Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Review of "Golden Age of D. C. Comics 1935-1956," edited by Paul Levitz

Review of

Golden Age of D. C. Comics 1935-1956, edited by Paul Levitz ISBN 9783836535731

Five out of five stars

 This book is a combination of the history of the comic book characters, the characters that created them as well as some incredible and imaginative artwork. What we now call the DC line of comics has several points of origin, all of which are depicted in this definitive work.

 While many of the characters like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman have managed to “live” in the funny pages for decades, other characters had brief runs and have essentially been forgotten. Other characters were born, died a natural comic death only to be reborn in an entirely different form. Two examples of that are the original Green Lantern and original Flash.

 Some of the long term characters have essentially been partially reborn, the most obvious example is Batman. His more recent incarnation as the Dark Knight is very different from the almost jolly form of the sixties. The recurrent villains that never learn their lesson and keep coming back for more rounds of conflict are what makes the comics succeed. For heroes must always battle powerful forces, otherwise they might as well be just another person in an outrageous costume.

 This is a great book that can be enjoyed for the comics, the artwork of the comics or both.

Review of "The Mutant:" An Episode of “The Outer Limits” television show

Review of

The Mutant: An Episode of “The Outer Limits” television show

Three out of five stars

 The premise of this episode is that a small exploratory team has been sent to a very Earthlike planet. They have been there for some time and a psychologist has been sent to check on their progress and overall mental health. There is only one woman in the group, and all are highly educated.

 My outlook on the show was almost immediately soured when the woman was dressed in high heels and a calf-length skirt. The idea that such attire would be used by a member of an initial exploratory team was ridiculous. All the men were dressed in very utilitarian work shirts and pants.

 One member of the group was turned into a Bug-Eyed Monster or BEM that is capable of controlling the thoughts and actions of the other team members. His powers extend to being capable of somehow vaporizing people that have displeased him.

 The action then becomes a struggle between the BEM or mutant and the other humans that are struggling to survive. Of course, the BEM is defeated, but not without the woman uttering a high-pitched scream when there is danger and whirling away from the sight into the sheltering arms of a man. While I realize that was what was done in those times, it is still a bit overdone. Science fiction allows women to have some backbone.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Review of "Gallipoli," DVD version

Review of

Gallipoli, DVD version

Five out of five stars

 When one group of nations takes up arms against another group of nations in a great war, there are two avenues of thought as to how to fight it. The first is to attack and defeat the most powerful of your enemies, for if you win that fight, the war is over. The second is that you select the weakest member of the opposing alliance and attack it until it surrenders. Since the more powerful nation in the opposing alliance will try to prevent this, aid will be sent that will likely not change the outcome.

 Winston Churchill was a strong proponent of the second option. In the Second World War he repeatedly advocated for an attack on the “soft underbelly” of the European Axis nations. This was the second round for his position, in the First World War he advocated the attack on Turkey that is known as the Gallipoli campaign. While that series of battles led to a lot of casualties and may have come close to knocking Turkey out of the war, it is judged as a failure and Churchill was demoted from his position as First Lord of the Admiralty.

 This movie is about a small group of men from western Australia that are caught up in the patriotic fervor of the war against the now hated Germans. Two men known for sprinting, Archy Hamilton and Frank Dunne enter a race and Hamilton wins. This is the start of a friendship and after a series of misplays, both manage to enlist in the Australian military and are sent to train in Egypt. Along with some other men they knew in Australia, they engage in some serious male bonding that prepares them for the upcoming battles.

 Once they land on the Gallipoli peninsula, they find the occasional shell and bullets from the enemy all a matter of routine. However, all changes when the Australian units are ordered to attack well prepared Turkish positions. Like so much of what took place in World War I, it was nothing but a slaughter when men charged over open ground against machine guns. The Australian units were decimated and all of the male bonds so carefully forged are literally killed. What makes it doubly heartbreaking is that this movie is based on actual events when the Australian 3rd Light Horse Brigade attacked the Turks when an artillery barrage ended seven minutes too soon.

 Up until the last ten minutes or so, this is a movie about male bonding and deep friendships. It is often amusing, with some very good scenes of camaraderie. However, the last part is about military rigidness that sends hundreds of brave young men to their deaths in a senseless attempt to achieve a hopeless objective. It is hard to watch such events transpire, more so because it is true.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Review of "Carriers," DVD version

Review of

Carriers, DVD version

Three out of five stars

 While the premise of this movie is very relevant to the current state of the world, (Covid-19) the execution of the actions by the major players is at best lame and often reaches the point of stupid. An extremely deadly virus has been unleashed on the world and it is almost universally fatal. Two young men and two young women are in a car traveling to a seaside resort where the two boys spent a considerable amount of time in their youth. It takes a bit of time before these facts are clear to the viewer.

 The four of them have masks and a lot of bleach and are very cautious about contact with anything that could possible be contagious. At first, they seem very knowledgeable about their situation and what they need to do to survive. The two men are brothers, but the exact situation regarding the two women is unclear.

