Movie Recommendations

It’s Time to Laugh!!!

Sneakers is a caper movie about five hackers.  It has some slapstick comedy and is well-paced.  My favorite character is the blind soundman played by David Straithairn.  The car scene was priceless.  Robert Redford and Ben Kingsley are good.  Dan Aykroyd and Sidney Poitier give equal performances.  Mary McDonnell does her part for the larger cause, but not without some resistance.  I give a shout out to River Phoenix because no one can forget young Indiana Jones.  The ending comes together in a nice little black box. 
Gross Pointe Blank is about attending your high school reunion for all the wrong reasons.  It stars John Cusack and Minnie Driver as past high school sweethearts.  It also stars Dan Aykroyd, at odds with John Cusack, as there can only one hit man allowed in this Michigan city.  This doesn’t justify the bad dancing by Jeremy Piven to popular 1980s songs.  All I have left to say is “POPCORN!” 
Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion capitalizes on all the stereotypical blonde jokes and the cliques that often exist at reunions.  The popular students forever hold that status, the nerds remain nerds, the jocks never lose their helmets, the cheerleaders remember their cheers, and the remaining students aren’t remembered all that much.  It speaks of the friendship between Romy and Michele, the need for acceptance, the pain of rejection, and coming out stronger by the end without being overly mushy.  
Evolution is one of my favorite movies with David Duchovny.  It can’t get any sillier than four out of place characters fighting against rapidly advancing alien life.  As the movie progresses, the scenes go from ridiculous to over the top.  This is the appeal of the movie.   Watch it for mindless viewing.  
Ted could be a movie one might not want to admit watching.  I’m not one of those people.  I laughed more than anticipated.  You wouldn’t think a movie about a man choosing a teddy bear or his girlfriend could span a length of 106 minutes and keep your attention.  It did so well done to Seth McFarlane on your first directing gig.  As a side note, you need to have a bit of tolerance for swearing and innuendo because this movie has both. 
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Book Recommendation: Slaughterhouse

WARNING!!!
This book contains pictures and stories of inhumane slaughter practices and comments on poor working conditions for slaughter workers.  Please do not read if you are squeamish about this subject, but I encourage everyone to read this book for educational reasons.

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       The author Gail A. Eisnitz provides an excellent case for why everyone should care about better treatment for all involved concerning slaughterhouses. This includes the USDA’s unresponsiveness to the neglect and greed taking place daily that puts animals, workers, and consumers in jeopardy. This book is not a call to readers to be vegan or vegetarian, but more illustrates the major problems facing the meat industry in the United States, and in particular beef and pork.  On the other hand, I always advocate Meatless Monday or Meatless for Life never hurt anybody except plants, but let’s not go there at this moment.  
       I gained more sympathy for these workers after reading this book as they are just trying to make a living to support themselves and their families. These workers suffer as much as the animals, although in a thoroughly different manner of exploitation. The appalling conditions could very well be prevented, but greed is what drives working conditions to be dangerous without much avenue for change and punishment for dissenters. The mental and physical effects are many when you work in a slaughterhouse and endure long after you are fired or quit or retire.
       Slaughterhouse delves into the illegal practices of slaughterhouses often supported by those instructed to enforce rules. I look at USDA stickers placed on meat differently, which is one of the main reasons I haven’t eaten meat in over 20 years. Awareness and exploring what happens behind closed doors is important to righting its wrongs.  If there is ever a need for undercover agents to expose the corruption within the slaughterhouse walls, it’s this current moment. 
       Readers will nod their heads in agreement of state and federal laws meaning nothing if the people and tools aren’t in place to enforce them. If the laws were effective, animals wouldn’t be mistreated at such a high frequency from start to finish on the slaughter line.  The causes are plain, and the effects are even simpler.  This further impacts the quality of the meat where intermingling of contaminated with wholesome meat is commonplace. The USDA has been sued for their inability to effectively carry out their jobs, and will continue until repercussions are severe enough to incite change within this business. I’m waiting for the day when whistle-blowers are not condemned for wanting to help the greater good. 
       As with any complex issues, it takes more than one book to change anything.  It also takes more than one person to blog about it to promote any significant change.  Yet, this shouldn’t deter anyone from learning more about it, which is the purpose of this book. It obviously is an “easy” read for those already interested about animal rights and humane farming practices, but my philosophy is to read about those things that are hard to swallow. Certain topics should be bitter as you turn the page. It makes the world go round. Maybe, one day I will read a book about football because to me this is my bitter pill. 
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Movie Recommendation: Life

