Friday, September 27, 2013

eBook Review: Buck Fever

Ben Rehder, Buck Fever

Product Details 

  • File Size: 1034 KB
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Ben Rehder (September 9, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005MAA8LY
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Price: $4.99
1. Short review: (Amazon rating: 4 out of 5 stars -- I like it.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: The story. The characters that I recognize.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? Roller coaster.
Worth the money and then some.

2.2. What I did not like: I was disappointed that the hero did not get the bad guy himself, but the ending was more realistic as written.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Thriller fans.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read? Probably not. No overt sex in the book, but there is reference to bestial necrophilia that you hope your kiddies don't get.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Yes. Already have.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell.

     John Marlin, the local game warden, is called to the ranch of retired lobbyist Roy Swank to investigate a case of poaching gone wrong. His adventures lead him to interrupt the traffic of cocaine hidden in trophy deer Swank has imported for the hunting season.

 2.7. Other:

     I found this a fun book. I looked forward to returning to my Kindle to read it each time.
     Buck Fever missed five stars from me by a hair's breadth. I think you will enjoy it. I did. 

2.8. Links: Ben Rehder

2.9. Buy the book: Buck Fever

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Movie Reviews: Jobs / Moneyball


Jobs / Moneyball   
1. Short review: Jobs  / Moneyball

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked:
Jobs: Josh Gad's performance as Steve Wozniak, and sometimes Dermot Mulroney's performance as Mike Markkula. Nothing else.

Moneyball: Brad Pitt's performance. The little girl's song. The truth of Moneyball which managed to fight its way through the twisted conflicts that the screenwriter -- Aaron Sorkin -- believed necessary to insert into a movie that, superficially, is about baseball but is in reality a movie about business.

2.2. What I did not like:
Jobs: Ashton Kutcher's performance as Steve Jobs. Kutcher played the title character, and he botched it. Evidently he spent hours studying Jobs's walk, Jobs's quirky hand gestures, and Jobs's rages. Kutcher seemed to believe that copying those external motions was enough. But his character had none of Jobs's fire, none of the passion, none of the drive. Kutcher's performance was a caricature of Steve Jobs and a poor one.

Moneyball: The script. Aaron Sorkin can write the life out of any story he comes in contact with. Why do we need to see Billy Beane's ex-wife and her new husband? Or Casey Beane? As much as I like the little girl Casey Beane's song -- and I do -- it does not add two cents to the movie.

I would like to say that I liked Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance of Oakland A's manager Art Howe, but I cannot. Hoffman gave a one-dimensional performance. The worst I have ever seen him do. Besides, Hoffman is about as good a fit to play Art Howe as I am to play Prince Harry. Fire the casting director.

2.3. Who I think is the audience:

Jobs: Ashton Kutcher.

Moneyball: Anyone who is interested in baseball or the business of sports. 

2.4. Are the movies appropriate for children to see? No sex, but some foul language. Your call.

2.5. On the basis of viewing these movies, will I pay to see the sequels? No to both.

2.6. Rating and the plot in a nutshell:

2.6.1. How I rate movies:
-- I want my money back.<-- Jobs
-- Worth a rental, not more. 
-- Worth first-run theater price once. <-- Moneyball
-- I will pay first-run theater price to see it again. 

Running time: Jobs, 122 long minutes. Moneyball, 133 minutes (with decent editing, could have done it in 100 minutes).

2.6.2. The plots in a nutshell:

     Jobs plot.
     The plot -- what there is of it -- is incomprehensibly incomplete. The movie begins with Jobs introducing the iPod to Apple employees. That frames rest of the movie. Everything else is a flashback. But the movie never returns to the iPod. The flashback ends in 1996 with Jobs forcing Markkula out of Apple's board. What comes between is only chronicle with no attempt to make sense of any of it. In effect, the screenwriter, Matt Whiteley, gave us an open-faced, regurgitated sandwich with one slice of bread, the rancid meat of Ashton Kutcher, and topped with the cornstarch-based gravy of Apple's mystique.
     Where is the iMac? Where is the iPhone? Why is so much missing?
     Forget the hardware and the software. Where is the passion that drove Steve Jobs? It ain't in this movie.

     Moneyball plot.
     Moneyball is a book about an idea -- sabermetrics -- that changed the business of professional baseball. I have a sample of the book on my Kindle, keeping company with thirty-six other samples. (Hey, that's down from last month's forty-eight samples.) The movie makes it out to be the fight of one man -- Billy Beane, the Oakland A's general manager -- to change the game against the opposition of his conservative scouts and his unyielding manager.
     Given the history of problems with the production of Moneyball, it is a wonder the movie got made. When it did, it got saddled with Aaron Sorkin who decided to make it a 'One Good Man versus The World' show. I don't know Aaron Sorkin, but I can tell he does not know how business organizations are run. The movie Billy Beane never explains the sabermetrics idea to his scouts or to his manager. He never tries to get them to buy into his philosophy. This is not the way an organization is run. Except in Aaron Sorkin's wild imagination.

