Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Review of "Murder On the Aisle," by Ed Gorman

 Review of

Murder On the Aisle, by Ed Gorman ISBN 0345349075

Four out of five stars

A good read despite being formulaic

 This murder mystery follows a very standard plot when someone is killed. There are several possible suspects that were present, none seems to have a real motive. The detective doing most of the investigating is relatively simple-minded, locking on to a suspect and holding the thought while that prime suspect works his way through to exposing the real killer.

 “Peeps” is a show that stars Dunphy and Tobin, where they review movies. One of the primary attractions is that they often disagree, recently they have come to blows, although not necessarily over their different opinions of movies. Shortly after a violent disagreement, Dunphy is found outside Tobin’s dressing room with a knife in his back. Given their history, Tobin is the primary suspect. Although much of this is due to the dull wits of the investigating detective.

 Knowing that he is the prime suspect, Tobin engages in his own investigation and uncovers adultery, extortion, fraud, theft, and a great deal of false front double-dealing. As the story proceeds, the number of people with a motive for killing Dunphy rises. At the end, Tobin confronts the killer, getting a confession with explanation. This part is very formulaic.

 The prose is at times very good, for example, on page 129, a party is described. “And there were women - bloody Christ. But there were women. Some with fetching faces. Some with beguiling breasts. Some with asses that winked and some with asses that frowned.” This conjures up mental imagery that will be unique to each reader. While not all of the prose is this good, there are enough examples to make it a good read.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Review of "Carson: The Unauthorized Biography," by Paul Corkery

Review of

Carson: The Unauthorized Biography, by Paul Corkery ISBN 0942101006

Five out of five stars

Public image explained, private life revealed

 No person has dominated the American entertainment scene like Johnny Carson did. He projected a Midwestern everyman image when in front of the camera while having major difficulties in his personal life. As Corkery and others point out, specifically his good buddy Ed McMahon, Carson was basically a shy person. He was very uncomfortable within groups of people, especially at parties where he was expected to be actively involved.

 Born in Iowa and raised in a small town in Nebraska, Carson was the very definition of a self-made man. While he did have a few lucky breaks in his rise to the top, his success was largely due to his efforts. His personal life was full of difficulties, with multiple marriages and very high profile and expensive divorces.

 Corkery does an excellent job in describing Carson’s success and how good he was at what he did. Corkery also explains the fundamental dichotomy between marriage and being the star of a demanding television show. One of Carson’s ex-wives states that if Carson had been as driven to his marriage as he was to his show, then he would have not had the marital difficulties that he experienced. Of course, had he followed that path, he would not have been Johnny Carson, the television star.

 One of the most interesting points made is the reference to Carson’s wife revealing some of his business pursuits to others that made a profit in buying and selling stock. That wife and her cohorts were eventually charged with insider trading.

 Like all people that rise to a high level of success and wealth, Johnny Carson was a complicated person. To some he was a nasty man that held deep grudges, yet to others he was a man that went out of his way to express simple kindness. This book illuminates both sides and explains how he made it to the top and managed to stay there for long. He hosted over 4,500 episodes of the Tonight Show, beating all the competition hands down until he retired.

Saturday, January 7, 2023

Review of "Odd Man Out: A Year On the Mound With A Minor League Misfit," by Matt McCarthy

 Review of

Odd Man Out: A Year On the Mound With A Minor League Misfit, by Matt McCarthy, ISBN 9780670020706

Five out of five stars

Odd, but not too much

 Matt McCarthy was a pitcher on the Yale baseball team that had a horrible record. His personal statistics were also not all that great. Yet, he was something that all major leagues teams were always looking for, a lefthanded thrower that could occasionally get batters out. While his velocity was only in the mid-eighties, there was at least the potential that he could improve on that over time. For these reasons, the Anaheim Angels drafted him, paid him the minimum bonus of $1,000 and invited him to their spring training camp. This book is his history of that year where he was a professional baseball player.

 McCarthy was assigned to the Provo Angels in the very low minor leagues. It is a short season with long journeys, the players log thousands of miles on the team bus during the season. Sometimes, they arrive in their destination in the morning after hours on the bus only to play a game later that day. The bus is not in the best of shape, the air conditioning often does not work.