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Dane Dehaan portrays a convincing James Dean before his stardom in Hollywood.  He is followed by a photographer working for Life magazine, Dennis Stock, who is played by Robert Pattinson.  He joins Dean on an impromptu road trip back home where the relationship solidifies into trust and allows for the later snapping of the iconic pictures we now know today.  The tricks of a photographer and the love/hate relationship with the camera still exists, but now it’s more with the Paparazzi.  If you are looking for a no thrills drama without car chases and twists and turns, this is the movie for you.  It’s simply a movie about one man who doesn’t trust anyone but his family, and the other trying to find acceptance in a hard entering profession where not many knocks are heard. 
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Book/Movie Recommendations

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The first book is Sleepers. It tells the story of four boys from semi different backgrounds from Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan.  They  were forced to rely on each other during a dark time in their childhoods, and as they grew into adults, they found themselves unwilling and unable to let the events of the past float into oblivion. The movie ending, of course, is more times than not the Hollywood ending some wish it would be.  Reality includes tragedy and consequences.  The movie doesn’t sugarcoat the issues within certain institutions as Kevin Bacon and Ron Eldard provided great performances.
The second book is Lone Survivor. I really enjoyed reading this book.  I’m not a gung ho military person.  Yet, I can understand the appeal for those who enlist and do support them.  It was written by Marcus Luttrell who was as you can figure it out by the book title, the lone survivor, of a team of Navy SEALS whose mission went “south” in Afghanistan. It begins with Marcus’s physical training during high school and the “hell” he went through during SEALS training, which prepared him for what he would encounter on the Afghanistan mountains during his mission. It is more than anything a salute to his fallen brothers: Michael Murphy played by Taylor Kitsch, Danny Dietz played by Emile Hirsch, and Matthew Axelson played by Ben Foster. It is directed by Peter Berg and the ending credits is enough to make anyone realize the people who sign up for the military are some of the bravest out there, but so are their families who they leave behind when tragedy strikes as it does in any war.
The third book is A Mighty Heart written by Mariane Pearl.  It’s about the kidnapping of the journalist, Danny Pearl. I will say despite everything that happened in this book there was still a message to be sought. A part of it speaks of the special relationship Mariane found in Danny during the beginning of their relationship and how a woman of her strength and resolve will go to any length to reunite with the love of her life. She goes to painful lengths to understand what transpired in a land far away.  Through this process she finds some answers and relative closure. This story has obvious political undercurrents, but the relationships among family and friends serves as its basis.  I would have chosen a different actress to portray Mariane, but Angelina Jolie is not distracting where it breaks a viewer’s concentration from the movie.  I was not one of the producers as that went to Brad Pitt.   It is still a gripping story when you strip away the makings of a movie and remember the events really did happen.
The fourth book is The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven written by Sherman Alexie.  It is a collection of stories and seamlessly wrapped neatly with a satisfying ending.  Alexie has such a gift of conveying the experiences of two young Native American men living in the United States.  I didn’t want to put the book down.  The reader gets the sense that Victor Joseph and Thomas Builds-the-Fire never loses sight of what it means to live, which is simply living whether it be through their relationships with family, intended reflections of the self, and the ties with the Reservation on which they live.  The movie, Smoke Signals, lends to the viewer a refreshing dose of reality with injections of humor spread throughout.  I laughed more than I should have given such a serious topic, but this only makes me want to watch this movie again.
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Title image by Oxford Dictionaries

Movie Recommendation: City of God

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City of God or its Portuguese name Cidade de Deus was released worldwide in 2003.  It’s about gang life in Rio de Janeiro.  It involves a kid, Rocket, who grows up with a camera in hand.  He doesn’t want any participation in this illegal lifestyle.  He remains in proximity to the gang members as he matures, but far enough away where he is relatively safe.  It’s a movie based on a true story where living in a rough environment is common occurrence for many kids in such disparity between the economic classes.  The opportunities or places to increase their skill sets are sorely lacking, which is reflected in the tagline, “If you run, the beast catches you; if you stay, the beast eats you.”
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Book Recommendation: Scapegoat

