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Archive for the ‘Two Stars’ Category

 

It’s six years after Olympus has Fallen, when Allen Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) was the Speaker of the House and was Acting President during the terrorist crisis. Apparently, President Asher has served his two terms, and now Allan Trumbull is the President of the United States, and Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is his most trusted Secret Service agent.

There is a high-tech assassination attempt on the president while on a fishing trip. His entire Secret Service detail is killed, and only Banning survives and manages to save the president. He is wrongfully accused of the attack and arrested. After he escapes against all odds, it becomes clear to him that he has been set up. Alone on the outside, the entire U.S. law enforcement machine after him, the president in a coma in the hospital, Mike Banning goes on the offensive, saving the legitimate government from a coup at the highest levels.

While the action in Angel has Fallen is as intense (and unlikely) as in Olympus has Fallen, this is a somewhat better movie – that is – if you like the intense action hero style movies, where everyone gets killed and the hero gets beat up and scratched and shot and poked, but it never seems to stop him.

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If you ever want to know what happened to Jesse of Breaking Bad after the end of the series, when Walter White was killed, El Camino is the movie to watch.

Through a series of scenes going forward after Walter’s death, and via many flashbacks, El Camino brings back the full cast of characters, Jesse, the hapless Todd, Skinny, Badger, and definitely Mike. There is also a flashback appearance of Mr. White and Jesse in a coffee shop, which is priceless.

I watched El Camino right after watching the second episode of Better Call Saul, and before watching the third, and the whole series, with El Camino in the middle, brings me back to 12 years ago when Breaking Bad was breaking really bad in this country.

El Camino is a “must watch” for anyone who followed the Breaking Bad craze. And while this review is not about Better Call Saul, I have to say: The current (and last) season of Better Call Saul, which is the immediate prequel to the Breaking Bad series, is the best of Better Call Saul ever. You must see that one too.

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At the end of The Clan of the Cave Bear, Ayla is expelled from the Clan, and she walks away into the unknown wilderness in search of “The Others,” her own people.

Eventually, she finds The Valley of Horses, with a suitable empty cave on a cliff in a protected canyon, a stream with a waterfall above it, and the steppe not far beyond the valley. The glacier, which shapes the local climate an the flora and fauna, is not far away toward the north.

Ayla makes her home there. The rescues a colt and raises it, and later she rescues a baby cave lion, and raises it too. She ends up spending three years alone in the valley with her animals.

Jondalar and Thonolan are two young brothers on a journey down the Danube to the “sea,” which of course is what we know as the Black Sea today. On their odyssey they get to know many different tribes. Eventually, they end up in Ayla’s valley under catastrophic conditions, with Jondalar severely injured.

Ayla nurses Jondalar to heath and eventually the two become a couple.

I read The Clan of the Cave Bear decades ago for the first time, and I remember reading The Valley of Horses, its sequel, also, but I remembered nothing about it. When I recently re-read Clan, I decided to also re-read Valley. They are the first two books of the Earth’s Children series of six books written by Auel. I enjoyed The Valley of Horses to a degree. It does a nice job portraying life in the stone age by the Cro Magnon man, our direct ancestors, and it contrasts that to the lives of the Neanderthals, of “the Clan” as they are called in this series. I have always been interested in pre-history, taking place in southern and eastern Europe during the current Ice Age but before the last glacial period – or about 30,000 years ago.

Jondalar’s home is where France is today, and Ayla’s home is originally in today’s Crimea. The Valley of Horses is about where today’s Kiev is in Ukraine. The Cro Magnon people were on the rise with their advances in hunting techniques, weapons and general social structure. The Neanderthals, who had reigned over Europe and Eastern Europe for more than 100,000 years, virtually with no changes in their lives, were on the decline. There was occasional interbreeding during that period, between the two sub-species of humans, and this overall backdrop sets the stage for The Valley of Horses.