 Some of the player escapades are expected, such as the easy women in the cities. Much of the humor expressed by the players and coaches is crude and vulgar, which is also no surprise given the age and gender of the population. However, there are some very deep insights into the minor league culture. What is astonishing is that the Latin players and the white players have almost no interaction. Even in the more intimate locations such as the clubhouse and dugout, there is almost no communication and little desire to do so. The Latin players are all referred to as Dominican, independent of their country of origin.

 It is a sad and puzzling aspect of the story, given that approximately 25% of the major league players are Latin, it is very likely that some of the players on the Provo team will make the major leagues. It makes no sense why the major league club doesn’t spend more resources in supporting the Latin players, most of which are in their late teens and in a foreign culture.

 While McCarthy demonstrates some occasional competence as a pitcher, he never really rises above the level of mediocre. It is fortunate that he is a talented biologist that attends medical school after is baseball career is over. Which only lasts a year. There is no great game at the end, this story is about the grind, how McCarthy survives it and actually learns from it. So does the reader.

Review of "Starship Troopers 3 Marauder," DVD

 Review of

Starship Troopers 3 Marauder, DVD

Two out of five stars

Horrible premise and execution

 As a reader of the original “Starship Troopers” novel by the great Robert Heinlein, I have a predilection to enjoy the movies based on the fight to the death of the species between humans and the bugs. Yet, this movie is just so bad that it is hard to find good points to relate. It is bad in plot, acting, execution and organization.

 While Heinlein was clearly a fan of authoritarian, even militaristic governments, it is unlikely that he would have approved of the Federation in this movie. Dissidents, even those based on fundamental positions of trying to understand the enemy, are routinely publicly executed. The Federation has developed a powerful weapon called the “Q-bomb,” that is capable of destroying a planet. More reasonable voices in the Federation question whether the destruction of a planet is the proper course of action. To do so can lead to a public hanging.

The Christian religion is depicted in a very weird and unproductive way, linked in rather odd ways to some form of bug religion. There is also an odd romance as well as infighting between factions of the Federation intelligence services.

 At times incoherent and yet predictable, this is a movie that one can watch, just not with a great deal of enthusiasm.

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Review of "Garvey," by Steve Garvey and Skip Rozin

 Review of

Garvey, by Steve Garvey and Skip Rozin, ISBN 0812912721

Three out of five stars

No real energy in the book

 Steve Garvey was a great baseball player, a solid competitor and his career stats make a plausible argument for his inclusion in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was a member of some of the most memorable Dodger teams in the seventies and early eighties with solid performances in all postseason series. He also played in 10 All-Star games. In many ways his  baseball life is that of boyhood dreams, being a batboy exposing him to nearly all of the great Dodger players of the fifties.

 However, this autobiography of his life until the end of his baseball career lacks fire and originality. It reads like a person deadpanning the story of his life. There is some whining, specifically his not having any real friends on the Dodger team. Some of that was due to his teammates, but he was not completely without blame.

 One of the most awkward moments in baseball in the early eighties was when the Dodgers really made no attempt to re-sign Garvey and he went to the San Diego Padres. At the time, he was still hitting nearly three hundred, but injuries to his hands had reduced his home run output.

 Despite being involved in some very dramatic moments in baseball and passing the consecutive game streak of Billy Williams, this book by Garvey about Garvey just has no real energy or excitement.

Review of "Star Trek: Khan," by Mike Johnson et. al.

 Review of

 This graphic novel develops the history of Khan from his early days as a destitute child on the streets of New Delhi, through his participation in the program where he and others were turned into modified superbeings, to the time where those superbeings carved out empires to the time where they turned on each other in a cataclysmic war.

Within the confines of the science fiction world, the events of how Khan came into existence and was turned into a powerful and unreliable weapon named John Harrison are plausible. While the science of DNA modification is extended beyond what is likely possible, it is not unreasonably so.

 This is a great graphic novel. It expands previous stories featuring Khan in the Star Trek universe and does so without going way out in a scientifically and culturally implausible manner.