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This is a simple and easy read.  It is very fast paced.  I read this book a while ago, but remember it being thought provoking.  Humans all love to blame others especially when shit hits the fan. The bigger the problem, the harder one falls when they fail.  This begs the question of what exactly does failure mean, but I’m not in the mood to go into a philosophical rant about the meaning of the word.  It also means more likely the person will place blame on others whether actively or passively in their heads.  There are inherent common traits among everyone, okay most everyone, and not taking responsibility for one’s life all the time is one of them.  Anyone who says different, in my opinion, is not being completely truthful.  A person needs to dig deep to get to the core of one’s complex faults, and currently there is not much time to spare after work, families, eating, and sleeping are factored into the equation; but it still can be done.  Whether you do it is the real question.
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Short Story: Wild Sea

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        In the sea of infinite waves, I found myself with one oar that day. The wind had picked up, and my hand clumsily hit the side of the boat. I will add it was built by my dear friend. He has since passed away, body mixed in with the dirt by now, and creepy crawly insects having a corpse to explore. I shouldn’t view Tobias as a corpse, but I’m not one to exchange that word for another. He became a corpse when his soul left him, and just because you might find that word repulsive is not a problem I want to inherit. People tend to have little pity for the situations I placed myself in, and maybe I deserve some of it, but it doesn’t reverse my desire to exist. My true love was the only one to understand me. She had a radiance I’ve never seen in a woman before or since our time. I miss her more days than not, but let’s get back to my dilemma.
       It floated past my boat with great speed into the wild waves. I almost jumped to retrieve it, but then I’d be dealing with another issue, and that was hypothermia. My children would never forgive me either if I died this way. They never feared me getting lost when they were children, but we are thirty years older now. If I arrive one minute past my projected time, my son and daughter panic. My desire of living out my days in peaceful self-reflection never really came to fruition as I expected, but on this day they gave it to me wholeheartedly. It had to do with my birthday and the fact I was well past my drinking days.
       What was tantamount to suicide, I was distraught over losing the oar. My grandfather had never used them as they rested on pegs above his fireplace. I understood the importance of keeping treasured objects within the family tree, and now it was forever gone. I sat down on the hardened seat when my eye caught sight of the oar. I leapt up and burned the location into my mind. I grabbed the remaining oar and shoved it into the water. I paddled with long strokes, switching sides, until I was close enough to grab its nearly identical twin still in my grasp.
       The anticipation of holding both my oars unsteadied my balance.  My remaining oar flung into the sea.  This is the way I’d like to remember it, but in actuality, I lost my balance for no other reason of being old.  No one was around to hear my cursing at God, the sea, the boat, Tobias who had died, my wife who had died unexpectedly, and the oars themselves. I scrambled to the boat edge and searched for the oar. It was about ten feet away, bobbing with the waves, and teasing me every time it moved a little closer. My hope was it would float its way back to me as if it was scared of being away for so long. I imagined the water droplets hiding in the tiny cracks of both oars when I lifted them to safety. It would be good to have them back in my possession. When the oars didn’t come back on their own, I recognized my situation with more urgency.
       My flesh tried to resist the effects of the icy water when I jumped feet first. I had managed to remember to take off my shoes, socks, and jacket as all three would keep me warm once I got out of the water. The pesky oars that never should’ve left my grip were not visible. I screamed loudly, making the nearby birds take flight. My attention went back to the sea and swam in the general direction of where I had last seen the oars. They were on the same side of the boat when I lost them. I scanned the surface for any hint of my oars, and unfortunately my fingers turned a lovely purple before I found one of them. I reached it in record time for a man in his late sixties. After craning my neck in all directions, I located the other one. I swam to it just as fast in hopes it would warm my body. Hypothermia had claimed most of it, and I was forced to embrace it with open arms.
       I focused my grip around the oars not to lose them on my swim back. It took every determination to not close my eyes and sink into the sea in a death spiral. One thing kept me going and that was the warmth of my socks and jacket waiting for me on the boat. It could not have drifted far away, but when I looked up it appeared much farther even though it wasn’t the case. I thought about all the things I hated doing, but now I would take that over my current predicament. I kicked my feet as hard as possible, hunger clawing at my stomach.
       The nature of my situation had turned to critical when I arrived at my boat. I imagined the warmth my socks and jacket would provide as I picked them up. If only a towel would drop from the sky so I could dry myself, but my weary body soon didn’t care about that. I fell into a heap and sat there, breathing in and out heavily before starting the task of jamming my feet into the socks. My unfocused eyes remained that way while I tore off my water-soaked clothes. They had the scent of seaweed and dead fish. What an exquisite combination was the last thing I remembered as I slipped into unconsciousness. When I came back to reality, I didn’t notice the goose egg on my head.
       The sea went from puzzled to indignant, back to puzzled, and remained at a rumble. I was caught during the roar, but now it was my turn to be angry. I kicked at my heavy soaked pants and threw my shirt into the water. It would have been a sight to witness a sixty-seven year old in his underwear flailing about, but good riddance to it all. I wore my half dry socks with pride and my jacket didn’t fully hide my behind. I’ve since bought a longer jacket to wear in case this happens again although it hasn’t. My shoes were the last to go on and once I picked up my oars, I made sure to smack the water with them a few times before rowing back home. Similar to the sea, I went from frustration to rage. It was going to take a while to get home, and I used this time to release this steam with each stroke. The situation had spun out of control quickly, but now it was calmer. The thing chasing me this morning was no longer with me. The grief of what had happened could fit onto the diameter of a penny.
       While I did not know it at the time, losing my oars was a blessing in disguise. Some say God works in mysterious ways, and but I haven’t met any of them. I suppose there are shards of truth to everything. My daughter believes I’m trying to feel better about myself when I go out on my boat. She thinks I’m instinctively sailing toward something better, but it’s all in my head. I’m not sure about this. My son thinks I’m trying to recapture my youth. I’m not sure about this either, but when I arrived back home and soaked in hot water up to my chin, I had time to think about how lucky I was to be breathing oxygen.
       The sea can be a small place when there are people fluttering around you, trying to stay afloat such as in a shipwreck; but when you are alone, no one sees you struggling. The day the sea challenged my longing for it, my body was not in the best of shape. I had wanted to give up, but I prevailed to feel stability under my feet again. When my feet touched dry land, I bent down and grabbed a handful of sand. Damn the sea who tried to take me and damn the God who put me on this wobbly ride in the first place, but shortly after saying this I also thanked both for returning my oars to me when they could have been swallowed for dinner by the ever moody sea.
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Movie Recommendation: The Fly