The story is a bit boring at times, particularly when the author repetitively describes things that she has described before. There is also a surprising amount of explicit sex, with detailed, graphic sex scenes going on for pages. I can understand that it’s necessary to include sex to describe the lives of the people, but there is too much of it in this book. Sometimes I felt like I was reading a romance novel, and it should have had a Fabio-like dude with a fur loin cloth holding a blond vixen in a passionate kiss. I don’t know why the author found it necessary to include as much sex as she did. It got repetitive to me, and I found it unnecessary.

I got my fix of pre-history with these two books.

I now marvel about time-scales. This played 30,000 years ago. That’s 10 times as long as our modern timescale, if you think of the time of the ancient Greeks as the start of modern times. No innovations occurred in their lives for tens of thousands of years, thousands of generations. When I compare that to the pace of innovation we are experiencing now, I am awestruck at the length of human history, and how long we endured under very challenging conditions so I could be here today.

I will not read the next four books in the series, but it peeked my interest in anthropology. So today, at the bookstore, I picked up “Who we are and how we got here – Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past” by David Reich. It’s a science book. It won’t have sex scenes, but it’ll give me that feeling of awe when I face the unlikely history of humanity.

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Movie Review: Casablanca

The movie Casablanca is 78 years old and is renowned to be one of the best movies of all time. It seems to show up in all lists within the top five, and everyone knows it as a classic. So it may come as a surprise when I tell you that I had never before watched Casablanca, and other than having a picture in my mind of an airplane in a fog and people in white suits surrounding it, I really knew nothing about it.

Yesterday I watched Casablanca with a group of about 15 other movie buffs, a number of whom had watched it many times before. I feel odd actually describing such a classic here, but I must at least make a cursory effort:

It’s early in World War II. The Germans have invaded France and occupied Paris, and they are making their first incursions into North Africa. Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) is a jaded former freedom fighter. He had had a love affair with Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), a beautiful woman in Paris, just before the German invasion. When they were going to escape together, she unexpectedly abandoned him at the train station. Rick never got over losing the love of his life. A year later, in 1942, he runs a nightclub in Casablanca and his life is turned upside down when Ilsa suddenly walks in with a famed rebel leader, seeking to escape the Nazis and travel to America.

While I have a lot of respect for all the people who admire Casablanca and praise it one of the greatest movies of all time, frankly, it didn’t do much for me. Yes, it is a very well-crafted story, yes, the casting and acting are superb, and yes, it tells a story of what it was like in World War II in North Africa, where corruption and money made things happen and ordinary people were crushed. I could not quite connect or get into the story, and I found myself observing myself watching a classic. I certainly can’t imagine wanting to watch it again.

“So here’s looking at you, kid.”

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After reading a few books that I did not enjoy very much for a variety of reasons, I picked up No Highway by Nevil Shute because I knew, having read the author before, that he is a good story teller and will present a solidly crafted novel. I read Trustee from the Toolroom in 2014 and A Town Like Alice in 2015. These books were all recommended by my Australian friend (and frequent commenter in this blog), Ray Cullen. Thanks Ray!

In No Highway, the narrator is Dr. Scott, a young manager in the government agency responsible for aircraft safety in the U.K. in the 1950s. But the hero is Mr. Honey, an awkward, introverted, but brilliant engineer who does advanced work in fatigue studies in metallurgy.  He discovers an esoteric problem with the tail structure of the Reindeer, the U.K.’s most modern passenger airplane of the time that was just put into cross-Atlantic service. But being somewhat goofy and off-mainstream, many people don’t believe Honey. Only through drastic action that jeopardizes his career does he get the attention of the aerospace establishment. All hinges on the results of his experiments and the recovery of crash data from a remote site in the Canadian Labrador forests.