 It does not take long before the intelligence declines and the stupidity rises. When their car is irretrievable broken, the older brother (the leader) takes out his pistol and does some target practice on a political campaign sign. No one with any real sense of their situation would have wasted precious ammunition like that.

 Some of their actions appear incredibly foolish once it becomes clear just how deadly the virus is. They arrive at a Center for Disease Control base only to find little more than death and a sense of futility. Almost no one is left alive. Yet, they engage in absurd behaviors where they could suffer broken bones or be in an auto accident.

 As disaster movies based on a virulence go, this one had a lot of potential, but it is hard to take a movie based on such actions in response seriously.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Review of "Ancient Chinese Fables," Foreign Language Press

Review of

Ancient Chinese Fables, Foreign Language Press ISBN 7119018825

Five out of five stars

 Ancient fables are a staple of all cultures of long standing, reading them can be one of the most effective ways to learn some of the fundamentals of how the people think. For the influence of them never fades, witness the phrases “sour grapes,” “united we stand, divided we fall,” and “necessity is the mother of invention” that are still present in western societies 2.5 thousand years after Aesop stated them.

 These fables also originated in the fourth or third centuries B. C. in ancient China. All have a moral that is clear but not explicitly stated at the end. They involve the quirks of human nature and how the difference in perspectives can be very significant. My favorite in the collection appears on page 39 and has the title “The Use of Parables.” It is a succinct statement of why parables are so valuable in that they allow things to be explained in a manner that is understandable by comparing the known to the unknown.

 This book is a worthy addition to basic literature studies in the K-12 area. Not only is it great literature, it also provides some valuable multicultural experience.

Review of "Portrayed Crazy: A Memoir of Spousal Abuse," by Kate Klaver

Review of

Portrayed Crazy: A Memoir of Spousal Abuse, by Kate Klaver ISBN 9780997684971

Four out of five stars

 The first point is made in the prologue, where it is stated that “For security purposes and legal reasons, efforts have been made to disguise names, addresses and towns in order to protect the innocent as well as the guilty.” Yet, written in ink inside the front cover is a message clearly written in a female hand giving the town in Iowa as well as the name of the author. While one can be sympathetic to the author that has experienced spousal abuse, this does come across as a serious action of duplicity. I purchased this book at a library bookstore and there were several others, all of which had the internal writing.

 That aside, this is an all-too-common theme of books that are self-published. As a well-known reviewer, I have received many requests from the victims of abuse to read and review their books. All have stated in print and privately that the writing of the book was very cathartic. That is clearly the case here as well.

 The rendition of the abuse is written in plain language and is not presented in anything approaching a riveting style. Like so many stories of this type, it starts with an alcoholic father, meeting a heavy-drinking man that pays attention to her, satisfying a need in the minimal way, followed by a marriage that is fundamentally loveless and unsatisfying. The author eventually goes through a bitter divorce and this book was written seven years after that.

 There is only one real revelation in the book and that has to do with the social atmosphere of a small town. Nearly everyone knows everyone else, so rumor mills run strong and can be surprisingly effective in protecting the guilty and diminishing the innocent. If you have not experienced this environment, then it will be new to you.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Review of "Howard Hughes’ Hell’s Angels," DVD

Review of

Howard Hughes’ Hell’s Angels, DVD

Five out of five stars

 Even though it was shot in 1930, the action can still amaze you. Only daring aviator and incredibly wealthy Howard Hughes could have made this very expensive movie at that time. The primary characters are two British brothers that are students at Oxford. A secondary but important character is a German man also attending Oxford. The two brothers could not be temperamentally different, one is brave and willing to cover for his brother while the other is a complete coward.

 When World War I begins, all three men join the air forces of their respective countries and the two brothers also express strong interest in the same woman, played by Jean Harlow. While the love interest adds something to the plot, the Harlow character is out for fun and adventure, willing to go to any man that may give her that. Her presence does not add a great deal to the movie, even though it is Harlow.

 The air action is amazing, although they are all biplanes, there are many of them engaged in the fight, I was not surprised to learn that some of the pilots were accidentally killed. Special effects were quite limited back then, so nearly all of the action is real. This is fundamentally a war movie, but underneath all of this it is a great story of two brothers, one of which always covers for the other’s weaknesses. Even when it is at the risk of his own life.

Review of "Unusual Problems for Usual Topics in Algebra," by Alfred S. Posamentier and Charles T. Salkind

Review of

Unusual Problems for Usual Topics in Algebra, by Alfred S. Posamentier and Charles T. Salkind

Five out of five stars

 This book is true to the title, the algebra is basic, but most of the problems are not. While the strategy used to generate a solution is often immediately clear, there are many where I had to stop and do some deep thinking before I had a mini “Aha” moment in realizing what the solution strategy is. Most of the problems would prove very useful as problems used to illustrate concepts not often covered or as additional challenge problems.

