what i’ve been reading and watching

I’ve been lazy about writing book reviews, but here are some capsules on books and movies I’ve experienced in January – April of this year.

———- Forwarded message ———-
Subject: Books and Movies for April

Books

19.  The Godwulf Manuscript, by Robert Parker.  In honor of the crime novelist who recently passed on, I read his first Spenser novel.  Fun pulp.  6/10
18.  Also awesome: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Volume 1, BBC dramatization.  Two great things about Sherlock Holmes: first, not all the mysteries are murders.  (In this case, just one of the four.)  Second, the sidekick – Dr Watson – actually contributes.  We meet Irene Adler, the woman who outsmarts Sherlock Holmes and – maybe – captures his heart.  Very fun: the radio dramatization gives Holmes a laugh that makes him sound like a caustic mad scientist.  8/10
17.  Cards on the Table, by Agatha Christie.  Four bridge players.  All previously have murdered.  A murder is committed!  Only Hercule Poirot and is psychological reasoning can solve the case!  For once, a police guy recognizes that Poirot is brilliant and doesn’t spend the whole book pretending Poirot is loony.  Fun stuff.  7/10
16.  Best of the month: Inside Job, by Connie Willis.  I read a great review of her newest book in the Post , and so took this little novella (100 pages) to Brazil.  Lots of fun!  An LA psychic channeller starts channelling HL Mencken, the science journalist who covered the Scopes Monkey trial.  A professional skeptic is befuddled. 8/10

Movies
29.  Easy Virtue (DVD) – Slight but enjoyable movie about class and family.  Always happy to see Colin Firth.  6/10

28.  Damages, Season 1, Disc 2
27.  Damages, Season 1, Disc 1
26.  Terminator 2 (midnight movie in NYC with Daniel) – Totally holds up.  Awesome action film. 8/10
25.  The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (DVD) – Gold digging in Mexico, partner turns against partner, bandits, indigenous kidnappers.  Bogart plays crazy very well.  Totally recommended!  8/10
24.  Best of the month: Crazy Heart (airplane) – I loved this!  Jeff Bridges as an alcoholic, washed-up country singer trying to make a comeback.  The music is great, the story is great, the acting is great all around (Maggie Gyllenhall, Jeff Bridges, and Robert Duvall).  9/10 (maybe that’s too high, but I don’t do half numbers! … today, anyway)

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Subject: Books and Movies for March
Books

15.  The Sign of Four, by Arthur Conan Doyle (narrated by David Timson) – Sherlock Holmes’s second appearance, in which we learn he is a cocaine user.  And in which he solves an exciting case of hidden treasure!  The story includes a man with a wooden leg, an African pygmy named Tonga, and much more, I’m afraid.  But Timson reads it so well.  7/10
14.  Murder in Mesopotamia, by Agatha Christie – Good times with my favorite Christie detective, Hercule Poirot, in this prequel to Murder on the Orient Express. 7/10
13.  Conquering Your Own Goliaths Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, by Steven Cramer – Cramer brings in everyone from Isaiah to Spencer Kimball, from Uncle Lloyd to Jack Weyland (Yes, Jack Weyland: a scene from Charly – which I have read) to demonstrate how to let the Lord help us.  I really liked it and will re-read it, despite the prose smacking a bit of inspirational speech.  The message felt true. 8/10
12.  The Book of Mormon, by various prophets (audiobook) – Pure awesome.  10/10.
11.  The Last Olympian, by Rick Riordan (narrated by Jesse Bernstein) – Finale to the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series.  Fun stuff, although I don’t like the narrative trick of using first-person omniscient voice and then having the protagonist whisper his secret plan off-mic.  You’re either first-person omniscient or you’re not!  And I think the narrator might be racist (everyone with an ethnic name has a massive accent).  But overall a good time: more monsters and Greek gods.
10.  A Study in Scarlet, by Arthur Conan Doyle (narrated by David Timson) – Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson’s first encounter.  Brigham Young!  Polygamy!  Danites!  This was really something… 7/10
9.  The Battle of the Labyrinth, by Rick Riordan (narrated by Jesse Bernstein) – More monsters and Greek gods.  Some good laughs.  7/10
8.  Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow (narrated by Kirby Heybourne) – Terrorist attack on San Francisco, Patriot Act 2 passes, Department of Homeland Security goes out of control, and one teenage hacker decides to restore freedom and the Bill of Rights to his country.  Largely awesome.  8/10
Movies
23.  Alice in Wonderland (theater – 2D) – Great visuals, but the story was a little too … normal.  I expected more crazy from Tim Burton.  But it was a good time. 6/10
22.  Adam’s Rib (DVD) – Tracy and Hepburn as a married couple who take opposing sides on an attempted murder case.  Mildly amusing. 6/10
21.  O Auto da Compadecida (A Dog’s Will – DVD) – Before the movie came out (Movie 11, back in January), there was a miniseries.  The miniseries is just the movie with an extra hour of scenes.  The best characters I’ve met in Brazilian cinema in some great comedy. 9/10
20.  The Karate Kid (DVD) – Daniel LaRusso and Mr Miyago have aged EXCELLENTLY.  I wanted to get prepped for the new version coming out this summer.  Sweep the leg!  9/10
19.  Ghost Writer (theater) – 007 (Brosnan) and Obi Wan Kenobi (McGregor) in the same movie!  Taut political thriller, marred only by some silly choices at the end.  Still, a good time.  8/10
18.  Up in The Air (airplane) – George Clooney flies a lot for his job, learns about life.  I enjoyed this, partly because I related to so much of it, partly because it overturned at least one trope.  Airplane edited (so who knows how much i missed?)  8/10