I can’t figure out why the book is called No Highway, as it does, at least to me, not relate to the story at all. It is, however, a well-crafted novel just like I would have expected from Nevil Shute. He did not let me down. While I enjoyed reading it, I can see it may be somewhat dry to a person not interested in engineering, and with the engineering subject matter being now 70 years outdated, the book is a bit awkward today. For instance, much of the plot depends on the fact that when you crossed the Atlantic in 1950 and went into the Canadian hinterland, you were completely out of reach. The only intercontinental communications in those days was a “cable” which is basically a telegram. It was expensive, difficult to send and receive, and it took a lot of time. We now live in a world with instant communications all over the globe, and we can’t even conceive of a situation where a major scientist is doing field work in the Canadian north in the woods where he would be completely, utterly out of reach. Today, we’d send texts and emails through satellite phones charged by solar panels – no problem at all.

This is not Nevil Shute’s problem, but Amazon’s. This book is the worst Kindle book with the classic automatic conversion errors I have ever read. Here is an example:

So had Mr Honey been, but I would not tell him that I ad raid, Tm very sorry about the Reindeer, Mr Prendergast I’m afraid this is bound to mean that all those aircraft will be grounded now at seven hundred and twenty hours.1 He said genially, ‘Oh well, worse things happen at sea. I expect we shall get over it, one way or another.’
— Nevil Shute. No Highway (Kindle Locations 5118-5121). Kindle Edition.

I highlighted the offending sections in red for you. The problem is that the entire book has these errors. There are THOUSANDS of them. Pretty much every page is messed up. I “only” paid $0.99 for this book, which is not a lot, but why doesn’t Amazon have a process in place where readers can provide edits back that a human could then use to fix the books? I am a stickler with that – Amazon should require that at least one editor reads every book and fixes it before it is going to be sold!

Terrible!

The editing issues are Amazon’s problem, so I won’t hold that against the book in my rating. Overall, I give it a solid two stars.

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Movie Review: Bombshell

Bombshell is a dramatization of the time in 2016 when Megyn Kelly didn’t put up with the degrading behavior of candidate Trump, and when Roger Ailes, the creator of Fox News, fell after a massive scandal of sexual harassment.

It is not clear, of course, how much of the story is dramatized, and how much is real. But it gives a telling view of Fox News behind the scenes.

Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) and Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) are the main characters in the drama of the fall of Roger Ailes (John Lithgow). They know something is rotten in Fox News, and they struggle internally and openly between coming forward, telling the truth, and exposing what is going on, or staying quiet and continuing with their lucrative careers. We all know how it eventually ended. Roger Ailes was let go by Robert Murdoch, the owner of the network. Eventually, Bill O’Reilly also fell from grace.

I remember watching Fox News over the years, and I remember wondering why all the women in prominent roles, especially the anchors, looked like Barbie Dolls. Now I know. Management required it, all the way from the top down. All the women knew they’d have to buy into it if they wanted to be on television, it was as simple as that. And watching Fox News now, Roger Ailes long gone and meanwhile deceased, it’s still that way today. Fox News hasn’t changed.

Megyn Kelly doesn’t work there anymore, and many others have gone, too.

Bombshell is a revealing movie about a time in our history that is not over yet. Therefore it is quite relevant right now and watching it was insightful. It was a little odd to have all the characters played by actors. Charlize Theron does an amazing job with Megyn Kelly. She looks just like her, and acts just like her. The same holds true for John Lithgow playing Ailes, where it’s important to remember that Ailes was never on television on the front lines, so the viewers don’t know him that well and therefore cannot judge whether Lithgow got it right.

All the other main characters in Fox News make appearances in the form of actors, including Hannity, Pirro, O’Reilly and many others. Fortunately, when a new character is introduced there is always a caption with the name of the character. In some cases, there was a strong likeness, in others not so much. I didn’t recognize Hannity, for example. The playing of Fox News celebrities in Bombshell is somewhat reminiscent on how it is done of Saturday Night Live – a bit comical. But what else could they do?

Overall a movie worthwhile to watch, particularly if you are NOT a follower or fan of Fox News.

Know thy enemy!