 Detailed solutions to all of the problems are given in the back of the book, so if you get stumped, there is the ability to “cheat.” This is a book that teachers of basic college algebra will find very useful as a resource for the “unusual” problems.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Review of "Rookie of the Year," by John R. Tunis

Review of

Rookie of the Year, by John R. Tunis ISBN 9780152056483

Five out of five stars

Managing is more than deciding who to play

This book is one in the series about a fictional Brooklyn Dodgers team authored by Tunis. Most of the recurring characters appear in this one, yet the emphasis is on shortstop and playing manager Spike Russell along with rookie pitcher Hathaway.
When the story opens, the Dodgers are in fourth place and it is the last half of the season, but they have begun to gel as a team and are now winning. Although it will be difficult, there is a glimmer of hope that they will be able to challenge for the pennant.
The main plot revolves around the stress and challenges of keeping the team focused on their drive for the title. Things will occasionally go wrong, and people will make errors, but it is Spike’s job to always look forward to the next game and increasing their chances of winning it.
A sub-plot revolves around the nefarious machinations of a member of the Dodgers organization that is determined to create problems for the team, even if it costs them the pennant. While this adds some human interest to the story, it detracts from the focus on the events on the field and the plans that Spike makes as the manager.
Tunis demonstrates once again that he is a master at writing adolescent sports fiction. While modern readers may not understand some of the references, specifically to the amounts of money involved, those that understand the history of baseball will have no difficulty.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Review of "Rough Cut," by Edward Gorman

Review of

Rough Cut, by Edward Gorman ISBN 0816149275

Four out of five stars

 Although this multiple murder mystery moves along fairly well, the expression of the plot does not generate tension or anticipation. Michael Ketchum is the co-owner of the Harris-Ketchum advertising agency in Chicago. It is a relatively small firm, yet there are enough people to generate a wide assortment of extra-marital affairs.

 When partner Denny Harris is murdered, there are several options as to which jealous husband or angry female lover was the one that wielded the knife. Even though Ketchum was not in either group, he is still a suspect as the firm was struggling in the creative and financial senses.

 The story plods along as participants in affairs are revealed, marking them as potential killers. However, some of them also get murdered along the way, keeping the number of suspects relatively constant. At times there are solid hints that there might be more than one murderer evening out an infidelity score.

 The clues come together at the end and the murderer(s) are revealed, there is no dramatic climax, just a resolution that is solid and complete, but not tense.

Review of "Batman The Movie," starring Adam West and Burt Ward

Review of

Batman The Movie, starring Adam West and Burt Ward

Five out of five stars

 This movie caps the television series with Adam West and Burt Ward starring as Batman and Robin. When the series started, it was extremely popular, but only in the sense of a fad. It lasted three seasons, airing twice a week the first two seasons and once a week the third. Some of the villains were quite memorable and the dialog was simplistic at best. One of the most interesting features of the series is that while it was essentially a comedy, there was no laugh track. Of course, the visual sound effects filled that role to some extent.

 As befits a full length movie, all four major adversaries of Batman are teamed together in an attempt to rule the world. Their plan is of course very juvenile and there is a lot of laughing done by the Riddler and Joker. The mechanisms whereby Batman and Robin get out of what appears to be certain death are absurd, even for this series.

 Yet, it is still a fun movie to watch, in some ways more entertaining than all the subsequent Batman movies, especially when young children are involved. There is no way that these villains could possibly be scary.

Review of "Star Trek Animated Series: Albatross," episode 20 in the series

Review of

Star Trek Animated Series: Albatross, episode 20 in the series

Three out of five stars

 As the episode starts, it appears that the Enterprise has successfully completed its mission to deliver medical supplies to the planet Dramia. However, after the leaders thank the Enterprise crew, they present Captain Kirk with an arrest warrant for Dr. McCoy for the crime of mass murder. Nineteen years earlier, McCoy had supervised a vaccination program on the planet Dramia II, but once he left the planet, a plague killed all inhabitants.

 Since the warrant is legal, McCoy is taken into custody. With no other options, Kirk takes the Enterprise to Dramia II in an attempt to seek evidence regarding the source of the plague. They find a survivor and when they talk with him, they learn that he was off-planet when the plague started, and Dr. McCoy saved his life. The plague affects humans as well, although Spock is immune. Using broad interpretations of the law, Spock manages to free McCoy and he is able to find a cure. The episode ends with all charges dropped and peace is maintained between the Federation and Dramia.

 The potential for introducing a plague when a new species visits a planet is a very real issue. Furthermore, that plague may not kill the natives, but be in the form of microbes that out-compete the native flora and fauna. The problem with this episode is that a plague that killed all the intelligent creatures on a planet would be big galactic news. It is impossible that such an event would be kept from the Federation for nineteen years and there would be a strong move to learn the cause. Finally, the cure was simple to find once the proper approach was taken. Way too easy, even for the miracle workers of the Enterprise.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Review of "Batman: Under the Red Hood," DVD version

Review of

Batman: Under the Red Hood, DVD version

Five out of five stars

 This is an excellent animated adventure involving superheroes. It opens with the Joker beating Robin (Jason Todd) to a pulp, blowing up the building before Batman can get there to rescue him. To Batman, that iteration of Robin is now dead, and he blames himself for letting it happen.

 There is a new master criminal in Gotham City, and he calls himself the Red Hood. Using an incredible ability to move, many gadgets and deadly weapons with no reluctance to use them, he begins to force the leaders of nearly all criminal enterprises to pay him a significant percentage of their revenue. There is one remaining holdout, a master criminal known as the Black Mask.