Monday, January 2, 2023

Review of "Jesse Stone: Night Passage," DVD version

 Review of

Jesse Stone: Night Passage, DVD version

Five out of five stars

Selleck is Jesse Stone

 One of Robert B. Parkers best literary quirks is that his heroes often have significant flaws, and none is more flawed than Jesse Stone. A great cop with genius-level instincts for the truth, Jesse has almost uncontrolled weaknesses for alcohol and ex-wife Jen. This video is a depiction of the story that introduced Jesse to the world.

 It opens with Jesse in California after being fired for being drunk on the job on the police force. He is standing on the edge of the ocean looking out, waiting for his body to process the alcohol so that he can safely drive to Paradise, Massachusetts. He is going there as he is a prime candidate for the job of chief of police. His constant and loyal companion is his dog Boomer.

 To his surprise, Jesse is hired, even though he smells of alcohol when he is interviewed. He does not realize that the main decision-maker wants him for chief because he is convinced that he can control him. Jesse begins to settle in and form relationships with other people in town, both personal and professional.

 When the former chief is murdered, Jesse is determined to find the killer and it is here the viewer begins to learn that Jesse is an unorthodox chief. His solution to a man violating a restraining order to avoid his ex-wife is unorthodox to say the least. It is that effective quirkiness that quickly endears Jesse to his fellow officers, people in the town and the viewers.

 This is one of those serial movies where once you watch one, there is a strong urge to go on to the next one.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Review of "In the Cut," DVD version

 Review of

In the Cut, DVD version

Four out of five stars

A thriller with uncertainty

While this movie has it’s center of the back chilling moments, the development of the plot puts forward more than one potential perpetrator and ends with what is likely, but not certainly, the death of the killer. Meg Ryan plays an English teacher (Frannie Avery) that may have witnessed a sex act between a woman and a murderer. She spots a small tattoo on the man’s wrist, and she uses that as evidence.

 However, there is no certainty that the man she saw committed the brutal murder and dismemberment of the woman. As a consequence of that murder, she encounters a homicide detective played by Mark Ruffalo. He is clearly a talented officer, yet a great deal of uncertainty is generated as to whether he is what he is supposed to be. When Frannie’s best friend is also killed and dismembered, there is a significant increase in the tension and uncertainty. Frannie reaches the point where she thinks that the Ruffalo character is the murderer. However, that does not stop her from having a sexual relationship with him.

 Some other potential suspects for the murders are put forward, including a crazed medical student and one of Frannie’s English students. Therefore, the climactic scene where a potential culprit is killed is executed with enough ambiguity so that the viewer is not really sure the right man was taken down.

 The performances of the main characters are very good, you sympathize with Frannie, yet at times find her actions annoying. Ruffalo is a bit subdued as a New York, which is the way it should have been played. Secure in his profession, he demonstrates a bit of uncertainty in his personal relationships. This is a movie where you will watch it again in an attempt to discern clues to solidify the conclusion as to guilt.

Review of "Behind the Lines: A Veteran Quarterback’s Look Inside the NFL," by Don Strock and Harvey Frommer

 Review of

Behind the Lines: A Veteran Quarterback’s Look Inside the NFL, by Don Strock and Harvey Frommer ISBN 0886875390

Four out of five stars

Not terribly revelatory

 Don Strock played in the NFL for 17 years as a backup quarterback, 15 as a Miami Dolphin. While there, he backed up Hall of Fame quarterbacks Bob Griese and Dan Marino. Other potent offensive weapons that he played with were Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick, Larry Little and Paul Warfield. The head coach during those years was Don Shula, the winningest coach in NFL history. Playing for the Dolphins, Strock was on the team for three Super Bowl appearances.

Strock gives all of these players and coaches their just due, yet unlike many books by players in the major sports, he does not spend all of his time spilling out the dirt. While there were some points and actions that were tainted and unclean, they don’t dominate the book. He is also candid about how pervasive drugs were in the NFL, some of the dosages of pain killing drugs given to players were amazing.

 Most of the text is spent describing Strock’s actions on the sidelines and the designated person to send the next play into the quarterback as well as be ready on a moment’s notice to enter the offensive huddle. Strock was clearly a good player, his career stats are very good for a man that often had to go into a game cold and try to win it instead of simply play it out.

 While this book is an interesting and engaging read, it is not a page turner filled with tense and exciting moments. It reads more as a diary rather than a thriller.