can understand why, to an extent: if you can't see this type of film-making for what it is, you won't like the movie...simple as that. To be honest, these action-heavy flicks aren't necessarily my cup of tea either, but I can appreciate the diverse cast and the intent of what is trying to be done.

Simply put, I was very entertained by this film in the theater (something I can't say for many of the films I've seen recently). While each Expendables movie offers something a little different (and thus will have differing levels of "favorite-ism" among fans), it was clear to me that this was the best-made of the bunch with its ability to have a good mix of humor and action spread out through the film.

Lucky Us: A Novel
Lucky Us: A Novel
by Amy Bloom
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.60
71 used & new from $10.95

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Rambling Prose The Biggest Turn-Off, August 13, 2014
This review is from: Lucky Us: A Novel (Hardcover)
While reading "Lucky Us", by Amy Bloom, I got a distinct Forrest Gump-ish feel to the proceedings, what with the meandering path it takes through the lives of two sisters. Unfortunately, the lack of really endearing characters and (probably more importantly) the rambling prose style of the writing made it difficult for me to feel as if I was invested in the text whatsoever.

For a basic plot summary, this book tells the story of sisters Iris (who dreams of being a movie star one day) and Eva (who is abandoned on her father's doorstep by her mother). After both teens have had enough of their respective families, they decide to strike out for Hollywood to capitalize on Iris's movie-star plans. From there, they end up on a winding path through this crazy thing called life, taking them through the heart of WWII-era America as well as practically through every emotional state possible.

Like I said, two main problems exist that really sunk my interest in this novel:

1. I could not get into the "rambling prose" style in which Amy Bloom writes. It is almost sort of a "stream of consciousness" type of communicating. I realize that the intent was to really get inside the characters' heads (especially Eva), but I felt that more often than not it just was confusing and detracted from my overall understanding of the events transpiring.

2. While I was "hanging in there" (interest-wise) for a good 50 pages or so, after that it all seemed to collapse into kind of a mess. I had trouble (again...the weird prose) following the key events and even more difficulty deciphering the diverse cast of characters. In a tale where "family" is supposed to be such a key concept, I felt pretty much the opposite. To me, the events of this novel happened in far too random of a fashion for me to ever truly feel like I cared or understood how/why.

I made it through to the end, but unfortunately I didn't glean much from the experience of reading "Lucky Us". Every book has its reader, and many other reviewers have expressed a love for it, but I struggled on nearly every page due to the seemingly random events and weird writing style.

Short Term 12
Short Term 12
DVD ~ Brie Larson
Price: $13.58
32 used & new from $7.75

5.0 out of 5 stars What An Emotional Punch, August 13, 2014
This review is from: Short Term 12 (DVD)
Every once in awhile, a film comes completely out of nowhere and utterly surprises me. This was exactly the case with "Short Term 12". It took a family member to recommended it to me...and even he only knew of it via film school! I'm glad I checked it out, though, as it held me in tow for the duration.

For a basic plot summary, this film focuses on a "holding tank" for young people who are awaiting court judgments. In other words, the next step before either juvenile detention or foster care. Grace (Brie Larson) and Mason (John Gallagher Jr.) are the most experienced staff leaders, and they also happen to be in a relationship with each other. As the viewer learns more about the facility, residents such as Marcus (Keith Stanfield), Luis (Kevin Hernandez), Sammy (Alex Calloway), and Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) are introduced, including an insider look at why each of them are at the facility.

This is a movie about people and issues...plain and simple. Right from the opening scene, director Destin Daniel Cretton knows how to seamlessly begin weaving a complex drama, one which only strengthens as the characters are introduced. Basically, the strength of the film is that each character feels so "real". Nothing seems overly dramatic or "made up". Facilities like this exist, people like this exist, and "Short Term 12" tries its best to show the reality of the situation through a number of different possible scenarios.

This movie is also quite a small production. It doesn't need a big-name director, crazy CGI, or a star-studded cast to succeed. It just relies on the "old school" qualities of a solid script, great acting from everyone, and a diverse range of characters that will give "something to everyone".

Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give "Short Term 12"? I'm not just "being nice" to it because it is an independent film. It is more just the opposite...I'm marveling at how such a low-key movie can rank right up there among my favorites. Kind of a sad statement to make regarding the movie-producing business, which is so caught up right now in sequels and "get 'em in the theater" flicks. "Short Term 12" proves, however, that nothing over-the-top is needed to make a great film.

Batman: Arkham City for Xbox 360
Batman: Arkham City for Xbox 360
Offered by Big Game Vendor
Price: $18.39
291 used & new from $2.88

3.0 out of 5 stars My Experience With This Game, August 10, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
When it comes to video games, I have kind of a strange history with them. I grew up spending many hours in front of my Nintendo systems, but as time goes on I have found myself only playing sports and multi-player games with buddies. Just recently, I purchased "Batman: Arkham City" because I am a big Batman fan and thought it would jump-start my interest in single-player gaming campaigns. Unfortunately, it did not.

I'll say right off the bat that this could be a "problem with me", so to speak. My days of playing individual video games could be behind me. That is why I still give this game at least a three star ranking. I do not for a minute think it is a "bad game", it just didn't appeal to me (for a number of different reasons).

That being said, I think that there are a few problems with the game that are partially to blame. I wish there was a bit more middle ground between knowing what to do and being lost. For example, in the sections of the game that I played, I would first feel lost, just swinging from building to building not knowing what to do. It took me a long time to get to each objective because I was never sure where exactly I was going. Then, once I finally reached the objective, it kind of felt like I was just following button commands to complete the mission exercise.

Now, many of you may read this review and say "go back to your old-school gaming". That might be a valid critique here (!). But, I just wanted to explain my experience with this game. For whatever reason (maybe a variety of reasons), it just didn't suck me in and thus I stopped playing.

Gerald R. Ford (The American Presidents Series: The 38th President, 1974-1977)
Gerald R. Ford (The American Presidents Series: The 38th President, 1974-1977)
by Douglas G. Brinkley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.82
109 used & new from $0.94

4.0 out of 5 stars In The Wake Of Disaster, August 9, 2014
After the disastrous Watergate scandal that sullied the Nixon Administration, the nation needed a President who was beyond reproach in order to win back people's trust in government. By and large, Gerald R. Ford proved to be that man.

In this "American Presidency" installment, author Douglas Brinkley does a great job of hitting the key moments of Ford's political ascendance and presidency after Nixon's resignation. Despite not being one of the "big name" Presidents, Ford just happened to preside over a number of important landmarks in our country's history. He was the President in office when the Vietnam War came to a close, he oversaw the "beginning of the end" of the Cold War, and his open, honest administration won back a little bit of the public trust after Watergate.

A major theme of this book is also Ford's reputation as one of the most honest Presidents of all-time. Compared to his immediate predecessors (and most other Presidents in general), Ford ran a White House almost devoid of scandal. Did he have to make tough decisions? Certainly. But Brinkley makes clear that no one ever had a bad word to say about Ford's integrity.

Overall, this was a solid installment in the series. It was good pacing and focuses on all the right things without getting bogged down.

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