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A movie I haven’t seen in a while is The Fly.  I’m talking about the David Cronenberg movie where I never looked at Jeff Goldblum the same way.  The metamorphosis of his character was one of greatness.  Yes, I prefer character driven movies vs. action based movies although I have no issue watching any Fast and Furious franchise movies.  The story of the enthusiastic scientist in the beginning to the tortured creature he became at the end also involved the human interaction he sought through Geena Davis’s character.  If only Seth Brundle had taken a little more time to ponder the consequences of his teleportation, but then the viewers would’ve been turned away in boredom.  This isn’t the jump out of your seat because scary things are lurking behind furniture movie.  Every action has an opposite reaction.  Isn’t that how the saying goes?  The Fly is a movie where you see what happens when you don’t check your obsessions at the Telepod door.  Enjoy the spectacular vision it deserves.
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Book Recommendation: WHO THE HELL’S IN IT

This is a great book for the fact it gives the reader insights into the personalities of famous actors and actresses, unadulterated and brutally truthful. Even if it portrays the Hollywood legends in a less than favorable light, you continue to have respect for them as they deserve. I enjoyed it from first page to the last. If anything it will serve as a nice diversion from the current Hollywood trends of remakes and comic book films, which there is nothing wrong with, but it is nice to reflect back on eras of the past.

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Book Recommendation: Yakuza Moon

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We are born into the society our parents live and it becomes familiar to us.  We put our trust in those who raise us whether blood related or not despite what they do to us, good or bad.  Circumstances can change slowly over time or all of a sudden, but it still throws us into a tailspin.  Our foundation on which we, as children, stand on becomes unstable; and it takes often a lifetime as adults to heal from what occurred within our families as children. 
The author of this book, Shoko Tendo, speaks of the tenacity it takes to survive once the pieces have crumbled and no one is there to help you build again except yourself.  While the past influences much of how you act and do later in life, it does not have to completely control your future.  It takes strength to recognize what one must do to break free and more to not retreat back to the comforts of the days long gone.  Read this book if you enjoy personal journeys; and in this particular case highlights assumed privileges, eventual downfalls, and sole ownership of one’s life.
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