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Monthly Archives: January 2013

PfB 300: A Simple Thank You.

Yes, it’s true… three hundred posts, almost all of them reviews (I told you I had a backlog!), and still going strong. (The vault has been pared down considerably, but still has fifty-odd reviews to go before it’s totally cleaned out.) And y’all are nuts enough to follow along. Almost fifty of you at this point, which after only three months and change is way beyond where I expected it to be.

So thank you, those of you who keep hanging around. If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled reviews.

The Hunger Games (2008): Battle Royale with Cheese

Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games (Scholastic Press, 2008)

 

photo credit: suzannecollinsbooks.com

Murder, mayhem… and fashion!

Okay, so, yeah. I guess I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. And honestly, when it comes to YA series with fuss these days, I pretty much expect to be disappointed, as they range from the mediocre (Harry Potter) to the downright awful (Twilight). So in that respect, I have to admit I was kind of pleasantly surprised by The Hunger Games, the first book of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy about Katniss Everdeen’s adventures in some sort of post-war society (we’re not given details about what happened to the world in this first novel). On the other hand, it’s kind of Battle Royale lite, and given what a fan I am of Takami Koushun’s novel, I was kind of disappointed in that regard. That said, there are a lot of pretty durned good books that are based on other books (Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres, of course, is a direct descendant of King Lear, for example), so I’m not going to ding it too hard for that, despite Collins’ insistence that she was entirely unaware of Koushun’s novel (or the smash-hit cult film based on it).

Plot: Katniss Everdeen is sixteen years old, living on the fringes of District 12 in the continent of Panem, a post-apocalyptic North America (District 12 corresponds in modern geography to the Appalachians; basically, Katniss is from Kentucky/West Virginia/somewhere in there). She and her best friend spend their days slipping the fences that separate the “civilized” parts of society from the wilds, hunting the beasts that the fences are designed to keep out, and selling the meat on the black market. Despite the illegality of her way of making a living and the stigma attached to her family since her mother, once a noted herbalist, went insane following the death of her husband, Katniss is a popular figure in District 12. The year’s selection contest for the Hunger Games is coming up, and this is the last year Katniss is eligible; one more year and she can breathe a sigh of relief. On the other hand, her sister Primrose is old enough to be eligible for the first time…and when the selection comes around, inevitably, Primrose is chosen. Katniss steps up in her place and joins Peeta Malark, the son of the local baker, as the tribute from District 12.

Then come the games themselves, and if you’ve read Battle Royale or any of the other pieces of literature that pursue this same line of thinking, you know what’s going to happen: everyone gets tossed into an arena, and everyone fights until there’s only one person left. It’s an inherently interesting concept, as long as the author is capable of building solid, three-dimensional minor characters. Collins is, though perhaps she’s not as good as Koushun (and this, by the by, is where the film adaptation of Battle Royale fails; we lack a sense of many of the minor competitors). But we get to know Katniss and Peeta’s opponents without the team ever conversing with them, through Katniss’ keen sense of observation; she finds unexpected allies in interesting places, expected enemies in even more interesting places, and comes to realize that she’s not the only cunning contestant to be found on the grounds. Overall, we’ve got a bunch of interesting characters in an interesting situation, well-written enough to keep the suspense ratcheted up without the whole b ook deflating when we pause briefly once in a while to advance the are-they-or-aren’t-they? romance subplot between Katniss and Peeta (unfortunately the book’s weak spot; it advances rigorously along old-Harlequin-formula-romance-novel lines).

While writing this review, I’ve actually talked myself into revising my initial rating upwards a bit; I realized some stuff about it I didn’t while I was originally reading the novel. It’s a nifty little thing, perhaps not as deserving of the incredible amount of hype as it could have been, but certainly not a disappointment in most ways. It’s good enough to make me look forward to reading the other two novels in the trilogy. ***

 

A New Direction: My Plan for a Better Pennsylvania (2006): Pie in the Sky

Lynn Swann, A New Direction: My Plan for a Better Pennsylvania (Lynn Swann for Governor, 2006)

[note: review published sometime before June 17, 2007]

photo credit: Sports Business Daily

Football, politics, it’s all about the screen.