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Movie Review: Uncut Gems

We went to see Uncut Gems on Christmas Day. It was the highest-rated movie available, and while we didn’t know much about it, we thought it would be a safe bet.

Uncut Gems kills your Christmas spirit with the speed and power of a baseball bat hit on the side of the head.

Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) is a New York City jeweler and compulsive gambler. His life is filled with frenetic activity in all areas. He is cheating on his wife, he is neglecting his three children, he is not paying his debts to mafia-types, he is abusing his employees, he is using his friends, and he swindles everyone he comes in contact with. That does not come without a cost.

He succeeds in buying a rare opal from a dubious source at an Ethiopian gem mine. He estimates the raw (uncut) gem is worth over a million dollars, and he tries to sell it to a superstitious basketball player who thinks it gives him power. But it’s never that simple, because he has to use the leverage of the gem to hold off the many wolves he owes money to. As you might expect, things don’t always work out like he has been planning.

Uncut Gems starts out with frantic activity, total chaos all around, cussing, beating, cheating and subterfuge. Every scene is accentuated by a powerful sound track of custom music to further disorient the viewer. Within about ten minutes of watching I realized I didn’t have a clue about what was going on. I was severely disturbed and wondering why I was there. The couple who sat next to us left after about 30 minutes. I assume they couldn’t take it anymore. I was close, but we stuck with it in hopes of it getting better.

The plot was impossible to follow. But I assume that was by the design of the music and the camera work, accompanied by the constant yelling of the people. Confusion abounded.

The movie also holds a dubious record of being in place seven of all time for movies with the word fuck or fuck-derivatives. There are 408 in the movie, or about three a minute.

Fucks notwithstanding, this was a very hard movie to watch, and when it was done, I was dazed.

I found no moral, no redeeming value and no lessons.

Just stay away from gambling, and from the jewelry business in New York.

I felt like I needed a shower when it was all done.

And yes, Sandler will probably win some awards for that performance.

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Steve Mason is a Federal Air Marshal on a flight down the eastern seaboard of the United States, to Charlotte, North Carolina.  After a mostly uneventful flight, the plane suddenly hits a dark cloud unexpectedly. Turbulence ensues, strange blue flashes are outside the windows, and just as abruptly as the cloud appeared it stops and the plane enters blue sky again.

However, all communications with the outside world have ceased. The crew looks out the window and recognize the familiar landmarks of the North Carolina coast, but all the cities are gone. After a frantic but unsuccessful search for an airfield to land, the pilots know they will run out of fuel and decide to ditch the plane into the ocean off the coast of what used to be Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

The landing is not as successful as that pulled off by Captain Sullenberger who landed a plane in the Hudson River in 2009.  The plane crashes hard, breaks up, and out of the 180 passenger and crew, only less than 30 people survive.

Eventually, the survivors realize they landed in colonial America in 1720. There are only four cities of any size in the colonies at that time, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Charles Town, which would eventually become Charleston. The survivors have to fend for themselves by fighting off marauding bands of Indians, criminal colonists, pirates, not to mention diseases, hunger, and lack of shelter.

The storytelling is stilted and juvenile. There is even a sex scene that is surprisingly explicit and somewhat inappropriate. What bothered me most is the multitude of grammatical errors that should have been caught by an editor. Here are a couple of examples:

Mason caught sight of the man whom had to be the captain. He wore a bright blue coat and a matching three-point hat with a feather.
— Zugg, Victor. A Ripple In Time: A Historical Novel Of Survival (p. 273). Kindle Edition.
“Whom had to be the captain?” That does not even sound right. There are other places in the book where the author misuses the word “whom.”
Here is another one:
He was surprised to learn there were several built prior to 1720 that still exited.
— Zugg, Victor. A Ripple In Time: A Historical Novel Of Survival (p. 294). Kindle Edition.

“Still exited?” Really?