2.7. Other:

     My wife is a big fan of Steve Jobs. This movie popped up on VOD, and she had to see it. We paid a premium price for the movie. First-run theater ticket price.
     For crap.
     I am not the only one who thinks so. Steve Wozniak 'read [the script] as far as he "could stomach it and felt it was crap . . . ."'  
     FWIW my wife -- fanatical as she is about Steve Jobs -- fell asleep half an hour in.
     Forget this movie. The writing is bad and Ashton Kutcher's acting is worse. Ashton Kutcher was good in That '70s Show when essentially he played himself. Since then, his best performance has been passable; that is, mediocre.
      If you want to see Steve Jobs, watch Pirates of Silicon Valley, a good movie, or Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview, an outstanding interview with the man. Steve Jobs's passion comes across in the interview.

     After I had suffered through the disaster that is Jobs, I flipped off the VOD and lo-and-behold Moneyball came up for free on a different cable channel. I watched it while my wife slept. Why? Well, I like the movie, warts and all.
     There is a lot wrong with Moneyball, but Brad Pitt's performance is spot on.
     I saw A River Runs Through It and thought Pitt was just a pretty boy. Mr and Mrs Smith gave me some indication that he could act. Moneyball proves Pitt can act. Pitt's performance here reminds me of Robert Redford's performance in Jeremiah Johnson. It is a demonstration that he is something more than a pretty face.

     I have read other reviews. Some love Kutcher's performance. Others hate Pitt's performance. So . . .

2.8. Links:
Jobs: IMDb review, Rotten Tomatoes review 
Moneyball: IMDb review, Rotten Tomatoes review

Friday, September 13, 2013

eBook Review: Grumbles from the Grave

(Image from the paperback listing at

Robert A Heinlein, Grumbles from the Grave

Product Details from Baen's Books

Published 11/18/1989
SKU: 9780345362469
Ebook Price: $6.00

1. Short review: (Amazon rating: 4 out of 5 stars -- I like it.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: The intimate look into Heinlein's world.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? Walk-in-the-park.
Worth the money. Seems to me that the prices at Baen's Books have gone up. Navigating their website remains an exercise in tedious chaos. If you want the book, I recommend you chase this review's links at the top (click the cover image) or the bottom (click the book title).

2.2. What I did not like: The organization confused me a bit; the book is organized chronologically within topic. That means a topic may end in 1978 and the next chapter begin with a missive written in 1947. I am confident that Virginia Heinlein put much effort into the organization and found this one the best.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: RAH fans. Writers.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read? Yes. Rare use of profanity, but the kiddies have heard it.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? I buy a Heinlein book about once a month. After reading Grumbles from the Grave, my RAH buying habit will continue. So, yes.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell.

     This is an epistolary memoir, so there should be no plot. In fact, there are many. The organization Virginia Heinlein chose permitted plots to arise in each chapter as she followed developments within a topic.
     This means there are so many plots that I would need more time and space to detail each than I shall devote to this review. However, I shall give one example.
     CHAPTER III: THE SLICKS AND THE SCRIBNER'S JUVENILES chronicles RAH's continuing fight with his editor at Scribner, Alice Dalgliesh. RAH complained about the changes Ms Dalgliesh insisted he make, but directed his complaints to his agent. For instance, Ms Dalgliesh refused to publish works in which children wielded firearms and demanded that RAH excise or rewrite such scenes. (FWIW I got my first gun when I was eight years old and was expected to use to kill rabid critters. By nine, I had shot rabid skunks at a distance of 300 yards. And buried the bodies deep so that the dogs would not dig them up.)
     RAH made the changes.
     His complaints grew more strident as the years passed. Finally, his agent submitted a work he knew Ms Dalgliesh would reject and that rejection released RAH from his contract with Scribner.

 2.7. Other:

     Writers will get the most from reading this book. It is comforting to find that the first Grandmaster of Science Fiction struggled with editors and garnered rejections.
     What impressed me was that RAH's editors recommended changes but RAH made the changes himself. Most editors I have sampled want to write their changes into my text. That changes the voice from mine to theirs. I have found one editor who does not write in changes, and I stick with her.
     RAH began Stranger in a Strange Land in 1948 and struggled with it for a dozen years. His publisher had him trim off a quarter of his submitted manuscript. I read that version years ago. Another version with excised material stuck in was published in 1991. There is a spirited debate -- that is, a fight with blood running in the streets -- going on in the 1-star reviews for Stranger.

     RAH's agent was named Lurton Blassingame, a name that I find amusing. Apparently, he was quite the congenial gentleman and dedicated agent. Many of his principals adored him and dedicated books to him, including RAH. I wonder if he had a nickname. 'Spanky' maybe?