———- Forwarded message ———-
Subject: Books and Movies for February

Books:
7. La traducción, por Pablo de Santis (narrado por Fernando Flores) – Thriller involving a conference of translators on the coast of Argentina, lost and forgotten languages, and a series of mysterious deaths.  4 CDs 7/10
6. The Titan’s Curse, by Rick Riordan (narrated by Jesse Bernstein) – More Greek gods and monsters, etc.  6/10 [my review]
5.  As She Climbed Across the Table, by Jonathan Lethem – Physicist falls in love with a black hole (sort of, not really).  Her anthropologist boyfriend stays in love with her.  Academic farce and other stuff ensue. 7/10 [my review]

Movies:
17. Deus é Brasileiro (God is Brazilian) (DVD) – God gets sick of humankind and so comes to earth to find a saint to replace him for a while and learns things from the people he travels with.  Beautiful Brazil, some nice comedy and insights.
16. Whip It (DVD) – Ellen Page (Juno) finds herself in roller derby as Babe Ruthless.  Some cliches, but overall very fun.  8/10
15. Invictus (theater) – Rugby in South Africa with new president Nelson Mandela.  Very exciting.  8/10
14. The Invention of Lying (plane) – A world where no one knows how to lie except Ricky Gervais.  The portrayal of a world where everyone is – by turns – brutally or pathetically honest is very funny.  Great cameo by Philip Seymour Hoffman  7/10
13. An Education (theater) – Great reflection on coming of age, disillusionment, what an education is for; great performances. 7/10

———- Forwarded message ———-
Subject: Books and Movies for January

Books:

4. The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic – and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World, by Steven Johnson (read by Alan Sklar) – Great historical narrative combined with epidemiology, biology, city planning.  8/10
3. O Clube do Anjos [The Club of Angels], by Luis Fernando Veríssimo – Gluttony, vengeance, mystery.  A group of foodies meet once a month to eat and are gradually killed off.  Existential, but fun.  Not as good as Borges and the Eternal Organgutans, by the same author.
2. Sea of Monsters, by Rick Riordan (read by Jesse Bernstein) – Silly, fun entertainment 6/10
1. Motherless Brooklyn, by Jonathan Lethem – I really like Lethem.  Crime novel with a very creative twist; the detective has Tourette’s.  Reads as a great crime novel but as a nice metaphor for alienation. 9/10
Movies:
12. 9 to 5 (DVD) – Has aged well.  Very funny film.  Lily, Jane, and Dolly deliver the goods with some help from Dabney.  Nice extras.  7/10
11. O Auto da Compadecida [A Dog’s Will] (DVD) – My favorite Brazilian film with my favorite character to date.  Two poor, rural tricksters seek to cheat everyone from the baker to the town boss to the priest and – finally – the devil himself.  Funny and thoughtful.  9/10
10. Avatar IMAX 3D – Best non-sensical film I’ve seen!  Wonderfully entertaining. 8/10
9. Funny Face (DVD) – Fred Astaire is a million years old, Audrey Hepburn is 18.  Weird, lame movie.  4/10
8. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (theater) – Wonderfully zany, creative exploration of … imagination? story telling?  I don’t know, but a good ride. 8/10
7. Lula: Filho do Brasil [Lula: Son of Brazil] (theater in Rio Branco) – Hagiographic biopic of Brazil’s wildly popular outgoing president.  Not all that, but interesting.  6/10
6. The Other Boleyn Girl (DVD) – starts out fun court intrigue, ends up stressful and disturbing. blech. 4/10
5. Sahara (DVD) – incredibly silly action film. thank you crazy Steve Zahn for making this watchable. 6/10
4. The Princess Bride (DVD) – what can i say? 9/10 (but Inigo Montoya does seem to recover from his wounds quite quickly there at the end)
3. Tootsie (DVD) – awesome classic 9/10
2. Nothing Like the Holidays (DVD) – Lame!  Very Brady Christmas but with all Puerto Ricans.  About two funny lines. (thanks, Freddy Rodriguez)  4/10
1. School of Rock (DVD) – classic! 8/10

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1 thought on “what i’ve been reading and watching”

  1. I’m always happy to see your book and film reviews. Thanks for posting this! I have a friend whose son is in that new Kung Fu Kid movie. I don’t think it can be as good as Karate Kid, though. I had Ralph Macchio’s poster on my wall for like, 2 years, until he was replaced by Scott Baio.

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