There are many such errors throughout the book. They are minor, and they don’t destroy the meaning. But they irritate me immensely. It makes me angry that the author is willing to have people pay money for a book that obviously NOBODY even bothered to proofread even once. I should not be finding basic grammar errors in a professional book.

So I didn’t plan on giving the book much of a rating. Yes, it’s a time travel story, and I love time travel stories. That’s the only reason I stuck with the book and continued reading, even though most of the action is fairly monotonous and slow.

But then, the ending is surprisingly good. I enjoyed the last 10% of the book tremendously and found the conclusion satisfying. For a change, here is a book that actually has an ending and is not just a cheap setup for a sequel or a series.

It was going to be 1 star, but the ending brings it up and – at least for me – made it an enjoyable read.


.

SPOILER ALERT – do not read beyond this point if you are going to read this book!

Some of my readers expressed curiosity about the ending, so I decided to summarize it here.

When they first landed at the beach they ran into a band of Indians. Mason he wanted to start out friendly and searched for a gift. He wore a steel bracelet with an inscription which read “Steve Brown, USA, 82nd Airborne, Operation Iraqi Freedom.” He gave this bracelet to one of the Indians as a gift.

During their ordeal, Mason became friends with the lead flight attendant named Karen. Eventually they had a relationship and there was one sex scene in the night on the deck of their boat.

Toward the end of the story, when the 20 survivors realized that they were probably marooned in 1720 for the rest of their lives, the group decided to buy a plantation outside of Charles Town with money they had obtained by accident from a pirate’s loot. When they needed to decide whose name would be put on the title for the property, they agreed that Lisa and Jeremy Jackson, who had also become close, would quickly get married and take title of the plantation. Upon purchase, the couple stayed in the plantation, and Karen stayed with them, while Mason and a few of the other men went back to the camp by boat to pick up the rest of them and bring them to the plantation.

Karen and Mason were in love by then, and when Mason left, he promised Karen he’d be back in a few days.

During that trip, however, the original pirate attacked them and eventually decimated their boat and everyone perished. Mason eventually was severely wounded and fell into the ocean. As he passed out, he saw blue flashes. Note: blue flashes are associated with the original travel through time in the first place.

Mason woke up in a hospital in 2019. The Coast Guard had fished him out of the ocean four days after the plane had disappeared and he was the only known survivor. Being a Federal Air Marshal, his colleagues debriefed him and he told them the truth. Nobody believed him, of course, and eventually even he himself assumed he had hallucinated the entire experience during the trauma of the crash.

But he missed Karen. Depressed, he went on a road trip to Charleston to see if he could recognize anything in the city. There was nothing left of the old Charles Town of 1720, other than the names of the main streets. On a whim, he entered a history museum. In a display box of Indian artifacts he found a rusted out bracelet, the inscription no longer readable, but unmistakably his bracelet. Now he knew he had really been there. He drove out to the plantation and met an old man by the name of Michael Mason who lived there. The old house had burned down in the Civil War and another one had been built, but it was the same plantation. There was an old painting on the wall that was the only item of value surviving from the pre-Civil War period. On the painting Mason saw Lisa and Karen, along with a little boy. Michael Mason explained that family history has it that Jeremy died from an infection a few years after they got married and they never had kids. But Karen had a son from an unknown father. The little boy was named Steve Mason. Lisa willed the plantation to the boy and he became the patriarch for the long line of Masons who would run the plantation through the centuries that followed.

Mason went home, outfitted himself with survival gear, a stash of antibiotics, and rented a Cessna. Then he spent the next three months flying around North Carolina every day looking for dark clouds with blue flashes. Eventually, in a storm, he found one – and disappeared. That’s the last thing we know of Mason.

After Mason’s disappearance, his friend Ted Wilson at the Air Marshal Service started to investigate. At Mason’s house, he found a shopping list of survival gear, the contract for the airplane, and the address of the plantation. He drove to the plantation, and a young man let him in and they talked about “his missing friend” who had left this address for some reason that neither understood. As Ted walked around the house, he saw a painting with two couples and one young boy. The young man explained that one of the couples was Lisa and Jeremy Jackson. When they never had children, they willed the plantation to Steve Mason, who was the son of Karen and Steve Mason, both also in the painting.