2.8. Links: Robert A Heinlein

2.9. Buy the book: Grumbles from the Grave

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Movie Review: The Blind Side

Blind side poster.jpg

1. Short review: 

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: The message. This movie wrapped its message in a pretty package, but it is the message that shines through.

2.2. What I did not like: The fact that I missed it in theaters. 

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Everyone. You especially.

2.4. Is the movie appropriate for children to see? Yes. Without a doubt.

2.5. On the basis of viewing this movie, will I pay to see the sequel? There cannot and need not be a sequel. But if there were, I would pay to see it. 

2.6. Rating and the plot in a nutshell:

2.6.1. How I rate movies:
-- I want my money back.
-- Worth a rental, not more. 
-- Worth first-run theater price once.
-- I will pay first-run theater price to see it again. <-- The Blind Side

Running time: 129 minutes.

2.6.2. The plot in a nutshell:
     Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), abandoned by his addict of a mother, is living on the streets where Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) finds him and takes him into her home. He becomes one of the Tuohy family, first by heart, then by law.
     Michael goes out for football in high school and becomes a phenomenon. Colleges across the country recruit him. He chooses Ole Miss, the school the Tuohys attended. The NCAA investigates to determine if there was anything untoward in Michael's choice of Ole Miss. Michael convinces the investigator his choice was sincere. 
     Michael excels in his position at Ole Miss and is drafted by the Baltimore Ravens.
2.7. Other:

     I missed this movie in theaters and saw it first on TV. May have been VOD. I do not recall. I have seen it, oh, three more times and enjoyed every viewing.

     The movie cost $29,000,000 to make and, in theaters alone, earned $255,959,475.

     Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for her portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy. Word is that Bullock turned down the role three times. Then she 'visited' with Leigh Anne Tuohy. After that 'visit', Bullock accepted the role and took a pay cut. That musta been some 'visit'. 
     If she would take the job, Leigh Anne Tuohy would make a great US Secretary of State.

     I agree that Sandra Bullock gave a fine performance in The Blind Side, but I preferred the performance Quinton Aaron gave as Michael Oher. His performance was subtle and self-deprecating but always on point and strong. Soft but strong.

     What is the message of The Blind Side?
     Blood and skin color do not make family. Heart makes family.
     There are two scenes that define The Blind Side.
     In the first, Leigh Anne Tuohy confronts the gangbanger Alton in front of the apartment where she suspects Michael went the night before (clip above):
                      LEIGH ANNE
          Michael was here?

          Last night. Sneaked me then took
          off like a little bitch. So you
          tell him, sleep with one eye open.
          You hear me, bitch?

          [Leigh Anne steps closer to Alton, stares him down.]

                         LEIGH ANNE
          No, you hear me, bitch. You
          threaten my son, you threaten me.
     Leigh Anne referred to Michael as her son. In her heart, that's what he is.
     In the second scene that defines the movie, Michael faces the NCAA investigator Granger and answers the question of why he chose Ole Miss:
          You never asked why I wanted to go

          All right, fine, Michael... why do
          you want to go to Ole Miss?

          It's where my family goes to
          school. It's where they've always
          gone to school.
     To me, this is the one scene that defines the movie. Michael considers the Tuohys his family.

     I am an adopted son.
     As far back as I can recall, I have always known that family is a matter not of blood but of heart.
     There was a time when adoption was a hot topic. There were made-for-TV movies about adopted kids searching for their birth parents. I was home from college, and we watched one of those movies. I sat there thinking about the search. Wondering.
     My father opened the topic.
     "You ever want to find out who you came from?"
     Me: "Hadn't given it much thought."
     Pause. "Tell you what. If you want to search for them, I'll support you for a year while you search."
     I looked at my father.
     "You don't have to answer right now. But I want an answer before you go back to school tomorrow night."
     The next night at supper, Daddy looked at me and said, "Well?" We both knew what he meant.
     I answered, "I know who my father is."
     Daddy nodded. He daubed at his eyes with his napkin and did not eat much that night. I saw silent tears running down my mother's face.
     Family is not a matter of blood. Family is a matter of heart.
     Michael Oher knows who his family is. So do I.

     I watched The Blind Side on cable again and discovered why I think Quinton Aaron's performance superior to Sandra Bullock's. Sandra Bullock's portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy does not vary from start to finish. The character is the same at the end as she was in the beginning. One trick pony. In contrast, Quinton Aaron changed the character of Michael Oher. When you watch the movie, mark the facial expressions of Michael Oher at the beginning of the movie and again when he begins school at Ole Miss. Quinton Aaron portrayed an unhappy kid who became a happy man. I think that takes a great deal more acting skill: to portray a changing character. And Quinton Aaron did it with his face. Kudos to Quinton Aaron.


2.8. Links:

IMDb review
Rotten Tomatoes review