 It is a battle to the death between the Red Hood and Black Mask, with Batman often on the sidelines trying to determine what is really going on. Both sides possess powerful weapons and the battle scenes are fast, furious and full of sound. Batman is also aided by Nightwing, although he is reluctant to accept it. The Joker reappears to play a major role towards the end.

 The animation action is incredible, in many ways superior to the superhero movies that have actors and actresses. There are many times when I am watching a live action superhero movie that I get bored with the punching and crashing version of fighting. Not in this case, I was reluctant to stop watching, even when my personal biology intervened.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Review of "Star Trek Animated Series Episode 18: Bem"

Review of

Star Trek Animated Series Episode 18: Bem

Four out of five stars

 “Bem” is episode 18 of the Star Trek animated series and it first aired in September 1974. It was written by Hugo and Nebula winner David Gerrold, most famous for being the author of the original series episode “The Trouble with Tribbles.” Like that episode, this one involved an alien creature of questionable use.

 Bem is from the planet Pandro, a planet recently contacted by the Federation, and his species is interested in witnessing how the captain and crew of the Enterprise conduct their missions. That mission is to a planet inhabited by reptilian creatures that have a primitive non-industrial society; therefore, their mission is to observe without being seen.

 Bem proves to be a nuisance, getting captain Kirk and Spock into extreme difficulty. It also turns out that the creatures are under the protection of a powerful non-corporeal entity that calls them her “children.” Her words are spoken with tenderness, but she makes it clear that no violence against her charges will be tolerated.

 The episode has a powerful religious overtone, it is clear from the perspective of the creatures, the entity is a god. For that matter, there are hints that the crew of the Enterprise should think so too. One strong feature of the episode is the actions of Lieutenant Uhura. When Kirk, Spock and Scotty are on the surface, she directly contradicts Scotty in insisting that they must follow orders.

 Despite the crudity of the animation compared to what can be done now, this episode illustrates that there were things that could be done in animation that were impossible in live action. Something that makes all science fiction stories stronger if it is properly done.

Review of "The Righteous Few: Two Who Made A Difference," by Marty Brounstein

Review of

The Righteous Few: Two Who Made A Difference, by Marty Brounstein ISBN 9780757004971

Five out of five stars

 When the Nazi party under Hitler rose to power in Germany in the 1930’s, it personified and magnified what was systemic Anti-Semitism in Europe. The majority of people were tolerant of the Jewish populations in their countries, but not endeared to them. Once these countries were invaded and occupied by Germany, it was clear to all that the Jews were at great risk, although a great deal was done by the Germans to keep their ultimate fate from the occupied populations.

 Fortunately for the human species, there were some people willing to shelter Jewish people during the war, even with the clear threat of imprisonment or death. Two such people were Frans and Mien Wijnakker, a Dutch couple that willingly took Jewish people into their rural home to protect them from being consumed by the German death machine. This book is their story.

 Since the Holocaust is a matter of historical fact, that is not an interesting feature of this book. What is the most significant aspect is that the people around the Wijnakker’s knew what they were doing, yet none of them reported it to the Germans. Which could have earned them a significant bounty from the Germans at a time when the Dutch people were suffering. In the last year of the German occupation in World War II, between 18,000 and 22,000 Dutch people died of starvation due to German action in preventing food shipments.

 Another interesting point is how the local Catholic priest reacted to the knowledge of Jews being harbored by Catholics. He expressed his disapproval, yet never reached the point of tattling. Through it all, the Wijnakker’s held firm in their position of helping, earning them the title of members of the “Righteous Few” club. It is a great story about courage in the face of great danger and potential death.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Review of "The Girl on the Train"

Review of

The Girl on the Train

Four out of five stars

Temporal shifts and false memories confuse the viewer

 Most murder mystery stories start some background to introduce the characters, have a murder or two and then sequentially step through the investigation. Generally, there will be hints and clues dropped, some of which are relevant, but others that are meant to distract and confuse. In this one, the distract and confuse is done by temporal shifting and false memories, where there will be snippets from some time in the past and recollections that are sometimes more of a delusion by transfer of role in the events.

 Rachel is a woman that commutes on a train along a track with water on one side and the back of a row of houses on the other. She generally sits on the side of the houses, so she occasionally sees the people in their back yards, or on their decks. Two of the people that she regularly sees are Scott and Megan and they are often embracing. Yet, one day she sees Megan with another man.

 Rachel is heavy into alcohol, so she often has blackouts and her memory is very unreliable. When Megan turns up missing and then found dead, Rachel tries to get her mind in order and put her memories back in the realm of reality. For it is clear early on that she was likely the last person other than the murderer to see Megan alive.

 The story bounces back and forth and Rachel is depicted as very unstable to the point of delusional, which is what she is. She is also a stalker, appearing suddenly at the home of her ex-husband and his new wife. She once even walked into their home and took their baby outside while the wife was sleeping.