Obviously, Mason had made it back to Karen, his stash of antibiotics had saved Jeremy’s life, and they all grew old together at the plantation.

Ted walked away knowing the truth.

 

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Joseph Bridgeman and the Silver Hunter starts on the day the story of The Unexpected Gift of Joseph Bridgeman ends. It’s a sequel. After saving his sister Amy in the first book, Joe now has to change history by preventing the murder of a young woman in London in 1962 by one of the two notorious crime bosses of the era.

The story is entertaining and well-crafted. It kept me reading. Time travel was again the central plot mechanism in this story, but it was a different kind of time travel.

That was a bit disconcerting.

In the first book, Joe travels by self-hypnosis. He essentially wills himself into the past. With practice, he can pinpoint an exact date and even time and place and transport himself to that. To get back home, the timestream simply pulls him back, is if he were attached to the present by a rubber band. Furthermore, the further he travels back in time, the shorter the time is that he gets to stay in the past before he is pulled back, sort of like a rubber band that is stretched farther and has to snap him back sooner and harder. An unfortunate side-effect is that his clothes and any other objects get pulled back faster, so he ends up naked in the past if he does not watch out and prepare and quickly steal or buy some local clothes. As you can see, the rules of the type of time travel he practices are very precise and they limit his options.

In the second book, somewhat inexplicably, he has been “untethered” by the time travel powers that be. Now he can travel much further back, he can stay longer, he does not lose his clothes, and he is completely controlled by a magic “watch” which warns him with a count-down before he travels, and with another count-down before he returns. We don’t find out who builds the watch, who controls it, and how it works.

Oddly, while Joe was very proficient in the first book with his hypnotic time travel, he does not even attempt it at all in the second. It’s almost like the author decided that the rules of time travel he introduced in his first book didn’t work for him, so he just started over with new and seemingly inconsistent rules.

I found this distracting. When I read a time travel series, I expect the methodology, and the universal rules, to remain consistent. This was done very well by Nathan Van Coops in his series of four books, starting with In Times Like These. The rules are solid and remain solid.

In these books, the author just started over again, used the same characters, threw them into a different plot, and changed all the rules.

The last chapter in this book set him up for another sequel as Joe’s sister Amy writes him a letter from the future. Will I read the third book when it comes out? Probably not.

 

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In the 26th century, Earth is a polluted wasteland. For hundreds of years, humanity’s situation has devolved, scientific progress has been retrograde, culture has stagnated, and government is utterly corrupt. A small number of giant “megacorporations” run things. Under their thumbs are governments, government agencies, and all of the people. The gap between the privileged and the destitute has grown immensely. The megacorporations do what is good for them and their shareholders, and they have no qualms about annihilating thousands or millions of people, if they are in their way. The people live in utmost poverty and need, eking out a living by planting, salvaging and living off the land.

The desperate live on the depleted Earth, which by then is the least attractive place to live. The lucky and fortunate ones live on the moons of the gas giants or in space in general.

James Griffin-Mars is a Chronman, a highly trained specialist, one of an elite few, who have the technology to travel in time. ChronoCom is a government agency that regulates time travel. Strict time laws are in force, intended to prevent accidents, time paradoxes and intended or accidental changes of history.

Chronmen are usually deployed by the agency to salvage. Since technology development has devolved, the most interesting and valuable technologies are hundreds of years in the past. The Chronmen are dispatched to jump to a time and place just before some known disaster, and take away valuables, either machinery, artwork, documents, books, anything of value to salvage before the disaster wipes it out anyway. The majority of progress in the 26th century does not come from invention and innovation, but from salvaged loot from the past.