Well, we all know how the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race ended up in 2006. It wasn’t for lack of trying on Lynn Swann’s part, but I have to say, I’m not sure whether this little self-published tome did more to help him or harm him at the polls.

First off is the introduction by his wife. I’m not sure whether he’s just a far, far better writer than she is, or whether the editorial staff had taken the day off when she submitted the intro, but it’s godawful. It’s awkwardly-written and full of grammatical errors that make it even harder to read than it otherwise would be; not the best way to unveil your long-range plans as an elected official.

That all changes when we get to the body of Swann’s text, which was proofed to at least the level of most average major-label publications these days (in other words, you’ll find an error here or there, but not terribly many). His thoughts and ideas are presented in a clear, if somewhat dry, manner; the tone of the text makes its slight 144 pages about the perfect length for it. While most everything he’s saying is good common sense (though there are some places where he’s either obviously playing the crowd or has bought so far into common-acceptance rhetoric that I’d have been scared to have him in office—no more so, though, than some of the morons we elected in 2006, and certainly not more than the guy who’s still sitting in the Pennsylvania governor’s office), it becomes obvious pretty quickly that Swann sees a pie somewhere pretty far off the ground, and he’s not afraid to reach for it without too much of a safety net. There’s a great deal of talk about cutting taxes, but where’s the make-up coming from? While he’s certainly correct in saying his plan would revitalize the currently stagnant business climate in Pennsylvania, there would be some hungry years waiting for those new businesses to get profitable. Reforming your state’s schools is a noble goal, but where’s that money going to come from while you’re waiting for those businesses to grow? And so on, and so forth.

A little more thought should probably have gone into talking about the dark side of all this—specifically, how the government would be able to operate during those lean years. Of course, if Swann didn’t think there were going to be any lean years, that would have been a problem in itself.

On the other hand, though, we can all be more than thankful that Ed Rendell didn’t write one of these books. It’s bad enough having to listen to him speak. ** ½

 

Path of Destruction (2005): Math Girl and Flounder vs. the Superstorm

Path of Destruction (Stephen Furst, 2005)

 

photo credit: www.scifi-movies.com

I’ve been trying to put this up since day one… it took me this long to find a movie poster, and when I find one, it’s in Cyrillic!

About the best thing I can say about this movie is that without it, I’d have never known that the mind-numbingly beautiful Danica McKellar, for whom I would sometimes get over my complete aversion to The Wonder Years and choke down an episode, still has a career. Other than that, I have to apologize to my body for leaving it in a chair long enough to watch this piece of garbage.

photo credit: www.cinemotions.com

Danica McKellar: yep, still hot.

McKellar, the crusading reporter, teams up with a climatologist (Everwood‘s Chris Pratt) to try and foil an ever-expanding cloud of nanotech robots that have hitched themselves to a major storm front and are devouring everything in their path. No, folks, I kid you not. The main question that kept going through my mind was, “someone from Everwood needed money this badly?”

photo credit: genreonline.net

“Like all generals in made-for-TV disaster movies, I am constipated.”

It’s somewhat amusing that the only character in the movie who made it at all interesting was played by the director himself. Give me a whole movie about a beer-swilling sex-starved weather station employee, and I’ll trade this AND The Day After Tomorrow for it. ½

 

Every Youtube video I can find under “Path of Destruction” is some stupid monster truck video. Sorry.

Detour to Terror (1980): OJ vs. the Murderer… Well, THAT’S a Change

Detour to Terror (Michael O’Herlihy, 1980)

[note: review originally published 28Nov2008]

 

photo credit: forbiddeneye.com

Yes, this is exactly as stupid as you think it’s going to be.

The stupid seventies disaster movie lives on thanks to the wide, wide range of cable channels to be found in even the most basic package these days. This particular piece of silliness is only notable for the presence of O. J. Simpson in a lead role, back towards the beginning of his acting career. As one might expect from the presence of Mr. Simpson, this movie is blissfully awful, but it’s awful in a fun, cheesy sort of way.

The plot: three guys hijack a tour bus from Albuquerque, NM, to Las Vegas. Lee (Simpson), the bus driver, rallies the tourists and attempts to stand up to the hijackers.

photo credit: Ebay

The sole image of this movie I can find online? A group shot photo up on ebay signed by Arte Johnson.