 Like a good murder mystery, the viewer is kept puzzled until the very end when all of it falls into place. Whether Rachel ever gets over the bottle and makes something of herself remains an unknown. The performances are excellent, all the usual suspects remain ambiguous to the extent that the viewer cannot determine the guilty.

Review of "The League of Regrettable Superheroes," by Jon Morris

Review of

The League of Regrettable Superheroes, by Jon Morris ISBN 9781594748691

Five out of five stars

 With so many movies featuring superheroes now hitting the big screen in sequence and several different actors having played heroes such as Superman, Batman and Spider-man, many wannabees have never been heard from. This book contains brief descriptions of some of the oddest and quite frankly dumbest superheroes that were ever created. As one would have expected, many did not survive for more than a few issues.

 Quirky is too mild a word to describe most of these characters. For example, there is “Madam Fatal,” a hero that is a man cross-dressed as a grey-haired old woman. This character appeared in 1940 and lasted for nearly two years! Another is “Fatman, the Human Flying Saucer,” where an obese man turns into an actual flying saucer when it is time to confront the evildoers. My favorite by quite a bit is “Dr. Hormone” (really!) Debuting in 1940, he was a man that used hormones for many purposes, sometimes well beyond the realm of medical ethics. He does not hesitate to use his potions on children and even babies.

 Comic characters tend to be quirky and unusual, but until you read this book it is unlikely that you ever realized just how far that expression can be extended.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Review of "The Great Comic Book Heroes," by Jules Feiffer

Review of

The Great Comic Book Heroes, by Jules Feiffer

Five out of five stars

 Jules Feiffer is considered the most widely read satirist in the United States. His list of publications and other achievements is incredible, from a Pulitzer Prize to an Oscar for an animated short film that he wrote. He is the author of many books, from novels to graphic novels, plays, screenplays and other works too numerous to mention.

 In this book he writes about the role of comic book heroes in his life and that of other boys of limited physical means like him. He also swings a few haymakers at Dr. Frederic Wertham, a nutcase of the highest order that unfortunately managed to be taken far too seriously by a gullible public.

 In between these opening and closing sections, there are original cartoons of Superman, Batman, the original Human Torch, the original Flash, the Green Lantern, Spectre, Hawkman, Wonder Woman, the Sub-Mariner, Captain America, Plastic Man and the Spirit. They take the reader back to a time when comics were drawn in a far different manner than the modern style. Not better or worse, just different. Readers familiar will recognize the early years when people and other creatures died in comic strips.

Review of "What You Must Know About Age-related Macular Degeneration: How You Can Prevent, Stop, or reverse AMD," by Jeffrey Anshel and Laura Stevens

Review of

What You Must Know About Age-related Macular Degeneration: How You Can Prevent, Stop, or reverse AMD, by Jeffrey Anshel and Laura Stevens ISBN 9780757004490

Five out of five stars

 Given the increased age of the populations of every nation as well as the rising levels of type II diabetes, the issue of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is becoming an ever more common health affliction. Eyes age and change just like all other parts of the human body and there is much that you can do to care for your eyes and slow if not outright prevent the onset of AMD.

 This book is very professionally written, yet the science is well within the scope of the generally knowledgeable reader. It opens with an explanation of how the eyes work and what AMD is, along with options for medical treatment and the major risk factors for the affliction.

 The next sections explain many of the ways that have proven to or are indicated to be changes in lifestyle that will reduce the risk for or delay the onset of AMD. Some of them, like quitting smoking, eating healthier and exercising if you don’t, are general tactics that will improve your overall health. Other sections deal with dietary supplements that research has indicated may improve your chances of avoiding a serious case of AMD. The last chapter gives advice on how to manage a decline in vision.

 This is a medical book packed with sound and readable advice about an important topic. Your eyes age along with all other body parts and it is possible to reduce the pace of that process, something that you will learn how to do from this book.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Review of "True Lies"

Review of

True Lies

Five out of five stars

 This action thriller is one of my favorite Schwarzenegger movies, largely due to the backup roles by Tom Arnold, Bill Paxton and Jamie Lee Curtis. Schwarzenegger is a top level U. S. government agent/spy named Harry Tasker and Curtis is his wife Helen. To her, Harry is a boring computer salesman that is forced to be on the road for extended periods of time. Arnold is Harry’s spy sidekick and Paxton is a true used car salesman that pretends to be a spy in order to bed women. The villains are an organization of master terrorists that have managed to acquire nuclear weapons. They are well funded and determined to carry out their mission to punish the United States.

 Even though the plot is based on millions of lives being at stack, what makes the movie work is the dialog and sight gags. A furious and deadly fighter, Harry is overly polite to people that he must shove out of the way in order to accomplish his task. There is no better scene than when he chews out the horse that refuses to take a death-defying leap off a building. A close second is when he apologizes to a man on a toilet after being involved in shooting up the restroom and killing two terrorists.

 It is unfortunate that no sequel to this movie was ever made, for it is clear that if the same style of action and dialogue was repeated, it would have been like this one. A movie that you can never see too many times. A thriller with a silent laugh track.