Chronmen lead very dangerous lives, and most do not last very long. James is on the brink of burnout when he takes on one last mission, where the payoff is so high, he can retire when he completes it. During the mission he gets to know Elise, a young female scientist on an oceanic platform in 2097 where his mission is to save some technology hours before the platform explodes and sinks into the ocean, killing all people aboard. When the disaster strikes, and he has captured the loot, without actually planning for it, he takes Elise home with him, more than 400 years into the future. Of course, bringing anyone back from the past violates the first time law. This forces James and Elise to become fugitives on the wasted Earth, trying to survive in the wilderness, undetected by the government trying to hunt them down. In the process of saving themselves, the opportunity to save the planet arises and gives hope not only to the two of them, but to all humanity.

Time Salvager is a story about a dystopian future, think Orwell’s 1984 on steroids. Graphic descriptions of the squalor most of humanity lives in are contrasted by the high-tech excesses of the elite. Transformer-like technology abounds and gives soldiers and agents superhuman capabilities. Reading Time Salvager is like watching a superhero movie, where the heroes are indestructible due to the magical technology and the power it gives them.

At a time when the income gap between poor and rich is widening, climate change is daily sensational news, corruption of government is rampant and abuse of power is becoming acceptable and normal, reading Time Salvager is a strong reminder of how bad it can get. It’s not a pleasant read, but entertaining nonetheless, and definitely thought-provoking.

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Dell (Kevin Hart) is a recently paroled ex-convict. His teenage son and his wife do not respect him. He has not been a father or provider by a long shot. On his search for a job, he stumbles upon the opportunity to be a caretaker for the paraplegic billionaire Phil (Bryan Cranston). Even though he is not qualified whatsoever, Phil takes a liking to him and over time, the relationship changes both of them. The unlikely pair become friends.

The movie is based on a true story first told by the French film The Intouchables. The critics of The Upside are blasting it and comparing it to the supposedly much better The Intouchables. I have not seen that film, so I am not qualified to judge, but I can say that I enjoyed watching The Upside more than I expected. It’s a heartfelt comedy that lifts the human spirit.

I have a pet peeve about movie titles that don’t make sense to me. The Upside is one of those. I can’t figure out why they named it that. There must be some upside with this film.

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Just as I was finished reading Where the Crawdads Sing, as I was transitioning back to Sapiens, I received an email from my friend Wolfgang recommending The Red Badge of Courage. How could I resist?

Within minutes I had downloaded the book and started reading. I recognized the first few pages and concluded that I must have read it before, many years ago, and forgotten all about it.

Not so. I now realize that I had started reading it – after all, it’s a classic – but put it aside after the first session, never to pick it up again. In my days of  reading hardcopy books that was quite possible. Once a book went down below the top five on the reading stack, there was a real chance that it never came to light again, ever. And so it must have been with The Red Badge of Courage.

It tells the story of “The Youth” as the author refers to him, a farm boy named Henry Fleming who enlists in the Union Army during the American Civil War, against his mother’s advice, as many a boy was wont to do when peer pressure was applied. He goes to war with gusto, only to realize that war is weeks and weeks of boredom, interrupted by occasional hours of terror and fright during battles. In the Civil War, men lined up shoulder to shoulder in rows, facing the enemy, who also lined up. Then they shot salvos at each other, which randomly thinned out the respective lines. Reloading took much time, getting ready for the next salvo. The human soldier was completely expendable. I don’t know how I would handle such a situation, and I am grateful that I never in my life had to. But the youth was terrified and ran away in shame. Eventually he found his way back to his regiment, and through successive engagements found his courage, and eventually became a hero to himself and his comrades. The title “the red badge of courage” comes from a red blood stain from a battle injury.