As is usual with this kind of flick– especially in its made-for-TV incarnation– what you will likely wind up doing while watching this dog is thinking about how much more interesting it could have been had the screenwriter actually decided to take any of the obvious detours he could have taken with the plot. (I kept thinking that it would have been really cool had one of the passengers also been planning on hijacking the bus for some other reason.) But, like the majority of seventies made-for-TV disaster flicks, it’s stupidly watchable, and you can while away an easy hour and a half if you happen to be lying around the house laid up with an injury or something. It’s bottom-of-the-barrel entertainment, but it does what bottom-of-the-barrel entertainment is supposed to do– entertain. Not one to go out of your way to hunt down, though. **

 

The best I can do for video? A twelve-second clip of the closing credits.

Dielectric Lull (2003): This Is How We Do It

Leslie Keffer, Dielectric Lull (Heresee, 2003)

[note: review originally published in late September or early October 2004; I remember picking this CD up from Leslie at Champagne of Fests in mid-September 2004. It has since been revised with more complete information.]

photo credit: yours truly

Music to go to sleep to. If by “go to sleep” you mean “pass out stoned to the bone.”

Leslie Keffer is not, as yet, a big name in the American noise scene. Expect that to change relatively quickly.

Dielectric Lull, Keffer’s debut full-length release [ed. note: per the notoriously incomplete discogs.com], is… something else. There’s really no other way to describe it. It’s noise, but it’s ambient. It’s melodic, but it’s not melodic. About the only things one can really say about it that everything here really has in common are “quiet” and “beautiful.”

Keffer wanders aimlessly from whimsical (“I Heart Tacos”) to introverted (the perhaps overly-obviously-titled “Pensive”) to dead sexy (“Taste Tongue to Warm Tummy”), yet the whole thing gels quite nicely anyway. It’s a great album for shuffle play, but sounds good front to back, too. Not as much a background piece as some albums of this nature, as surprising shifts and almost glitchy atmosphere conspire to lend a demand of active listening to this.

Absolutely gorgeous. I’ll be picking up the rest of her stuff ASAP. **** ½

Nightmare (2007): Talent Is Not Hereditary

Nightmare (Terry Ingram, 2007)

[note: review originally published 1Feb2009]

photo credit: vidics.ch

Looks like me after a night of Maker’s Mark boilermakers.

I will be the first to admit that I find some of Hilary Duff’s movies a guilty pleasure, especially Raise Your Voice. So when I found out that older sister Haylie was also an actress (yes, I managed to avoid knowing this until 2009), I figured I’d give her a shot as well. I probably shouldn’t have started with a made-for-TV flick from Terry Ingram, responsible for episodes of such classic TV series as Relic Hunter and La Femme Nikita, but I can’t undo it now.

 

photo credit: Tanya Lipke (she did the fire effects--pretty cool)

“Last night, I dreamed I was Joan of Arc. Unfortunately, at the wrong time in her life…”

Molly Duggan (Duff) is a college student determined to find a cure for sleep paralysis, the disease that killed her mother. To this end, she starts working in the sleep clinic of Dr. Edmonds (Cigarette Burns‘ Gwynyth Walsh), but she soon finds herself in the grip of the same disease. Fearing for her life, she begins to look for explanations. As things get weirder, she starts lending credence to what seemed previously to be the insane ravings of Silas (Holes‘ Bruce Ramsay), who is convinced that Molly is being haunted.

Everything about this flick is unintentionally hilarious, from the acting to the effects. When I rented it, I was unaware it was a Lifetime Original Movie, but now that I know this (thank you, IMDB!), so many things about it make so much more sense. The overimportance of the romantic subplot with a guy who’s about as developed as a blow-up doll, the persistent hysterics from Duff, the phenomenally bad script combined with top-notch production values, all of them have “Lifetime Original Movie” written all over them. And if you like Lifetime Original Movies as a rule, then this will likely be right up your alley. Everyone else should avoid it like the plague. * ½

 

I apologize, but this time, you have to go trailerless, and the only related video I could find online had the unfortunate addition of a Hoobastank soundtrack. I’m not going to inflict that on you, because I love you.