Review of "Crash"

Review of


Five out of five stars

 This is a powerful movie; the good guys are not all good and the bad guys are not all bad. Racism is present in many ugly forms, although some of the worst practitioners take advantage of their chance to repent and make amends. It a movie without a true leading role, although there are several movie stars in the cast.

 Some of the best scenes involve the machinations that people have to go through in order to get through their life, do their job or see that some justice is done. There is a district attorney concerned only with his re-election prospects and his overtly racist, self-centered wife, two partnered street cops and a black senior detective, a shop owner that is vandalized and seeks revenge against a locksmith and several other supporting characters that add a great deal of power. This is one of those movies where all are supporting characters and all performances are outstanding.

 The good do some bad and the bad do some good, the interconnections of all the characters makes for a story with surprises that are uplifting and then crash you down. Whatever your final position is, this movie will not leave you unchanged as it gives you perspectives on the racist undercurrent of American society.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Review of "The Hunter I Might Have Been," by George Mendoza

Review of

The Hunter I Might Have Been, by George Mendoza

Five out of five stars

 This short book with only a brief sentence within each two-page spread brought back a vivid memory for me. It is about a boy that takes a weapon and for the first time kills a wild creature. That creature is a sparrow and once it was silent on the ground, he had no feeling of triumph, only sadness at ending the life of a creature that could do no harm to him.

 My father grew up on a farm and started hunting as soon as he was able. He continued to hunt several types of fish and game, so I grew up eating the flesh of many different animals. My first and only hunting kill was a rabbit that was eating the tender shoots of my garden. Once the animal was on the ground, I was like the author and felt only remorse regarding my actions. I never again fired a gun, even when my livestock or garden were threatened.

This book contains a valuable lesson. Not everyone has the desire to hunt now that it is no longer necessary in order to provide your next meal.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Review of "Robot Spy," episode 8 of the original Jonny Quest series

Review of

Robot Spy, episode 8 of the original Jonny Quest series

Five out of five stars

This is my favorite episode in the original Jonny Quest series. A flying object lands very close to the Quest compound late in the evening and the curious Dr. Quest takes it to a warehouse in order to study it in the morning. It is a giant robotic spider sent by arch-enemy Dr. Zin that is designed to gather the intellectual property of the latest Quest invention, the para-power ray gun.

 What makes the Jonny Quest series so attractive to young people is that although Jonny and his friend Hadji are boys, the are an integral part of the team. When Dr. Quest issues orders they respond as adults and have technical expertise in their own right. That is the case here, when the robot spy is about to depart with the secrets, Dr. Quest tells each of them what to do and there is no hesitation in carrying out his instructions. There is tension and some technical jargon, but well within the level of understanding of all people with an interest in technology.

 This was a great series and well ahead of its time, an animated science fiction series that appeared in prime time.

Review of "Fifty Shades of Grey"

Review of

Fifty Shades of Grey, DVD version

Four out of five stars

 While this is a remake of the Cinderella plot, it has some literal and figurative kinky twists. Christian Grey is a very wealthy and attractive young man that trolls the world for women that will satisfy his desires. Anastasia (Anna) Steele is a college student given the task of interviewing the reclusive Grey, something that few have done. Grey is so secretive that the public does not know whether he is gay or straight.

 There is a bit of a spark during the interview and they begin a relationship based on a contract written by Grey where Anna is designated as the submissive. For Grey has a difficult time with relationships with women and he is most comfortable when there is an underlying current of S & M with him in charge.

 Yet, there is a spark of feeling between them that complicates his world and at first simplifies hers. With his vast wealth, Grey can provide experiences and buy things that Anna could only dream about before. Their relationship remains one of active sex, yet with an undercurrent of tension that can potentially destroy what they have together. It has the potential to burst into a happy ending where they fall into each other’s arms in the implied happy ever after final scene.

 The movie has some very powerful emotional moments, yet most are unpleasant for one or both of them. At times you feel for Grey and other times you hope that he bangs a knee against a table leg. It is a complex story that in many ways is a more realistic depiction of the Cinderella fantasy.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Review of "Superman/Batman: The Search for Kryptonite," by Michael Green, Mike Johnson, Shane Davis and Matt Banning

Review of

Superman/Batman: The Search for Kryptonite, by Michael Green, Mike Johnson, Shane Davis and Matt Banning, ISBN 9781401219338

Five out of five stars

 The premise is that there is a surprisingly large amount of Kryptonite on Earth, posing a constant danger to Superman. Using his advanced technical equipment and skills, Batman is able to locate all significant deposits. After a flexible and very durable lead-lined suit is donned by Superman, the two of them proceed to systematically extract and store the various pieces of the deadly element from the highest mountains to the deepest trenches of the oceans.

 During their adventures, they face opposition from several unexpected entities, even including other super beings. As always, the two heroes move forward undeterred in their quest. One of the most unexpected points of opposition is from a corporate executive (not Lex Luthor) of Lexcorp, the umbrella company owned by Luthor. It is a person from Clark’s past, now captured by the core capitalist “values.”