Stephen Crane wrote the book decades after the war and published it in 1893. He never experienced war firsthand himself, so his descriptions all came from what others told him. Notable also is that Crane died of tuberculosis in Germany in a sanatorium in the Black Forest in 1900 at the young age of 28. The Red Badge of Courage was his most acclaimed novel. It is a short book that you can read in a few hours, and many readers find it boring and challenging to read. All of the dialog is in southern farmer dialect, heavy with apostrophes and difficult to read. Here is an example:

But the tall soldier continued to beg in a lowly way. He now hung babelike to the youth’s arm. His eyes rolled in the wildness of his terror. “I was allus a good friend t’ yeh, wa’n’t I, Henry? I ’ve allus been a pretty good feller, ain’t I? An’ it ain’t much t’ ask, is it? Jest t’ pull me along outer th’ road? I ’d do it fer you, wouldn’t I, Henry?” He paused in piteous anxiety to await his friend’s reply.

— Crane, Stephen. The Red Badge of Courage (AmazonClassics Edition) (p. 67).

This is difficult for us Americans to read. I wonder how Wolfgang fared, being a native German reader? But then again, he told me he read War and Peace in Russian, so this must be a walk in the park in comparison.

I stuck with it and finished the book. I am not much of a “classics” guy, and The Red Badge of Courage, while an impressive little story, didn’t touch me all that much. I felt like I was reading it as a result of a class assignment, which, in a way, it was. I finished it, and in my subjective rating it gets two stars.

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I was around in 1988, when Senator Gart Hart (Hugh Jackman) was considered the front runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. We know how it all ended. Hart exited the race not too long after a story broke about an extramarital relationship with a woman named Donna Rice.

In 1988, tabloid journalism surfaced for the first time in a presidential election. It is now 30 years later, and it seems like tabloid journalism is all we get anymore in high profile elections. Gary Hart was an Eagle Scout compared to Donald Trump. Our senses are now dull, and our sensitivity numbed. The office of the presidency will not be the same again.

But in the days of Gary Hart, different rules applied.

This documentary drama tells the story of the rise and fall of Gary Hart, the man who almost might have been president, until some “Monkey Business” got in the way. The Front Runner is an entertaining and informative film into the way we run our presidential elections and I enjoyed the window into the past.

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Nels Coxman (Liam Neeson) is a quiet, shy working-class man who lives with his wife (Laura Dern) in the mountains outside Denver. He is the local snowplow driver and a respected citizen.

Their young son, who works at the local airport as a baggage handler, is killed one night. When Nels tries to figure out what happened, he runs into the underworld of the local drug traffickers. As he is faced with brutality and criminality, he quickly turns vigilante and picks off the bad guys, one at a time, using fists, guns, snowplows, tree trimming tractors, axes, and anything you might find in a maintenance garage for heavy machinery.

I expected Cold Pursuit to be an action thriller as many other Liam Neeson movies, and it is, but it’s also a dark comedy. I laughed more than I expected, and in the end I walked out chuckling.

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When Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) is 21, his father (Bill Nighy) pulls him aside and tells him that the men in his family have always had the ability to travel through time. They can do it at will by going into a dark area like a closet or a bathroom with the lights off, clenching their fists, closing their eyes and wishing for another time. Boom, there they arrive, properly dressed the way they were at that time.

He can’t seem to find a girlfriend, so he decides he is going to use his new skill to get one. That does not turn out quite the way he expected. When he meets a girl and falls in love, she gives him her number, and he bounds away excited. Mission accomplished! But then he travels back in time to help out a friend and realizes too late that he is now in a time where he has never met the girl and never received her phone number. He now has to figure out how to meet her again – but where to start?

I ran across this 2013 movie at a hotel flipping through the HBO channels. Time travel is one of my favorite science fiction genres (just search this block for the category and it’ll be obvious I am an aficionado –>) so this was a natural choice to stop on. The mechanics of time travel in this story are very simple and not scientific, like they would be in a fairy tale, which this essentially is.

About Time is light feel-good movie with no antagonists but perhaps life itself and the curve balls it throws at you. It plays in England, the characters are all delightful and light, and life is — almost — perfect. When the credits rolled I was convinced that I need to live every day as best as I can and I was satisfied.

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