 This is an excellent graphic novel, the friendship/comradery between Batman and Superman is excellent. Even though Superman is by far the most powerful and capable of the two, in many cases Batman is the unquestioned leader.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Review of "Then & Now: Cedar Rapids," by George T. Henry and Mark W. Hunter

Review of

Then & Now: Cedar Rapids, by George T. Henry and Mark W. Hunter ISBN 0738531979

Five out of five stars

This book contains a collection of before and after photos of buildings and locations in the city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. There is an extensive caption explaining the location and what the buildings in the photos were named and used for. In general, the last sentence states what the location is being used for at the time of compilation (2002).

 As a lifelong resident of the Cedar Rapids area, the comparisons have a special interest to me. I was able to mentally transport myself to most locations. Of special interest were the images where the streets are more heavily populated by horses than by motorized vehicles. Destructive improvements are generally a good thing for cities, it is a prime indicator of dynamism. From these images it is clear that the city is dynamic and adapting to the changing times.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Review of "Mystery of the Lizard Men," a Jonny Quest episode

Review of

Mystery of the Lizard Men, a Jonny Quest episode

Five out of five stars

The original Jonny Quest show was a groundbreaker in the sense that it was a cartoon that ran in prime time on ABC in 1964-65. While it had a devoted following, decades of popular reruns confirm that, the series only lasted one season. It featured Jonny, the son of super scientist Dr. Benton Quest and special ops sensation Roger (Race) Bannon, assigned to protect the Quest’s. There was no wife of Benton in the group. The show was designed to be science fiction derived from known modern technologies, so not a great deal of extrapolation was needed on the part of the viewer.

 This is the first episode in the series, so the main characters and their backgrounds are presented. Ships are mysteriously being lost in the Sargasso Sea and the only survivor mumbles deliriously about giant lizards. Dr. Quest and his group are dispatched to investigate, and they encounter and battle the evildoers.

 What made the series so fun is that while he is a boy, Jonny is a full action figure, fighting alongside Race and being the hero to all adolescent boys that watched him. Jonny’s dog bandit is also a contributing member of the team, he takes direction very well and helps Jonny and Race escape. This is another one of those series that ended well before it should have. Unlike most cartoons, the dialog is superb and somewhat adult. For example, Jonny: “Foolish question number one, does it hurt Race?” Race: “Only when I say ouch.”

Review of "Murder By Numbers," DVD

Review of

Murder By Numbers, DVD

Four out of five stars

 The premise of this movie is one that has been used many times, the brilliant high school student that considers himself devoid of feelings planning to commit the perfect crime in order to generate some passion and excitement in his life. Richard (Ryan Gosling) and Justin (Michael Pitt) are high school classmates, but on the opposite end of the personality spectrum. Richard is the son of a very wealthy man and is one of the cool kids. Justin is a brilliant introvert that is an avid reader that explores somewhat alternative philosophical positions.

 Somehow, these two boys become partners in a plan to commit the perfect murder. They select a female victim at random, kill her and leave her body by a creek. They very carefully plant clues that lead to another “logical suspect” and it appears that the case is closed. However, Detective Cassie Mayweather (Sandra Bullock) refuses to go along with the conventional wisdom and goes out of bounds in an attempt to find evidence against the boys. She is also fighting her own internal demons, having a literal love/hate relationship with her male partner.

 It moves along fairly well, but the writers make it a bit schizophrenic. It is played as a psychological crime thriller, but degenerates into a climactic battle scene to the death towards the end. It would have been preferable if they had stayed on the psycho-thriller track.

Review of "Where Does the Garbage Go?" By Paul Showers

Review of

Where Does the Garbage Go? By Paul Showers ISBN 9780064451147

Five out of five stars

 To children and unfortunately many adults as well, there is no analytical thought when something is thrown in the garbage. There is the belief that it simply goes away with no consequences. Yet, something must be done with it and while all of it can be considered a pollutant, some of it is toxic.

 The purpose of this book is to explain to children that there are consequences to tossing something away. Many items can in fact be recycled, saving landfill space and requiring less extraction of resources from the Earth. The descriptions are very well done and are written at the level of the second grader. I strongly recommended this book as a primer for children as humans face existential threats of climate change and the depletion of natural resources.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Review of "Superman Returns," DVD

Review of

Superman Returns, DVD

Three out of five stars

 Fans of the Superman movie series will recognize scenes and even dialog from the first movie starring Christopher Reeve. What is absent is the charm of that movie, specifically the onscreen interactions between Reeve and Margot Kidder as Lois Lane. The premise is that Superman left Earth to journey back to the location of his home planet of Krypton and Lois Lane wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning article on why the world does not need Superman. Lois is also married with a boy that appears to be between four and eight years old.

 When Superman makes an unexpected reappearance in saving a doomed airliner where Lois is a passenger, the romance between the two of them is rekindled. However, this leads to some creepy actions by Superman, where he uses his super vision and hearing to eavesdrop on Lois and her husband in their home. This is not an endearing scene.

 Kevin Spacey plays the arch-enemy Lex Luthor and as usual, Lex is determined to take over the world and has no concerns about the loss of human life. He does a credible job at the task, and there is the usual female bimbo as one of his sidekicks.

 While fans of Superman are pleased that there is a new iteration of the Superman series of movies, this one falls far short of the first one. Even the romance appears a bit forced and uncertain and not just because Lois is married.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Review of "Ghosts of Lee County, Iowa," by Bruce Carlson

Review of

Ghosts of Lee County, Iowa, by Bruce Carlson ISBN 1571663134

Four out of five stars

 Lee County is in the southeast corner of Iowa and was one of the earliest counties formed in Iowa. One of the county seats is Keokuk, named after a chief of the Sauk tribe. Therefore, the county has a long history that dates back to the Native Americans that called it home well before the arrival of the Europeans. The Mississippi River forms the eastern border of the county.

 Like all areas of lengthy habitation, Lee County has its’ own set of stories involving the supernatural and this book contains some of the most well-known. In terms of content, the stories involve farming, hunting and action on the Mississippi River, which provided a continuous source of human traffic. The stories are generally rather routine as ghost stories go, unlike others there is almost no gore and violence. There are no stories of the spirits of the brutally murdered wandering about scaring the living. Accidental deaths are the prime source of the ghosts here.

 If you are looking for a book that will generate shivers of fright, then this is not for you. The legends are local and written in the style of a report rather than the building of tension to a climax.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Review of "The Little Book of Doctors’ Rules," by Clifton K. Meador

Review of

The Little Book of Doctors’ Rules, by Clifton K. Meador, MD ISBN 9780757004933

Five out of five stars

 The only real flaw in this book occurs in the title. While I understand why the author used the term “Doctors,” it would be much closer to reality to use the phrase “Health Care Providers.” For every person in the chain beyond those that take your demographic information and ask how you are going to pay your bill should read this book.

 The rules, more accurately described as snippets of advice, are short and relate to the more humane and hence efficient practice of medicine. For even though health care providers often use machines with advanced technology and costing tens of thousands of dollars, medical care is and will always remain an interpersonal activity. That is the emphasis here.

 The statements are numbered, and the best is one of the shortest. It is number 232 and it is, “Never take away hope.” While doctors can learn much from this book, all people in the health care chain, including patients, will find value in this jewel of medicine that does not contain a single technical term.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Review of "The Adventures of Hiram Holiday: Volume 1," DVD version

Review of

The Adventures of Hiram Holiday: Volume 1, DVD version

Four out of five stars

 Wally Cox was one of the actors in the early days of network television, in general he played a man with a timid personality who spoke slowly and with a high pitch. He was small in build, so he could be considered one of the first of the entertainment nerds. However, in the “Hiram Holiday” adventures, while he is cast as a man that is fundamentally an intellectual, he is fully capable of holding his own when the evil ones confront him.

 This is very early television, so the modern viewer has to make allowances for the limited capability for special effects and the dialog that is often a bit childish. It is stated in a separate reference to Cox that despite his projected personality of being weak and timid, he was in fact quite athletic. That is clear from some of the fight scenes, specifically those that involve fencing. Cox moves very well, demonstrating a nimble grace as he moves back and forth using his “sword,” which is generally an umbrella.

 I found these adventures a bit predictable and very dated. Yet, they were interesting, for it is not often that the adventure hero is cast in this manner. Cox plays it very well.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Review of "World of Reading: Ant-Man," by Chris Wyatt

Review of

World of Reading: Ant-Man, by Chris Wyatt ISBN 9781484721780

Five out of five stars

 There was a time when comic books were considered a corrupting influence on children. We can “thank” Dr. Frederic Wertham, whose book, “The Seduction of the Innocent,” launched a wave of censorship of comics. Thankfully, that time has past and now they are used as educational tools. For young people can identify with the characters and enjoy reading about their exploits. Imagery is also a natural in the stories.

 This book that is designed as a first reader uses the Ant-Man comic character as the plot for a simple explanation of his origin and his powers. The tactic used is that each page contains a colorful image and a caption that is one very short sentence. It is very well done and so this is a book that I strongly recommend as a first reader.

Review of "The Green Hornet," DVD

Review of

The Green Hornet, DVD

One out of five stars

 While the Green Hornet is not a superhero in the classic sense of the term, he has no powers that he can use, the crimefighting team of the Green Hornet and sidekick Kato are generally included in the group. Therefore, this movie can be considered another in the current bumper crop of movies about such characters.

 Placed in that bucket, the movie tries to be a joke and succeeds. Seth Rogen plays the son of a wealthy newspaperman (Britt Reid) that is a party animal until his father dies. Suddenly placed in charge of a major daily crusading newspaper, he is clearly out of his league. Even though Reid becomes the Green Hornet with his sidekick Kato, the brains of the group, he never loses his boyish, ignorant enthusiasm. That failed joke characteristic wears on the viewer to the point where you just want it to end.

 Despite Kato’s clear genius in creating effective gadgets, Reid never manages to give him due credit. The closest thing to saving graces of this movie is the power of the villain, an unemotional killer played very well by Christoph Waltz and the incredible competence of Secretary Lenore Case as played by Cameron Diaz.

 This movie was so poorly received that there was an almost immediate discussion of a more serious reboot. From watching this movie, that makes a great deal of sense.